’Tis the season! Yes, it is that time of year for wrestling trees inside and lighting up the night with small bulbs stapled to our houses. But it’s another aspect of this time of year that I have in mind.
The holidays bring us occasions—whether class reunions or holiday parties—for gathering with old friends. By “old” here, I don’t mean those friends with many miles on their tires. I’m thinking about friends you’ve known over a long period of time and who you likely don’t see every day. These are different from neighbor friends, family friends, and even work friends.
Why Focus on “Old” Friends?
Don’t you find a singular pleasure in talking to old friends? Old friends are a particular blessing from God, and I think we would all do well to build and cultivate these friendships. Why do I say this?
Old friends know us. Really well. For those friends who go back with us five or ten (or more) years, these folks know us in deep and profound ways. They are more likely to know the patterns of our life, the struggles we’ve had, and the ways we’ve changed. These friends know what we’re like in ways that the fellow in the neighboring cubicle (nice as he is) does not. They may have been with us in dark times of grief and mourning, they may have celebrated wonderful victories or blessings with us. These histories forge a unique and special bond between people.
Friendships with long histories also enable a particular kind of accountability. An old friend might remember patterns in your life that you wanted to change 12 months ago, and they can ask you that uncomfortable question. These friends might point out parts of your speech or humor where God has been giving you growth in grace. Conversations like this can bring to mind occasions for thanksgiving and prayer that you might not otherwise encounter.
There is less risk in relationships with old friends. This may be counterintuitive, but hang with me. If a friend has stood by you and checked in with you over the course of many years, they are more likely to be loyal friends. This means that if there is a question or rebuke needed in a conversation, you can step out onto that limb without fear of a fall to the ground, because the friend will know you have their best interests in mind. (By the way, if questions or rebukes never show up in conversations with your friends, you’re doing it wrong.)
Time together is precious. If you only see a friend once or twice a year, or if you only talk on the phone once every 18 months, both of you know that the time together is of great value. You will find yourself concentrating in the conversation and putting forward more effort to serve than you usually do.
Building “Old” Friendships
Hopefully I’ve convinced you of the value of old friends. So, what now? How do we build and nurture these friendships?
- Start where you are — Pour yourself into friendships where you are, right now. If you haven’t been great at keeping in touch with friends from your past, look through your contact list, choose someone, and start dialing. Think about it this way: if you were to move across the country next week, who are the one or two friends you would hope to stay in touch with? As a small rule of thumb, it’s not a bad idea to have one or two friends from the major epochs in your life with whom you correspond regularly. Make it a point to pray for these friends and these relationships. Value these people, and work on these friendships.
- Put it on your schedule — Most friendships need time to grow and develop, so after you’ve identified some people with whom you’d like to forge a deeper bond, make some plans! Be intentional. Set some reminders to call these people or plan to meet with them two to four times a year. Either put it on your calendar or use some other reminder system to ensure this happens. If you simply wait for time to magically elbow its way onto your calendar, it just won’t happen.
- Take notes — A final, brief note here. Don’t feel guilty about making notes after your conversations with these old friends to help you remember what is going on in their life. This will help you pray for these folks, and it will aid your next conversation. This strikes some people as inauthentic, as though a real friend would remember these details without any aid. I say hogwash. Making notes like this is my acknowledgement that my brain and memory are fallible and frail, and I need every help available to love my friends in our next conversation and in the time until then.
We all need to grow in our ability to love and serve those from years past in our lives. Do you have any tips to share?