As an introvert who spends a lot of time communicating with people for work these days, I relish a quiet social life. The downside to this, however, is that I have neglected building new friendships since my return to my passport country. I have wanted to give up on establishing new friendships and have perfected my excuses for this—I’m too tired; I’m too busy; I work full-time; our finances are tight. Any excuse to neglect investing in friendships.
Neglecting relationships was much harder while overseas. Team was an intrinsic part of my organization’s philosophy of ministry and, therefore, an intrinsic part of my life. Meals with teammates were common and at times weekly. While team meetings might have been long, they also brought a sense of camaraderie. But even then it was possible for me to neglect those relationships. To use “I’m an introvert,” as my excuse for declining invitations or not opening my home as often.
However, teams care for each other. We all know what it’s like to be the newcomer or to be the one far from home during a difficult time and how our friendships in our adopted countries help us through these stressful situations. We also know how easy it is to let ministry and tasks come before building relationships. Some of us are culturally wired this way, and rewiring our minds takes time and effort, but we must rewire our minds because neglecting relationships hurts us more at the end of the week than a half-finished to-do list does.
After years of moving and adjusting and making new friends, one would think I wouldn’t neglect this aspect of my life because I know how vital and important it is.
I have seen generosity and love in times of crisis. I have experienced deep conversations with people I’ve only know a few months. I know what a difference a community makes in my life, and as my husband and I walk through some difficult circumstances, I am convicted by the actions of new friends whom I have neglected. These have been the people who have come alongside us in the past several months. They have made us meals and given us gift cards. They have prayed for us and texted us and encouraged us. They are the community of people who are geographically close enough to care for us in these extremely tangible ways, and their love and friendship and sacrifice has caused me to see how often I have neglected them in the past months and challenged us as a couple to make changes in how we care for those around us.
Some of our friends from another fellowship came with lunch and most of their small group to our house one Sunday afternoon. They drove thirty minutes one way with one goal: to simply encourage us. Their care for us brought me to tears, and I found myself asking, “Would I do that for someone I didn’t know? For someone I do know?” My selfishness often leads to neglecting those around me. I tell myself I’m taking care of my husband and myself, that my needs are more important than the needs of others. That our life is difficult right now, so I can neglect other people and focus on us. But I can’t.
When I neglect building new relationships and deepening current ones, my life is lacking a richness and fullness that comes from time with others. I miss out on learning about their lives, on hearing their stories. I laugh less often; I smile less frequently. Unfortunately I allow my sin of selfishness to prevent me from ministering and caring for those around me. What I need to do, however, is to neglect my comfort far more and neglect others far less.
What has helped you to continue to invest in new friendships? What are some practical steps you have taken to stop neglecting friendships with others?