Authors: Jennie Allen
Only when we let down our guards and allow ourselves to be known can we get over ourselves and get on with loving people. Love changes us and changes others. Love takes strangers and makes families. Love heals wounds and empty spaces in us that we never dreamed could be filled. God is love, and when we choose to cooperate with Him, we get to carry His love to people who are deeply desperate for it.
But it all starts with being known. I can tell any stranger on the street that I love her, and it will mean absolutely nothing. Why? Because I don’t know her. My words are an empty platitude. But when I say to my son, who just confessed something he did wrong, “I love you!” well, that means everything.
We have no use for empty platitudes. It’s the “I know you
I love you” that we crave.
It’s why I love the gospel. It’s the story where God rescues us from hiding. He restores us and tells us that “there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
And because we are restored and have full access to our God, a God who forgives, we have the tools to change the cycle of hiding.
Jesus said that she who has been forgiven much, loves much.
So, too, the things that sent us into hiding are the very tools God redeems to pull us out of hiding and so that, in love, we can go pull other people out of hiding.
Hurting people hurt others.
But equally true is that only forgiven people can truly forgive.
It’s a whole new way to live.
We have to become friends who call each other out of hiding. “If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.”
We come into the light. We risk transparency. And we create a safe space for others to do the same.
When you have been in the dark for a long time, stepping into the light can leave you blinking and confused. So I imagine you have a few questions, such as:
Do I really share everything?
Yes. With the right safe, few, vetted people. You really do share everything. But not with everyone. Look back at the circles from chapter 4 and remember that we are working toward an inner circle of three to five people who know it all.
Your whole village doesn’t need to know everything.
Only those committed to walking with you through your everyday life and deepest struggles qualify here.
What if the other person doesn’t reciprocate with candor of her own?
Try to find out why your friend doesn’t feel safe being transparent. Ask great questions and keep trying, if this is one of your safe people. A lot of people (like me!
) aren’t great at this. They honestly need practice. Don’t give up.
Do I need to give people permission to do this with me?
Yes! You have to have the awkward conversation of saying, “I want you to be one of my people!”
How do you move past all the shallow conversations?
I’ll show you. We talked a little about great conversations in the last chapter, but let’s get even more specific with a little Conversation 101 training.
Right up front let me say you should expect this to be awkward. Given how superficial our culture has become, there is no way to deepen a friendship without a bit of clumsy give and take. Instead of fearing it or denying it or explaining it away, how about we just own it? If you sense that a person is safe, then try these six steps for having a deep conversation. And remember, don’t take yourself too seriously!
Plan a get-together
for when you will be (mostly) uninterrupted and distraction-free.
Prepare your friend
that you’d like to have an intentionally deeper conversation than you two normally enjoy. Say, “I really want to share some
things going on in my life right now.” Or, if it’s a small group of people, then say, “Hey, can we talk about what’s really going on in our lives tonight?”
Lead the conversation.
Express why you want to go deeper. Share a difficulty in your life. Be as vulnerable as you can because others will only go as deep and vulnerable as you go. When you share honestly, it will often give your people the desire to be honest in return. After you go first, ask the other person or people what feels hard in life right now.
Resist the temptation to solve.
In a conversational manner, consistently repeat to your friend what you hear her saying. But do not interrupt. Wait until there is a clear pause before you repeat back what you’re hearing, offer your perspective, or ask another question. To build deep friendships will require a lot of intentional, active listening. If you have a perspective to offer, ask for permission to share it.
Affirm your friend
following your conversation, and express how much the back-and-forth meant to you.
Plan a follow-up gathering.
One other piece of advice for practicing transparency: tell people exactly what you need from them. Most people are not accustomed to these conversations, but don’t let their first reaction cause you to withdraw. If you want them to listen, then
ask them to listen. If you want them to help you solve the problem, then ask them to help you solve the problem.
Tell people how to show up for you. And let them express how you can show up for them.
After that conversation with my friend Jessica, who told me during the podcast interview that to be a better friend I needed to need her more, I realized I’d had enough. I was sick of being careful. Censored. Safe. I knew that I wanted to change. I was a relational toddler in this area who wanted to grow and mature. The question was
What worked for toddlers was going to have to work for me: stumble and fall and stumble and fall and get back up again. This was year one in Dallas, and the two people I spent the most time with were my sister-in-law Ashley and my call-me-midcry, stop-by-rather-than-text friend Lindsey. They unknowingly became my relationship trainers. I studied the kinds of questions they asked, the kinds of liberties they took, the way they shared everything they were going through and processing without so much as batting an eye.
I realize how awkward it all sounds. Maybe I should have titled this book
How to Win Friends by Being Awkward.
But I am letting you into my internal crazy because I don’t think I’m the only person who has recognized herself as stunted relationally to some extent. Granted, you and I may be stunted in different ways. Maybe your battle is that you are too needy, exhaustingly so, and don’t know how to give. Or maybe you
are too careless with the stories of others, using someone else’s struggle to try to make yourself look better. Or maybe you wall off because you don’t want to deal with the pressure of having others need you.
Or maybe your friend group that used to be a safe place for transparency has become just a space to grumble and complain with no healthy goal or end. In the next chapter we’ll talk about this in a deeper way, but let me say now that thoughtless transparency isn’t the goal, lest we make an idol out of our struggle and sin. No, we live known so that we can change and grow together. There is a purpose to the candor, and that purpose is for our good.
So, really, what’s right to share?
Before a lunch with some new friends I sat down with my journal and my phone; I reviewed the previous week’s obligations, activities, and events; and I scribbled down on a sticky note a few things I could vulnerably open up about. (I know. I am such a dork. But I was trying!) These were intimate things, honest things I’d be prepared to share.
We got to the restaurant and ordered, and then came that fifteen-minute lull when normal, relationally high-functioning people speak candidly about what’s going on in their lives—not their Instagram lives, but their real lives. This is where I generally stick to asking questions—sparkly eyes, shoulders curled forward, attentive, the whole bit—but today, I was committed to engaging in a different way.
Now, I admit that as I divulged what I’d prepared to share, the handful of things that weren’t exactly going well that
week, I felt incredibly self-conscious, constantly wondering if I was sharing the right kinds of things, if I was dominating the conversation, and if I was making a fool of myself. But I plowed ahead, remembering that if I didn’t take steps forward, I would stay right where I was. And right where I was wasn’t a place I wanted to live.
But here’s the thing:
you will only be as close to a friend as you are vulnerable with her.
And not to be a downer, but vulnerable people get hurt. Here is where you may be thinking
, I am better off going my own way and doing my own thing. At least my heart will stay intact.
I will be civil. I will even be cordial. But authentically connected? Nope. Been there. Done that. And it’s not for me.
“To love at all is to be vulnerable,” C. S. Lewis famously wrote.
Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable…. To love…is to be vulnerable.
To Lewis’s point, we wrap up our pain and hold on to it like a prize, refusing ever to set it down. It’s a memorial to the madness we’ve faced and survived and a reminder to never let ourselves be played again.
But is that self-protection worth the cost of continuing to live isolated and sad?
For me, the answer is a hard no.
Recently, I reached out to Courtney. We hadn’t talked in quite a while. I’d initially been shocked by how easily she’d cut me out of her life. She was that hurt. Given that reality, I figured a little space was best. But now I wanted to see if restoration might be possible. I wanted to apologize. I wanted to tell Courtney that I could now see what she saw so long ago and that I was working on it. I wanted to text again and try again and call each other friend again. We had been friends for more than a decade; would we really settle for never speaking again?
So I asked if we could meet. When she replied yes, I was so nervous that my heart raced.
I sat across from her, trembling and crying. She told me how I had hurt her and why she had pulled back. She told me things that were true, and I understood how hurt she must have been. She told me that she vividly remembered one time when I came over to her house and I cried and sat on her bed telling her my hurt. She said she’d never felt closer to me than she felt that day. But the rest of the time it was exhausting to
be in a friendship where she was the only needy one. Like Jessica, my being a good friend to her meant my needing her. I wanted, and still I want, to get better at this. I apologized. She apologized.
Courtney forgave me and asked for forgiveness, and then we caught up on all we had missed. And I am so glad I braved opening the door again, a door I try to leave unlocked these days. Sometimes even cracked open, swinging lightly in the breeze. People run through it more and more, and I still wince a little when they intrude and make me say all the hard and face all the hard and deal with the hard. But sometimes they bring pizza or sushi, which makes it easier for me.
Even without bribes, I know that it’s better this way. I am awkwardly learning.
This is the best way.
Instead of ordering something on Amazon, try to borrow it from your neighbor instead.
Move your firepit or picnic table into the front yard. Talk to people as they walk by and invite them to join you!
Invite your neighbors to watch a movie on a projector in your front yard.
Ask your safe people to meet up for coffee and prepare them that you want to go deeper.
Answer honestly the next time someone asks, “How are you doing?”
Call a friend instead of texting her. Even if it’s not a serious call, it gets you talking a little bit more.
Ask your friends about the highs and lows of their week.
Tell someone you like her. Literally say, “I like spending time with you.”
Work without your headphones. Make yourself available.
Leave your phone in the car when you meet up with a friend.
Ask someone for her advice with something you’re struggling with, even if it’s small.