Childhood companions moved states away. College roommates got married and started having kids. Coworkers built houses, traveled the world, and moved on to other jobs. All of a sudden, my peers and I occupied different life stages, and I wondered if my friendships would ever be the same.
In many ways, I felt like my friendships were dying as they changed. I lost the time, energy, or focused attention my relationships used to offer. Keeping up with friends became more difficult between packed work schedules, kids’ naptimes and bedtimes, and date nights. Even more, the gap of understanding between me and my friends widened. I struggled to relate to a newlywed’s life or to a family welcoming their third child.
When we go through any major life change—getting married, having kids, changing churches, etc.—even our closest relationships shift, sometimes slightly, sometimes by a lot. If we’re blindsided by how our relationships adjust, we might be tempted to be angry, take offense easily, or even despair about our friendship.
How we approach inevitable change comes down to our attitude. We can either choose hope or not.
When we embrace change as integral to all relationships, we can joyfully accept change as a gift. We can take time to grieve what the relationship used to be, but we can also move forward expectantly, eager to see what God has in store for the new phase of our friendship. And we can enjoy where we and our friends are today—seeing someone we love build a marriage or holding a new baby can be a true joy.
Just as we know our friendships will change as our lives change, we also know they will change again. If you’re upset with where your relationships are now, first ask if there’s something you can do about it. Pray about the people you’re close to. Then, remind yourself that you always have hope. While our relationships change, we know our unchanging God will always stay the same and is always with us. He is working in the world and our lives, and he can sustain us like no other friend.
In any friendship—but especially with those who are in different life stages—we can be tempted to sugar-coat our lives. Maybe we don’t want others to know what’s really going on with our kids. Or maybe we downplay how fun the single life can be out of fear of hurting our friend who is married. Or maybe we’re struggling with our expectations—marriage hasn’t been all it’s cracked up to be, parenting is much more difficult than imagined, or the new job isn’t all that great.
No matter the reason, it is easy to create wedges between ourselves and the people we care about by avoiding the truth. We do a disservice to each other when we only talk about the positives of our lives or when we don’t talk about how we’re really doing. Dishonesty makes people think we’re fine when we’re not, or that the life stage we’re in is better than it actually is.
Good friends can handle the truth. In fact, they want to know the truth. And they want to know what you need and how they can support you. A godly person will not lord their life stage over you, nor will they judge you for struggling where you are now. We can be good, kind friends by both telling the truth and accepting the truth.
Changing life stages creates a gap in understanding. Non-parents struggle to understand the struggles of parenthood. Single people and married couples will continue to misunderstand each other’s schedules and rhythms of life. But we can extend grace to each other even when we do not understand or are not understood.
But how do we give each other grace? We start with our own expectations. Do we expect our friends to give us the same time and attention as before? Their life is changing, and, because we are friends, we can adjust too.
We can join our friends in their world and invite them into ours.
Single people can be included in family nights and married friends can join a girls or guys night out. And when we misunderstand each other, we can offer grace and assume the best.
Maintaining and strengthening changing relationships comes down to intentionality. When we deliberately choose to pursue our friends with hope, truth, and grace, we can enjoy the good friendships God’s given us as they are.
Friendship is one of the most important and formative features of the human experience, and one of its sweetest pleasures. Because of its significance, literature is filled with moving examples of friendship, from Sam and Frodo in The Lord of the Rings to Harry, Ron, and Hermione in the Harry Potter series. These stories, and others like them, invite us to make friendship a priority.
The Bible also speaks of friendship’s important, formative effect on our lives. From the example of David and Jonathan (1 Samuel 18:1–5) to the language Paul uses in his epistles to Timothy (1 and 2 Timothy), the witness of Scripture testifies that friendship is a blessed good. Solomon himself reveres friendship, using words like “sweetness” (Proverbs 27:9) to describe its joys and “love” (Proverbs 17:17) to convey its depth and devotion.
Friendship is not just a blessed good but a generous gift from God.
Since we’ve been created in the image of the triune God (Genesis 1:27), we are made for community—for friendship. In some ways, it comes natural to us. We gravitate to others, finding common bonds, common interests, and common loves. And yet, because we and the world have been fractured by sin, friendship is hard. We sin against our friends, they sin against us, and relationships suffer and sometimes break.
In Genesis 2 and 3, the Bible implies that life for Adam and Eve was to be marked by fellowship (or friendship) with God. It was apparently normal for them to speak with God and to walk with him. But then, Genesis 3:6–7 happened—the fall—and their fellowship was disrupted. With one fateful bite of fruit, Adam and Eve effectively “unfriended” God. And to this day, we live in the shadow of the fall. Like Adam and Eve, our friendship with God has been disrupted.
How would you respond to being so grievously betrayed? Would you overlook the offense? Would you abandon your friend entirely? How do you think God should react?
The New Testament tells us how God responded to our betrayal: “When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son” (Galatians 4:4,), the “friend of sinners” (Luke 7:34, emphasis added), and made him “who knew no sin to be sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21) so we might have a right relationship with him once again. Do you hear that? In response to our sin and our ruptured relationship, the Son comes and befriends those who betrayed him.
What’s most shocking about Jesus’s friendship is that he calls us friends. Though we have betrayed him, he “chose” us (John 15:16). By his grace, he has come near to us and, knowing our disloyalty and all our fears, sins, struggles, and anxieties, he has said to us, “my friend.”
Knowing ourselves, we may wonder, “Is Jesus truly—I mean, really—my friend? Will he stick by me, even if I betray him again?”
We can know Jesus is our friend with certainty because of what he says to us in the Gospel of John: “No one has greater love than this: to lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13, CSB). Jesus is the greatest friend because he laid down his life for us (John 19).
We know from Proverbs that “a friend loves at all times” (Proverbs 17:17). Since Jesus is our friend, we can be certain that he loves us entirely, perfectly, forever—at all times. And we know that, despite what we have done or have yet to do, he “is a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Proverbs 18:24).
So, we ask: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ” (Romans 8:35), this friend of sinners, this great friend of mine? No one. Oh, what a friend we have in Jesus.
Knowing that Jesus is a devoted friend should encourage us. It should also inform the way we view and exercise friendship ourselves. Each of us needs good friends in our lives; but if we’re not careful, we might begin to think like the lawyer in Luke 10:25–37 who tested Jesus: “And who is my [friend],” we might ask (emphasis added).
While that question is not an inappropriate one, what if Jesus first wants us who have experienced his friendship to be the same kind of friend to others? What if, upending our sensibilities as he did with the parable of the good Samaritan, he is calling us to go to our neighbors who are isolated and lonely, and befriend them? Who among us will prove to be a friend to the friendless?
Jesus has come and called us friends. Today, he tells us: “Go and do likewise” (Luke 10:37).