By: Sheridan Voysey

‘Who can you call in the middle of the night when everything has gone wrong?’ When I first heard this question some years ago it shook me to the core. How many of my friendships were that strong I could feel OK imposing on them at such an hour? I wasn’t sure. I knew then I needed to develop deeper friendships in my life.

A few weeks ago I was skyping my friend DJ when the topic of friendship came up again. DJ had just moved back to Australia from Aberdeen and was missing his Scottish friends. I was working from home alone and feeling the need for deeper connections. We started brainstorming what makes a great friendship and how we can find more of them. Some helpful tips emerged from that conversation:

1. Shared Interests

DJ and I agreed that most friendships start with a shared interest—whether it’s sport, music, a hobby, a cause, or something else. That’s how our friendship began. When DJ and I first met over a decade ago, we found we had a shared Christian faith, a shared love of books, and similar ideas on how to improve the world. We had enough in common to say ‘Me too!’ and enough differences to be stretched by each other.

CS Lewis puts this so well in The Four Loves:

That is why those pathetic people who simply ‘want friends’ can never make any. The very condition of having friends is that we should want something else besides friends… Friendship must be about something, even if it were only an enthusiasm for dominoes or white mice. Those who have nothing can share nothing; those who are going nowhere can have no fellow-travellers.

So, to develop deeper friendships:

  • Develop a broad range of interests
  • Be interested in others and what lights them up
  • Find places to meet like-minded people, like church (the best source of my friendships), a MeetUp group or some other environment that allows for conversation and shared activities

2. Shared Stories

A shared interest isn’t enough, however. You need shared stories too—whether it’s a gig you saw together, or a project you worked on, or just some belly laughs you shared. DJ and I joined forces on a radio programme tackling child poverty and visited various developing countries together in the process. We took joint family holidays and even did a pilgrimage together. All of these things have taken our friendship deeper.

So, to develop deeper friendships:

  • Take a risk and invite someone out for coffee, a movie, a game, shopping
  • As the friendship grows look for more ways to connect: shared projects, holidays
  • Ultimately, spend time together

3. Shared Trust

One of the marks of true friendship is that you can relax in each other’s presence. Masks can be dropped. Words don’t have to be measured. Failures, faults and doubts can be shared, not just successes and triumphs. You can move beyond ‘food and football’ as DJ once memorably said, to talk about deeper matters. And that takes shared trust—a trust built on confidences being kept, on being listened to without judgment, and on knowing you’ll be told the truth even when it hurts.

The nineteenth-century poet Dinah Craik put this beautifully:

Oh, the comfort —
the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person —
having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words,
but pouring them all right out,
just as they are,
chaff and grain together;
certain that a faithful hand will take and sift them,
keep what is worth keeping,
and then with the breath of kindness blow the rest away

And biblical proverbs abound on this theme:

As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend

A gossip goes around telling secrets, but those who are trustworthy can keep a confidence

The heartfelt counsel of a friend is as sweet as perfume and incense

Wounds from a sincere friend are better than many kisses from an enemy

So, to develop deeper friendships:

  • Listen without criticism and keep every confidence told to you
  • When the friendship is ready, be vulnerable with your feelings
  • Listen to a truth you need to hear. Don’t react
  • Be willing to share a corrective word too when it’s absolutely needed

4. Shared Encouragement

And perhaps nothing forges a friendship better than shared encouragement—whether championing each other’s work, cheering on from the sidelines, or, in particular, being there when life falls apart. At one of my darkest moments DJ drove for two hours to listen to and pray with me when he had better things to do. Few experiences strengthen friendship like a crisis shared.

Many will say they are loyal friends, but who can find one who is truly reliable? (Proverbs 20:6)

A friend is always loyal, and a brother is born to help in time of need (Proverbs 17:17)

So, to develop deeper friendships:

  • Be available for your friend in their time of need
  • Be willing to ask for help when you’re in need too
  • Know that your presence, not necessarily your advice, is what is most needed

That conversation with DJ helped me see a few things: that deep friendship is rare, so treasure those you have. And that finding a common cause and creating some shared moments is a good way to start making a few more. As for friends I can call in the middle of the night? I think I have some now, but will keep the following proverb (25:17) in mind:

Don’t visit your neighbours [or call them in the middle of the night] too often, or you will wear out your welcome!

Article supplied with thanks to Sheridan Voysey.

About the Author: Sheridan Voysey is a writer, speaker and broadcaster on faith and spirituality. His books include Resilient, Resurrection Year, and Unseen Footprints. Get his FREE eBook Five Practices for a Resilient Life here.