Friendship, listening, and empathy: A Prayer GuideTwo Hands: Grief and Gratitude in the Christian LifeSabbath Keeping FastingA Renewed SpiritualityNurturing Hope: Christian Pastoral Care in the Twenty-First CenturyThe Power of ListeningJoy Together: Spiritual Practices for Your CongregationPersonality Type in CongregationsPrayers of the Old TestamentPrayers of the New TestamentSabbathFriendingA Garden of Living Water: Stories of Self-Discovery and Spiritual GrowthDeath in Dunedin: A NovelDead Sea: A NovelDeadly Murmurs: A NovelBeating Burnout in CongregationsReaching Out in a Networked WorldEmbracing MidlifeAdvent DevotionalDraw Near: Lenten Devotional by Lynne Baab, illustrated by Dave Baab

Friendship, loneliness, and prayer: Initiating

Lynne Baab • Wednesday December 6 2023

Friendship, loneliness, and prayer: Initiating

I have always believed that the ability to take initiative is a key friendship skill. When I did the interviews for my book on friendship a decade ago, numerous interviewees told me they attributed times of loneliness to their inability to take initiative. Numerous other interviewees said they sometimes feel they reach out to their friends more than half the time, but they felt it was worth it because of their rich friendships.

If you are one of those people who find it challenging to reach out, this can be a topic for prayer. Not just once, but every day. Who are you inviting me to contact today, God? Holy Spirit, guide me in the best way to reach out and empower me to do it.

I want to tell you about four times when I took initiative to contact old friends. Two of those times were huge blessings, the other two great disappointments. Should I look at the glass half full or half empty? God, give me the resilience to take what is offered in response to my initiative, even if there’s nothing or if it’s disappointing or even hurtful.

I’ll tell the stories chronologically, so you’ll get a mix of the joy and frustration I experienced.

In 2006, my husband Dave and I went to Denmark to visit our younger son, who was working there. Dave wanted to visit his cousin in Berlin, and for some unknown reason, I just didn’t want to go with him. I felt nudged to check with an old friend who married an Italian man and lived in Milan. Could I come for three days while Dave goes to Berlin?

She said yes. We met in our 20s and had a deep spiritual bond. After 24 years of only intermittent contact — Christmas cards and a handful of emails — we dived back into deep conversations about God’s work in our lives. I met her husband and teenage son. We sat in Milan's enormous cathedral and prayed at length for our families, surrounded by gorgeous stained glass windows and incredible architecture. Her husband had a business connection at Lake Como, and he needed to make a trip there, so my friend and I went along, and I got to see that beautiful lake.

Within a year of our visit, my friend was diagnosed with stage three ovarian cancer. After surgery and chemotherapy, she died 18 months after her diagnosis. If I hadn’t followed that prompt to invite myself to Milan, I would never have seen her again in this life.

A decade later, I learned that a friend of mine enjoyed tracking down people. I gave him information about two friends I had lost touch with, and he found them. One of them was my first Christian friend, and when I sent her an email, I found out that she had become a Hindu. In our email exchange, as soon as I mentioned I was still a Christian, she never replied again. I was sad because she was such a support to me at 19, and I was curious about her current Hindu spiritual practices.

The other lost friend was a woman I felt I had wronged in my thirties. I lost track of her after the crisis when I hadn’t supported her. She married after the crisis, and I never knew her new last name. Now that I had it, I found her personal website, and I could see she is doing well. Based on what I learned about her on her website, I was eager to connect and hear more about her work. I emailed her to apologize, something I had wanted to do for many years. She wrote back, saying, “You are absolved.” She went on to say she wanted no further contact of any kind.

Okay. . . . Not what I was expecting.

My most recent attempt to contact an old friend came in 2019. I made plans to travel to Phoenix for my uncle’s 90th birthday celebration. I knew a woman I babysat for in high school lived in Phoenix. She and I had written letters and emailed occasionally over the years. She was an anchor for me in those difficult high school years — warm, affirming, trusting. I contacted her and arranged to stop by her home one afternoon.

We had a wonderful visit. I learned about the jobs and families of her two kids, whom I had babysat. I asked her what she remembered about me in high school, and she said she always hoped her daughter would grow up to be like me. Her ability to affirm me hadn’t stopped! I was so happy to see her in person, and I looked forward to further connection.

Six months later, her daughter emailed me to tell me she had died suddenly. I couldn’t believe the parallel with my Milan friend. In both cases, I felt nudged to take initiative, and I will always be grateful I re-connected with these two beautiful women.

Initiative in relationships takes many, many forms in addition to tracking down old friends. My four stories illustrate the mixed results of initiative. When we pray for the ability to initiate, we need to ask God to open us to whatever happens.

Jesus, you reached out to so many individuals, taking the initiative to talk to them. Help us follow your model. Guide us into helpful methods and timing for taking initiative. Open our hearts to receive whatever you want to give us when we reach out, whether our efforts are welcomed or rejected. Please help us grow in connecting with people we care about.

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Next week: roadblocks to listening. Illustration by Dave Baab: Denver airport. If you’d like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up below under subscribe.

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