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Friendship, loneliness, and prayer: Everyday initiative

Lynne Baab • Tuesday March 12 2024

Friendship, loneliness, and prayer: Everyday initiative

Two months ago, I wrote a blog post called “Everyday Initiative,” but I just couldn’t bring myself to put it on this blog. Last week, I wrote a different post focused on the same topic. I spent all weekend thinking I should write something else. Last night, I figured out why those posts bothered me so much. I don’t want to burden people for whom initiative is difficult.

In interviews about friendship, many people have talked with me about the challenge of initiative for them. They want to initiate more. Their lack of initiative has negative consequences for them—loneliness and feelings of isolation. But their awareness of the negative consequences doesn’t change their behavior.

I get that. I have no trouble initiating with people, but I have a lot of trouble pushing myself away from a plate of cookies. I try different strategies. I work at it. I do. I have. I’m much better. But, despite the negative consequences, my innate desire is to eat an endless stream of cookies. I really dislike receiving advice about eating, so I don’t want to presume that I have something helpful to say to people whose innate desire is to wait until others contact them.

So, how can I stress that small acts of initiative can help us when we feel lonely—without laying a heavy burden on those who struggle with initiative? I don’t know. I’m going to offer this post anyway, hoping it may be helpful to someone somewhere, hoping it won’t lay a burden on anyone.

I picture myself writing this post 25 years ago when my mom’s model for initiative in friendships was relevant, helpful, and a pretty thorough picture of how to initiate. When Mom thought about a friend she hadn’t seen for a while, she picked up the phone and called that person. She might chat with them for a half hour, suggest an outing together to a plant nursery, or invite them over for a meal. Whenever we traveled across the country on our seemingly endless moves, we always stopped by to see my parents’ old friends, even if they were hundreds of miles off the direct route. Right after Thanksgiving, Mom always set up a card table in the living room and hand-wrote about 65 Christmas cards to people who did not live locally, responding to messages on last year’s cards. Mom also wrote a lot of thank-you cards to local people.

Phone calls, invitations for outings and meals, trips to visit friends, and cards. Those were the major forms of initiative I learned growing up, and they have served me well. But today, we have more options, some of them a bit confusing.

In December, I wrote about taking initiative to visit old friends and track down friends I had lost touch with. This week, I want to focus on forms of initiative we might view as smaller or more everyday.

Recently, I was thinking about a former student I often see on Facebook, and I sent him a message through Facebook Messenger. After a few days, I realized he hadn't replied, and I am pretty sure he would have if he had seen the message. Does that mean he doesn’t use Messenger any longer? Should I try to resurrect an old email address I have for him? Or was he busy, and sending an email would seem pushy? One of the biggest lessons I learned from Mom is to make contact when you think of people. How to make contact is one of the challenges today, along with whether or not to repeat a message in a different form of communication. We need God’s guidance about the best ways to express to friends that we’re thinking of them.

I recently talked with a friend who feels lonely on days he doesn’t have direct contact with people. I wondered if he might try texting someone on those days, not to say “let’s talk,” but simply “thinking of you.” People deal with various stressors we know about, so I suggested he might write, “How’s the remodel going?” Or, “Are you feeling better from the virus?” My friend has had some good responses to his texts, and those responses make him feel more connected. He needs God’s help to persevere in reaching out on days when he is alone.

Social media is another big question requiring discernment. Is there a form of social media that helps you feel connected? A place where you can provide supportive comments to people you care about? Facebook functions that way for me. I have a stimulating, thought-provoking group of people in my Facebook community. I particularly like shared photos and articles. A half hour or hour on Facebook, adding comments and likes, usually makes me feel connected. A friend was telling me about how addicting her favorite form of social media is, and each time she uses it, she feels alienated and anxious. We need God’s wisdom about whether or not social media is a place that helps us connect with others and which social media platform(s) to use.

My husband, Dave, and I have figured out that inviting people over for dessert after dinner, or for mid-afternoon tea on a weekend, often works better for us than inviting people for meals. It also works well for us to ask if we can stop by a friend’s house on a weekend afternoon or after dinner on a weeknight. Those tea or dessert gatherings are shorter, which fits our energy level. I’m the one who usually sets up those gatherings. I need God’s wisdom and perseverance to arrange enough of them.

Everyday initiative with friends requires a lot of help from God: guidance, wisdom, and perseverance. God of connections and compassion, you are our Shepherd. We beg that you would lead us into creative paths as we try to be faithful in initiating. Please give us what we need so we can initiate wisely and well. Teach us how to pray about initiative without guilt and with expectant joy. Help us persevere in it and view it as an aspect of showing your compassion.

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Next week: ending conversations. If you’d like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up below under “subscribe.” Illustration by Dave Baab.

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