One day each month I open the mailbox and find a delightful surprise. Mixed in with the bills and junk mail is a beautiful magazine: Southern Living. I gaze at the cover photo of a delicious-looking pie or beautifully decorated room, and—for just a moment as I linger on the front porch—I imagine baking the pie or chatting with a friend in the beautiful room.
And then I walk back through my front door to at least one (but likely three) little boys clamoring for my attention. So I lay the magazine aside and hope that one day I’ll find enough time just to read it. I know I’ll never actually make the pie, and the design ideas will be out of style before I have time to use them.
In this season of having three kids between the ages of 5 months and 5 years, so many wonderful things get pushed aside for the tyranny of the urgent. It’s tempting to hunker down at home and pretend that outside relationships and responsibilities don’t exist. If I’m honest, friendships with other women can seem like those magazine cover photos—a beautiful idea that I don’t have the capacity to realize amid the demands of my chaotic life.
So when the Holy Spirit brings to mind a verse like Proverbs 17:17, reminding me that “a friend loves at all times,” I look hard for an asterisk beside the word all. Isn’t there a little note at the bottom that lists exceptions, like when you have needy young children or an unusually demanding season at work or an aging loved one to care for or tons of ministry commitments? As hard as I look, though, the asterisk isn’t there. A friend loves at all times.
But how we love and care for our friends can differ depending on our circumstances. Here are four practices that will help you love your friends in any circumstances.
1. Make the Best Use of Your Time
If we have little time for our friends, we would be wise to consider why we have so little time in the first place. Are we spending so much time on social media that we don’t have time for face-to-face interactions? Are we spending so much time decorating and organizing our homes that we don’t invite people into them? Are we spending so much time helping our children form friendships through playdates and activities that we don’t nurture our own friendships?
Still, there are seasons in which we have demands on our time that we can do little to change. One way we can make good use of our time (Eph. 5:16) as friends is to think about what is most meaningful to various friends—and focus our efforts there.
For example, one of my friends particularly appreciates words of affirmation and loves to receive mail. Writing a note and mailing it can all be done in a relatively short amount of time without leaving my home.
Another friend enjoys connecting with me by sending articles she finds particularly insightful about culture, religion, and politics. While I have little time to read in this season, I make sure to read the articles she sends, because they serve as a touchpoint for us and help me know her better as I see what piques her interest.
2. Invite People In
At least some of the activities that keep us busy can be done with someone else around. While catching up with a friend at a coffee shop may seem exciting, chatting while folding a pile of laundry still enables you to connect with an old friend, or even make a new one.
Earlier this year, I felt led to invite a young woman in our small group to join our family for weekly dinners. I wanted to get to know her better, but going out to meet her regularly just wasn’t realistic. I nervously sent her a text, thinking there were probably a million other things she would rather do than have dinner with our crazy family. But she was thrilled with the idea. She’s been coming weekly for months and feels like a part of our family. Inviting her into our everyday lives enabled me to pursue friendship without adding demands on my time.
Don’t overlook the value of praying for your friends. James 5:16 reminds us that “the prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” Sometimes we tell a friend we’ll pray for them as a throwaway comment since we don’t know another way to help, and we feel we should offer to do something. But praying really is doing something. It’s bringing our friends to Jesus.
In Luke 5, the paralyzed man’s friends believed so strongly that the best thing they could do for their friend was to bring him to Jesus that they lowered him through a hole they made in someone’s roof. And the results were astounding! The man received forgiveness of his sins, was healed of his paralysis, and joined others in giving glory to God. We can’t physically bring our friends to Jesus, but when we pray we bring them before his throne of grace where they will “receive mercy and grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16).
4. Be Willing to Receive
While I usually assume that loving friends means actively doing things to serve them, a close friend recently pointed out that for one person to be able to give, another must be willing to receive.
Jesus says, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). My friend reminded me that when I decline her offers of help I rob her of the blessing of being the giver. I’m actually loving her well when I allow her to serve me.
These days, instead of retreating from friendships when life is busy, or lamenting my lack of picture-perfect friendships, I’m seeking to engage my friends and love them at all times—even when I don’t have time.