Catherine Parks: Making and Keeping Friends
About the Guest
It's easy to make friends in Kindergarten. It gets harder to maintain friendships once we're out of school and in the "real world" but those key relationships are no less vital. Catherine Parks shares some tips for how to find, make, and keep quality friendships.
Catherine ParksCatherine Strode Parks writes from home in Nashville, TN, where she lives with her husband, Erik, and their two young children. She has sung some terribly cheesy songs in weddings over the years, and gave one of the worst rehearsal dinner speeches in history to her college roommate. She blogs at CathParks.com.
It’s easy to make friends in Kindergarten. It gets harder to maintain friendships once we’re out of school and in the “real world” but those key relationships are no less vital. Catherine Parks shares some tips for how to find, make, and keep quality friendships.
Catherine Parks: Making and Keeping Friends
Michelle: Have you ever lived through the frustration of fighting with a close friend? You know, that tug-of-war is difficult on your friendship and on your emotions. Author and speaker, Catherine Parks, says there’s one thing we need to keep in mind.
Catherine: Our battle is not against flesh and blood. The more that we can see each other as being on the same team—and fighting this battle, together, against our sin and against the same enemy—then we'll join with each other in praying. There's just this bond that forms, there, that's really unique. I don't think that you find that anywhere else.
Michelle: We’re going to talk about how to build that bond of friendship on this edition of FamilyLife This Week.
Welcome to FamilyLife This Week. I’m Michelle Hill. You know, I seem to be going through a season, right now, where friendships are a little bit harder to come by than they were 15 or 20 years ago. I’m reminded of a good friend that has been a life-long friend. It was the hardest friendship to bond and forge together, yet it has been the most rewarding friendship.
Just as I’ve been going through this season, right now, of trying to build friendships that are similar and go deep—like the one I had with Tanesa—and we can’t have our friendship as close anymore; because she lives in Alaska, and I live down in the southern United States. As I’m trying to rebuild some friendships, I happened to meet a lovely lady by the name of Catherine Parks, who is an author and speaker. She loves to help women build friendships. She and I sat down, not too long ago, and had a lovely, warm conversation about friendships. I asked her point-blank: “What is friendship? How do you be a friend?”
Catherine: Yes; I mean, I'm going to come at this from a distinctly Christian perspective; because I think God created us with a design that we need each other.
Catherine: We see that from Him, saying, “It's not good for Adam to be alone,” and creating Eve. Then, all the way through [the Bible], the things that He gave His people to remember who He is were things that they were to do in community, all throughout the Old Testament. And then, in the New Testament, we see this design for His people and His church to live life together. You know, 1 John 1 talks about having fellowship with each other by walking in the light.
And so friendship is something that God has given us, as a gift, as we go through life together; to have friends/people, who are walking alongside of us, who encourage us, and build us up and point us to Christ.
Catherine: And we have acquaintances and we have, you know, people that we know on a surface level; but I think true friends are people, who are there to walk alongside of us.
Michelle: You know, just as you’re talking and laying all of that out, I kept thinking of the friendships in the Bible—like Jonathan and David and Ruth and Naomi—and you know, just those deep, deep friendships. And that's hard to find these days—it feels like.
Now, who has been your true friend? Who has been someone to you, who has been able to encourage you, and pull you up, and spur you on?
Catherine: Yes; I mean, I'm gifted—with my husband and marriage—to have him as a friend. I treasure that relationship; but sometimes, we need people outside, who can understand things in a different way than maybe a spouse or a family member. I have a friend named Amber, who I've been friends with for almost 14 years; and she's one of my dearest friends. We've, you know, walked through life together—had our kids together—and she knows me extremely well.
One of the things that God really did in our friendship—we were probably friends for eight years before it really got past more of the surface things and went deeper as a friendship—and that really came through her just patiently pursuing me. She would open up and share things that were going on in her life. Initially, my response was to try to fix them for her, which was not actually what she wanted. I learned that the hard way. You know, I thought, “Well, why are you telling me this if you don't want me to tell you what to do?” So just a little pro tip: “That's not usually what people want.” [Laughter]
Catherine: But what I learned is: “She's opening up, because she trusts me. She wants me to pray for her, and to hold her accountable, and to help her fight against these struggles that she's having.” Her doing that with me gave me the freedom to, also, do that with her and to recognize: “I have this ally/this person who’s in the ring with me. I need to use her and the friendship God has given us so that we can grow in sanctification and grow in godliness together.”
Michelle: How hard was that?—when, all of a sudden, she's pressing into you? That's a scary place to be.
Michelle: How was that for you?
Catherine: Yes; I had another friend who was kind of doing similar things at the same time. I think it was sort of both of them the Lord used; but at first, when this other friend would ask me questions, she would say, like, “How's your heart?” and ask very intentional questions. I thought that was really weird. [Laughter]
My response was generally like, “Things are fine.” And it wasn't so much that I was hiding something; I just really wasn't paying attention to what was really going on in my life. What ended up happening with this friendship is—I would be going to meet my friend; and I would know, “She's going to ask me these questions,”—so on the way, I would think, “Oh, I need to have something to say when she asks me!” [Laughter] because she started to think that my life was perfect; and I didn't want her to think that. I started to pray, “Lord, show me what's going on so that I can give her an honest answer.”
Michelle: I think it's beautiful, just that you can look back, and you have this 14-year friendship—
Michelle: —with, you know, a close friend. We all are made so different. I mean, God just created all of us, just different.
Michelle: We've got different personalities—some are introverts/some are extroverts—and sometimes, it takes somebody, who just continues to pursue and pursue.
Catherine: Yes; and I think—you know, in institutional settings—if we can create space for this, I think that's really important; because some people aren't going to ever feel comfortable being the pursuer; you know? I have a small group that I meet with on Saturday mornings; and we've just built some of these rhythms into our small group, where we open up with each other.
And it's actually taken some of the pressure off—because there's something about creating the rhythm and the space for that—and then knowing that it's coming and knowing that what we share with each other is going to stay there.
Michelle: I think that, many times, we don't realize the space that we need in order to open up.
Michelle: Because I've heard—at Bible studies or other places—that, when women get together, we can be somewhat catty, or we can fix, or we tend to judge, or we tend to always go, maybe, one step further, when God is the God of grace. And sometimes, we don't tend to—and I'm putting myself, all in, in this camp—sometimes, we don't tend to give that grace.
Michelle: And that's what we need in friendships.
Catherine: Yes; I think you're absolutely right. We have a tendency to either be judgmental and kind of—you know, it's a pride issue—where we validate ourselves by what we hear someone else is struggling with. But on the other side of things, we tend to think that we're giving grace, when we're actually not.
One of the things I've noticed in my own life is: if someone confesses something to me, my temptation is to make excuses for her, and to say, “You know, that's not that big of a deal,” or “Well, I understand why you did that, because this person did this…” You know, you kind of minimize what she's sharing with me and make it not seem that bad.
What the Lord really showed me is that, if someone comes to me and confesses something, that means that she's been convicted about it. If I stop her on her way to the cross and say, “You don't actually need to go there,” then, not only am I denying her the sorrow—like the godly sorrow—that comes with confession of sin, but I'm also denying her the joy that comes with experiencing the forgiveness that she will find at the foot of the cross. I can say, “Give yourself grace,” but what I'm actually doing is denying you grace; because I'm not letting you really confess that and remind yourself: “God has forgiven you in Christ; and so I know this is a struggle, but He doesn't see you through the lens of that struggle.
Catherine: “He sees you through His Son.”
It feels awkward to us to speak some of these things over each other; but it's really important that, you know, I get in the habit of doing things like that when someone confesses to me—and not just saying: “Oh, it's okay. I'm sure it's not that big of a deal.”
And so not denying each other grace by being judgmental but, also, not denying each other grace by minimizing what is really the struggle going on in our lives.
Michelle: And that's such a hard thing—
Michelle: —to really press into where we feel like God is taking us, especially if we are to develop deeper friendships and relationships with others—that takes time.
Catherine: Yes, yes; and for some people, it really takes time; because they need to trust you. And you don't know what kind of baggage someone is bringing in. You know, a lot of us have been burned by friends. I think one of the things that we need to realize is: friendship is good and it's a gift, but it's not going to meet all of our needs; and it's not going to satisfy us, ultimately.
I'm just so comforted to know: “Jesus knows what it's like to be betrayed by a friend. He knows what it's like to be misunderstood by His closest friends. He knows what it's like to be abandoned by His friends.” There's such sweet comfort in knowing He gets wherever you are right now—whatever your relationships look like/whatever they've looked like in the past—He understands and knows what you're feeling. He's, ultimately, the friend who sticks closer than a brother.
If you're looking to someone else to satisfy those deepest needs, you're just going to be disappointed; but if we can be secure in who He is and who He's made us to be, then, hopefully, we will look to serve other people in relationships and not just look for what we can get out of them.
Michelle: Yes; that's a really good point; that's a good point.
We need to take a break; but when we come back, I want to talk to you about some of the practical-ness of how this plays out in our daily lives. So stay tuned. We’ll be right back.
[Radio Station Spot Break]
Michelle: Welcome back. I'm talking with Catherine Parks. Today, we're talking about friendship.
We need to break this down, practically, for people; because you know, it's the weekend—and we've got a mom, who is arm-deep in dishes or diapers; we've got a dad, who's working on the car—or you know, maybe vice-versa.
Michelle: I don't know!—maybe the dad is doing the dishes and the wife is working on the car, or what have you; but there are a lot of people, who are sitting there, going, “I just want a friend.”
Michelle: So, practically, if you're in a church, what are some of those steps that you can take in order to find that friend?
Catherine: Yes; the first thing is absolutely just to pray. The Lord loves to honor the prayers of those who are looking for the community He designed us for. And so giving those expectations up to Him, and asking Him to bring that friend or those friends to your life, should be, absolutely, the first place to start.
And then, some of the friendships that I have started in the church nursery. There's something about serving alongside of someone—
Catherine: —and having the opportunity to, you know, work—hand in hand/side by side—that breaks down some of the awkward barriers that are there. You just have casual conversation.
Then, being willing to be the one to take initiative and say: “Hey, let's go get coffee,” or “Why don't you guys come over to our house this weekend?” The biggest thing is: just don't sit back and wait for it to happen. We need to be the ones to pursue those things and being willing to have the surface level conversation, like we talked about; because it may take a lot of those before someone else is comfortable enough to go deeper.
But even—you know, one of the things that the Lord has done so much in my life is using prayer to bind my heart to someone else—having the opportunity to pray for, you know, that person that you just met, and to have coffee with her, and then to keep praying for her, and to see what the Lord does, not only in her life through those prayers, but how He does things in your own heart and in your own life in uniting the two of you together and really giving that relationship up to Him as you're going through.
That's one of the things—is just being willing to put yourself out there, like we've talked about—and then, engaging in opportunities that your church provides. You know, some churches have a lot of things already established, where you can go and meet people and engage, whether it's a Bible study or some kind of fellowship. And if they don't have one, go to your pastor and say: “You know, I think there's a need for this. Can I be involved in starting a Saturday morning group or a mom's fellowship?” or you know, something that you see a need for and you want to be the one to start that process.
Michelle: Okay; so you have a process started, or you have already invited a family over and you've gotten to know some people. What are some second steps? I think, sometimes, we can get caught up—not just in the first part,—
Michelle: —where we’re like: “Oh; we had such a great evening,” “It was a wonderful game night,” “I got to know these cool people!” It's almost like that second meeting or that third meeting—
Michelle: —those are just as hard.
Catherine: Yes; one of the things that—and maybe this is, you know, partly because I am more introverted and have less capacity, sometimes, for a lot of those meetings—a follow-up text the next day or a couple days after, and just saying: “I had a great time. How can I be praying for you this week?”
And what that does is: it shows that person that you care about them, that you're still thinking about them, and that you want to know what's going on in their life, and you want to be involved in praying for them. And the Lord has used simple texts like that to really grow relationships very quickly; because usually, the other person will reciprocate that back. That's an easy opening for you to engage and then to say, you know, “Let's get together again.” And then, in that next meeting, it’s the opportunity to say, “So how's this thing going?
Catherine: “You know, you mentioned this... I've been praying for you about that. What's going on with that?” And that's a great way to go ahead and start taking the relationship deeper.
Michelle: Yes; that's a really good point, because it is hard to figure out: “Where does texting come in? Where do phone calls come in?”
Michelle: Because we live in a day and time, where phone calls just don't happen anymore; but texts do.
Michelle: But sometimes you can read into the emojis or you can/you’re just like, “What really is being said?”
Catherine: Yes; I'm a hater of the phone. [Laughter] I was joking with a friend, the other day: “My mom is the only person I like to talk to on the phone. If you call me, something is probably going to need to be on fire; because I'm just not a phone chatter.” [Laughter]
But one of the things I love is—you know, apps like Voxer or Marco Polo—are things that some of the friends that I have—we use those a lot; because especially, you know, the opportunity to hear someone's voice, and to tell some of that inflection and what's going on.
Catherine: But not to have to—because the truth is—if I have to schedule a time to talk on the phone, things are going to happen; you know?—especially, if you've got kids, or you've got a job, or you know, stuff comes up. I think that's one of the beautiful things, about where we are with technology, is having the capacity to have conversations on our own time in a way that can still lead to deeper relationships.
Michelle: And that's a good point about Marco Polo or some of those other apps that help us, you know, do that recorded image; and then, we can send it to our friend and then they can reciprocate.
Michelle: Because I'm thinking of—there was, several months ago, I had a really hard meeting one night—and I needed to talk to somebody. I called a friend, and she didn't answer. And well, you know, I hit my head/I was like: “Of course! She doesn't like talking on the phone”; and yet, it was like, “But I need someone.”
Michelle: Whereas when you do, sometimes, use those apps—that will do a recording or something like that—you can/it sort of does help you, number one, get out what you needed help with or you need just a prayer request.
Michelle: And then it's still, face to face, in some ways.
Catherine: Yes; I have a very close group of friends from college, but we graduated from college 14 years ago. We've lost contact over the years. Through Marco Polo, we're actually all on this group together; and that has been just this beautiful way for us to reconnect.
And there are some of the girls on there who don't have super-close friends in their lives, and some who do; but it's been a really unique way for us to stay in touch with each other and to ask for prayer. I think, you know, you may have a situation, where you think, “I used to have this great friend, but now we don't ever talk.” Reach out, you know, and see if you can rekindle an old friendship, too; because I think most of the time, people are open to that. They just need to be asked.
Michelle: Yes; so Catherine, I want to move beyond technology a little bit. We talked about how to be a good friend. What are some of the things that we probably shouldn't say or shouldn't do? I mean, what would we consider a bad friend? I mean, I'm just thinking, “There are probably some bad habits that I have in my life,” and what are some of those?
Catherine: I've had the problem, at times, of someone, might open up and talk to me about something; and I can very quickly say, “Oh, yeah!” And it's good to kind of empathize with someone and say, “Yes; I've experienced that too.” But then there's this impetus to take over the conversation, and be like: “Yes; I've struggled with that,”—
Catherine: —and “Let me tell you all about it.” This person came to me to open up, and ask for me to listen to her and to pray for her; and I've just turned the conversation to be all about me. I think, you know, I don't always realize that I'm doing it; and then, afterwards, I'm like, “Ahh!”—you know, the conviction sets in.
Michelle: It’s that one-upmanship sort of thing.
Catherine: Yes, yes; “You've got a problem, but listen to my problem!” [Laughter]
And so, just being aware of what our role is at certain times and putting in the work to really try to understand other people; because we all engage from the perspective of who we are—
Catherine: —and what our preferences are.
Like you're saying, you know, you needed to talk to somebody; she's not a phone person. Sometimes, I need to be the phone person for my friends, because that's who they are. You know, recognizing, “Sometimes, I need to set aside my own desires in order to be there for someone else.”
But it takes work to know what that person needs from me and what their preferences are. You know, that doesn't mean that we totally check our own selves at the door; because we're in relationship with each other, because of the unique things about our personalities. And so we don't want to totally get rid of all of those things about ourselves. It needs to be a two-way street, but we do want to be careful about not just making a friendship about our own preferences and our own needs.
Michelle: Yes; and that's hard; that's hard. And is that something that we should be talking about with our friends?—and saying: “Okay; so do you need me to call you?” “Do you need face-to-face time?” or “Do you need, you know, talk time?”
Michelle: Is that stuff that we need to be—
Catherine: I think we do! And the only reason I think that is because I have friends who do that for me. You know, I had a conversation with a friend—that I've been close to for five years—and just a couple weeks ago, we had a conversation that was very revealing to both of us about, you know, assumptions that we've been making about the other person—and what she needed or what she enjoyed—that were wrong.
You know, I was assuming a lot of things about her, based on who I was; and she was doing the same. We both realized, if we just had this conversation four years ago, then things could have been a lot easier in our friendship; you know? I need a little bit more time to plan ahead. I can't be spontaneous in the same way that she can; but she needs to understand that me saying, “No,” doesn't mean, “I don't want to hang out with you.”
Catherine: It means, “I can hang out with you tomorrow or in a couple of days; but not in five minutes”; you know?
Catherine: And so I do think the more we can be clear and the less we can make assumptions about another person's motivations, the more healthy our friendships are going to be. I think that's a great question.
Michelle: That's a good point; that's a really good point. It got me to thinking about, you know, some of my friendships. I'm single, so I'm the spontaneous one.
Michelle: And I'm the one who says, “Hey, pack a bag!” You know, “Let's go hiking or whatever.” And, you know, some of my mom friends are like, “Um, I can't just do that.”
I'm wondering, “Do you have single friends?”
Catherine: Yes; I do. And you know, one of the things that I've realized is that is an area that I'm lacking in with sensitivity. It's easy for me to kind of fold my single friends into the rhythm of my family.
Catherine: It's harder for me to leave my family to be there for my friends—and the recognition of that—I mean, I think, a lot of times, they want to be with my family.
Catherine: But I also need to be there for them in their space, and in their environment, and in their world—and not just make the assumption, “Oh, you'll just do whatever I want,”—you know?—or “You’ll do whatever we're doing.”
Honestly, I mean, I'm sitting here, thinking: “That's probably a conversation I need to have with some of them!—like: ‘What is your preference?’ and ‘What would you need?’ or ‘What do you prefer in that situation?’”
Michelle: And how did those friendships come about?
Catherine: A lot of them just through my local church. Our small group community is really robust, and so we have a small group that we meet with every week. We share a meal together every Wednesday night, and then study the Word together. And it's just the highlight of our week to be able to come together.
And then, several of those girls are the ones that are in the Saturday morning group that I talked about. That's the opportunity to, kind of, take those relationships even deeper. You know, one of my good friends, who's single is in those groups with me; and she is significantly younger than me. I just love her perspective, and she's one of the people that is very transparent/very honest. That's an example to, you know, everyone else in our group. It’s been a huge encouragement to us.
Michelle: That's really neat.
Michelle: Catherine, thank you so much for joining me today and talking about friendship.
Catherine: Thank you! It's been an honor.
Michelle: What a fun, energizing conversation that was with Catherine Parks. You know, I hope you take some of her advice to heart. If you’re struggling right now, and are like, “I just want a friend,” or “I’m longing to talk to somebody,”—you know, take some of Catherine’s advice and remember the church: remember Bible study; remember being open and honest with other people; and sometimes, it’s going to take you taking that first step.
Do you remember, in the New Testament—in Matthew and probably some of the other Gospels—where Jesus is talking about the Greatest Commandment? He says, “Love the Lord with all your heart, soul, and mind.” Then He goes on and He talks about the second Greatest Commandment, which is “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Well, how do we do that?
Next week, on FamilyLife This Week, we’re going to take a look at how to love others like Jesus did. It’s going to be our special Easter edition of FamilyLife This Week, so make sure and tune in.
Hey, thanks for listening! I appreciate you taking time out of your day. I also want to thank the President of FamilyLife®, David Robbins, who listens occasionally, I think; and our station partners around the country, who listen all the time. And a big “Thank you!” to our engineer today, who has to listen to me—Keith Lynch. Thanks to our producers, Marques Holt and Bruce Goff; they also have to listen to me. Justin Adams is our mastering engineer; and of course, he listens to me; and Megan Martin is our production coordinator, and she gets to listen to me. [Laughter]
Our program is a production of FamilyLife Today, and our mission is to effectively develop godly families who change the world one home at a time.
I'm Michelle Hill, inviting you to join us again next time for another edition of FamilyLife This Week.
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