When I first moved to Cincinnati, I was ready to be friends with people like myself: 20-something newlyweds settling into life.
My husband and I were invited to a church small group by a lovely couple, and I was excited to go, thinking this could be the group I was looking for. Our first week there, a couple announced they were expecting their first child. Over the course of the next year, every other couple in the small group had a baby or bought a home.
I (to my shame) was frustrated; I wanted friends of the same age and life stage.
When the Lord said “no” to my desire to have friends in my same season of life, He gave me a new vision for the value and beauty of building friendships with those in different life seasons.
Why Friendships With People in Different Seasons Matter
I know the comforts of having friends who are the same age and life stage. It’s wonderful and important to have friends who “get” the joys and frustrations of your daily life. But the past three years of building friendships has shown me the importance of fostering friendships with those unlike myself. These friendships have helped me grow in grace, and have matured me in ways that my same-age friends never could.
When we become Christians, we come into the family of God. The family of God is filled with people of different ages and roles, just like our own families. We’re designed to live in relationship with our spiritual family, growing from one another and serving one another.
But too often, we congregate with those who are like us and miss out on these important friendships.
Sophie Hudson puts it like this in her book “Giddy Up, Eunice”:
“… Are we so programmed with a ‘same age, same stage’ mentality that we’re missing the women who are ahead of us and behind us?… To my way of thinking, this is not an either/or deal. It’s a both/and. We need people of all ages in our lives who will listen, encourage, and pray. We need each other so much, y’all. And we are fools—FOOLS, I TELL YOU—if we think our same-age silos are getting the relational job done.”
Looking to Scripture for Inspiration
We see different age/life-stage friendships throughout Scripture, whether we’re looking at the friendships of Paul and Priscilla and Aquila, Lois and Eunice or Jesus, Mary, Martha and Lazarus.
I think few stories illustrate this as much as Naomi and Ruth. While studying Ruth this summer, I was struck anew by the relationship between Ruth and Naomi. It stood out to me like never before that Naomi’s presence in Ruth’s life likely played a key role in Ruth’s salvation, and that it was through Ruth that the Lord provided for Naomi when she was in emotional and physical crisis.
I think Hudson summarizes the power of their different age/life-stage friendship well:
“…When Naomi was as vulnerable as she could possibly be with her daughters-in-law, Ruth didn’t think all that baggage was too much to carry. She wasn’t deterred by the reality of life with a mother-in-law who had a history of heart ache and no concrete plan for the future.
By the same token, Naomi wasn’t deterred by the reality of life with a Moabite who had married her Jewish son, a woman who would no doubt face scorn and maybe even shame in Judah simply because of her background.”
The story of Ruth and Naomi has been the story of my friends and I, on a much less dramatic scale. Our different life stages, preferences, experiences and ages don’t get in the way of our friendship; they’re the very means that God grows us and shapes us.
Out of these friendships, grace and godliness has been cultivated. It’s easy to look to books, conferences, programs or mentors to be the catalyst of personal growth. But relationships are usually the place where change happens.
Tim Keller describes conferences and programs as the artillery and friendship as the infantry. He explains that in his years of pastoral service, “Friendship is about the only way I know to change somebody’s life.”
This is why we need friends who are unlike us. If friendship is the place of change, hanging out only with people of our own age and experiences will leave us wanting in some way. We will certainly grow in some areas of life, but others will be left unattended. Through friendships with diverse groups of people, we will be quietly pushed and encouraged to grow in ways we wouldn’t otherwise notice.
So how do we get started in this business of being friends with folks in different life stages? Here are three tips based on what I’ve learned and experienced in the past three years:
Look around you. Who are the people you’re already interacting with who are different than you? It could be age, life circumstance or both. Intentionally reach out to them.
Get outside your comfort zone. When you’re at a church social event or your Bible study, don’t congregate with your same friends. Go sit next to the couple in their 60s or make conversation with the mom of three kids.
Cultivate life-giving friendships. Begin friendships with these people the way you would your peers. Check in on them. Have dinner or coffee together. Get to know their work, interests and hobbies. Meet their families. Don’t preach sermons to one another or feel the pressure to “mentor,” but as it’s natural, point one another to the gospel and the grace of Jesus.
When I moved to Cincinnati three years ago, I’m thankful the Lord said “no” to my desire for friends in the same season of life (though I didn’t feel thankful for it at the time). I was pushed to be friends with people I wouldn’t have otherwise befriended. And my life has been made richer as a result.