practicing friendship

practicing friendships* this is part 2 to the last post:  let’s be friends.  oh wait, we don’t know how to!

i wish learning new things were as easy as taking a class, watching a youtube instructional video, or reading the perfect how-to book that provides all of the answers.  for fixing kitchen sinks, it probably works.  for cultivating long lasting intimate friendships with others, not so much.

there’s no clear instructional manual for these kinds of relationships because they are complex.  at the same time, the Bible has solid guidance on how to better love each other.  colossians is one of my favorite books for that.  when my kids were little, we used to have the NIV kids club videos & cassette tapes (yes, my kids are getting old) that were all about “singing the Bible and having fun.”  i can pretty much sing the whole chapter of colossians 3 to you if you ever want a laugh!   when it comes to friendship, though, there are some excellent words in there.  the passage that comes to mind today is “therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourself with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience” (v. 3:12).

compassion.  kindness.  humility.  gentleness. patience.

these are important ingredients to sacred friendships. they help cultivate grace, love, and acceptance, which are what so many of us long for in our relationships.

here are some practical ways i think we can nurture these qualities in relationships with others and bravely enter into new friendships–men with men, women with women, men & women together.

be honest about our fears.  the more we can say out loud “um, i don’t know how to do this very well”, the better.  it’s so much better than trying to pretend we’re good at something we’re not quite yet.  in our community, we have so many people learning how to be friends for the first time we talk a lot about it out loud and just call it for what it is.  honesty creates compassion because we can relate, we know the feeling, too.

lower our expectations. even though i love to dream big, i also believe in small baby steps of change rather than always expecting (and often demanding) giant leaps for ourselves & others, too.  if we don’t shift our expectations, we can  become mad all the time because things aren’t going the way we want them to be.  meaningful friendships take a long time to cultivate. they don’t come quick, especially in the midst of our brokenness & busy-ness.  this is why patience is such a necessary ingredient.

take responsibility for our own stuff.  this is humility, a willingness to look at our own log instead of focusing on others’ specks.  it requires soft hearts open to God’s spirit & getting honest about the patterns we might tend to bring into the friendship.  as we acknowledge it to ourselves & God first, we can then be honest about it with our friends–“i am sorry that i….when i get scared, i sometimes act that way.”  this helps us practice becoming safer people.

remember, everyone’s human, just like us.  it’s a magical, beautiful thing that somehow God can bring broken, jacked up people together in love & unity.  it really amazes me.  but at the same time, our messy human-ness is always going to be at play.  we will get hurt.  we will get annoyed.  we will get confused.  we will get uncomfortable.  the beauty is in respecting not only our humanness but others’, too.

don’t always do everything in groups.  groups are great.  community is awesome. but sometimes it’s really important to spend quality time together that doesn’t have all the wackiness of group dynamics.  i think we can hide behind it, too, always going to “men’s groups” or “women’s groups” but never just hanging out in a more intimate setting.  make time for it.  it’s always worth it. eye to eye, heart to heart makes all the difference over the long haul & helps us become more comfortable in our own skin in the relationship.

get some help when we need it.  this is one of the things i love most about our community.  we practice friendship and get help when we need it.  this looks like getting a few more people in the conversation to talk about how to do friendship better, what’s working, what’s not, how we can help honor each other more deeply, where we get stuck, and how to keep moving toward healthier connection.   it’s what the body of Christ is supposed to be about, helping encourage and challenge one another!

check in.  every relationship is different, but i do think that regular check-ins can  be helpful in developing friendships.  how are we doing?  how are you feeling in relationship with each other? what’s working? what’s not?  in developing cross-gender friendships, it’s extra important.

adopt a philosophy of “practice”.  one of my favorite phrases is “we’re just practicing.”  we expect ourselves to have so many things in this world nailed down when the truth is we are just learning & trying & practicing as best we can.  to get better at something requires practice; it also means we will flub things up and blow it and need to get back on track.  this helps with conflict in relationship because we can be honest and say “i’m practicing how to actually engage in a conflict with another person and not have it be devastating!” sometimes, too, we may practice with people who we end up not being able to be in long-term relationship with for all kinds of reasons.  that’s okay.  every time we make ourselves vulnerable and risk in relationship, we are practicing & learning & growing.  that’s what matters.

i am sure there are many others, but these are some off the top off my head. when i read back over these, i can really see compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience embedded in each of these practices.  yeah, without these, meaningful friendship just isn’t possible.

what are some others you would add? 

God, help us become people who cultivate compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience into our friendships. 





Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar is dedicated to creating safe and brave spaces for transformation and healing in real life, online, and outside. She co-pastors at The Refuge, a hub for healing community, social action, and creative collaboration in North Denver, co-directs #communityheals, a non-profit organization dedicated to making spaces for transformation accessible for all, and is the author of Practicing: Changing Yourself to Change the World, Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.


  • I would add…

    1. Don’t leave in conflict. Sometimes friendships drift apart, and that’s okay, but as much as it is up to you, don’t leave in conflict. To withdraw and refuse to ever work things out is to refuse the essence of sacred friendship – the very way God works in our lives.

    2. Keep eyes and heart open. I think God sends us all kinds of friends, exactly when we need them – they just might be hard to recognize. If you open up your parameters for who a frienc can be, you’ll find more of them.

    • thanks, jennifer. really good additions. i love the idea of finding ways to “end well” with a spirit of love and hope instead of just cutting things off and moving on. it’s tricky, though, and boy does that require a lot of humility and openness to what God can do.

  • Kathy, great post. I always enjoy them. I love the topic of friendship because for so many years I not only had few friends, I worked hard not to have them. Freinds were may too much trouble. They expected things. And they got in the way of my drinking. Now, I live for those connections. I feel like the richest girl in the world when it comes to friends. And yet, I’ve also had to learn that I can’t be everyone’s close friend all at once, and that the tide comes in and goes out, and sometimes I pull close to someone for a while and then I realize I haven’t talked to them six weeks… But the friends I love are always there still, unperturbed by the natural rhythms of friendship. Anyway, just want to say how much I admire you and am inspired by your humble approach to life and to writing, too. God bless, Heather

    • thanks heather, i really appreciate you taking time to comment & i love your stuff that i’ve read. for me, when i entered into healing & recovery from codependency & shame stuff, the same thing happened–amazing, deep, powerful, life-changing, beautiful friendships formed that just weren’t possible when i was scared and stuck and cut off from myself, God, and others. look forward to staying in touch out here.

  • Kathy, great, great stuff all across the board. In one post, you capture the essential points of the challenge and dance of the practice at many levels through many seasons. So looking forward to exploring friendship with you in Chicago!

    • thanks, dan. i really look forward to april, too, it’s going to be great!

  • A biggie for me has been “Don’t base a friendship on what I expect to receive from the other person”.

    I’ve been learning this based on observing the “friends” who seemed to make what I could do for them the basis of a friendship. I’ve been a wedding caterer and wedding & reception planner/coordinator/decorator. I’ve lost count of the number of times people I slightly know have suddenly wanted to be my best friend and a few weeks later wanted me to provide those services for them free of charge (the “average” catered wedding reception here in San Diego costs $25,000 – $35,000).

    That has reminded me not to approach any friendship because I want something from the other person. Hopefully, I will have something to offer them, but do not want that to be the basis for the friendship.

    • ha ha, i know those “friends”, too. i really like the important point of not expecting things from people. that is using others instead of enjoying each other for who we are no matter what.

  • Excellent two part post. Retired a few years, and still practicing at newer and more recent friendships! Love what Jennifer said too! There definitely is a ‘natural rhythm to friendships!’

    • thanks, karin. i think we’ll all be “practicing” until we take our last breath 🙂 hopefully!

  • Great post. I think vulnerability is important to any intimate friendship. Scary, but necessary. U r so right about checking in. Keeping short accounts is so very important. I love practicing friendships with safe people, like you!

    • thanks my friend, you have taught me so much about friendship and i am eternally grateful. i look forward to lots and lots more practice together in the years to come!

  • Soul-enriching and heart-strengthening words my friend!!! You delineate the fruit of the Spirit so eloquently in what you share. Why is it that *speaking the truth in love* seems to so often leave behind the love part by so many??? The *critical voices* that pipe up inside my head say things like, * somebody has to be right and somebody wrong, truth is absolute and must be held to* Or, * God wants you to repent and be holy and obedient,He expects you to have it all together so get with it* The thing is these *voices* are aimed squarely at myself. I can’t imagine thinking/feeling/acting this way towards other people!!!

    Thank you as always precious pastor for sharing His love and grace so freely!!! You help make the *critical voices* lessen more and more 🙂

    • that is so true, how easy the ugly voices are to hear and even to pass on to each other instead of the beautiful, hope-filled, loving ones. thanks my friend for reading and sharing what you are learning here.

  • “the more we can say out loud “um, i don’t know how to do this very well”, the better.” (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!) & “it’s so much better than trying to pretend we’re good at something we’re not quite yet.” and (!!!).

    Yeah, on the learning to do it better and better each day track over here, too. For me, I think that I have always considered myself fairly smart, and pretty intuitve. In my mental filter, through the years of friendship, it has been those factors that have enabled me to bring things to the table of relationships. In this current healing season, I have felt terribly confused, and needed tons of reminders of “basic” information. While the shame of how not very bright I feel is difficult, the *harder* challenge is to say *&^% (well, that part isn’t that hard, 😉 … ), I need your help. I need to be reminded that love exists, because sometimes it gets so dark in this tunnel. I need help to learn and be and grow safer. I don’t know what I am doing, even though I have survived my life by making it look that way. *That* is what I am learning to do, as I become a better friend to others, and as I make friends with me.

    • i really like the idea that we go through different seasons where we learn new things and it’s harder and then we get some relief, too. the best part is that honesty and acknowledging “yeah, this is new for me” instead of faking it. i don’t think “fake it ’til you make it” works for intimate friendships, ha ha. so glad to be practicing with you.

  • Kathy – I am so grateful I bumped into your thoughts. I have been cultivating deep, intimate, open, honest, transparent and asexual relationships with women other than my wife for a lifetime and find it joyful and fulfilling beyond my understanding. These women are my covenant friends (think me Jonathan, you David). The friendships are definitely not egalitarian. They are very one-sided in that I promise to pray for them each day, to love them always, to respect and defend our physical boundaries, to support and encourage with no ulterior motives, no hidden agendas, and no expectation of anything in return. My covenant with them is this:

    In my attempt to wrap my arms around an understanding of the distinctly counter-cultural understanding of these relationships, I challenged myself to write a piece telling the story of a man and a woman entering into this sacred friendship. I ended up here with an extended metaphor in which the woman is portrayed as fascinating and beautiful without a single mention of her physical appearance, and the relationship is intimate with no sexual involvement or even sexual tension. What I find bewildering is that my friends, all women, universally find it appealing, tender, and beautiful while the men who have read it, find it scary and uncomfortable. That is the part I don’t understand. I don’t understand how relationships so intricate, unique, and precious could be the least bit scary.

    I am looking into the conference in Chicago. It will be comforting to commune with others of a tribe that I had no idea existed.


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