Four Factors in a Friendship

COMMUNITY MONDAY

You’d think that being a new Christian and joining a church would be the beginning of a wonderful time with like-minded people. It wasn’t so for me –took me 10 years to find my sweet, wacky, out-of-the-box kind of believers — just like me!

Our church had a congregation of thousands and being a newcomer was hard going. On a whim, I joined a retreat with a friend, thinking that it would be a good way to get to know people and promising each other we’ll skip out on the teaching sessions once they get boring.

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We were divided into small groups for discussion. The leader, Stanley, asked me to start the session with prayer. I was taken aback. I had never prayed aloud before, and I told him so. He prayed instead.

Next session, Stanley again asked me to open the meeting with prayer! Well, I thought, this guy is persistent. Anyway, to get rid of him, I opened my mouth and uttered my first public prayer. This was the first step of many leading me to head the prayer ministry in the same church. (Stanley subsequently went into the pastoral ministry, eventually became senior pastor of the church and then President of the Methodist Church in Singapore).

But even though I eventually joined Stanley’s fellowship group of about 50 people which had Common Interests, I couldn’t find close friends there. The Chemistry was missing.

It’s difficult to define chemistry but we all know it when we feel it. It’s that spark that tells us we are kindred spirits. Their company makes us sparkle and shine. It’s invigorating to be with them — they seek us out, and we them. Life’s possibilities get bigger, we’re challenged to try new things and travel to new places. And this is the defining factor — we laugh longer and louder with them.

But even when we find someone with common interests and chemistry, the friendship breaks if there aren’t Common Values.

For me, bearing grudges is a deal-breaker. Either we talk it out and make up, or we move on. For some weird reason, some people believe they still can stay in the midst of community while harboring angry thoughts about another. It doesn’t work. Sooner or later, the volcano will erupt.

And lastly, there’s Trust. Trust involves risk. We can slowly risk telling more about ourselves to the other, and see if they can keep that confidential. We also need to see if they have integrity. Do they do what they say they will do? Or are words just sweet nothings?

Four factors in a friendship: Common interests, chemistry, common values and trust. A client asked me if she should stay in a relationship. I described all four factors and let her decide.

Cultivate your community now —

before it’s too late.

Photo by Chang Duong on Unsplash

When I was a young adult, the message was, “you’ve made it when you’ve gotten married.” Once my friends were married, I didn’t hear much from them. I was disappointed at being summarily abandoned once their goal was reached, but I decided I would make new friends.

After many years, I found I was pretty good at making and keeping friends. It wasn’t intentional, but many of them were more accomplished, more well-travelled, had more resources than I had. They were like me in the sense that they were always working on growing, on being better than before. Some had a better start; others seemed to have had it worse, but being gifted with much intelligence, natural energy and an incredible work ethic, became proficient in their field.

And then recently, I realised how my early losses and my positive response, which was making friends with the younger generation as my own generation dumped me, have buffered me against a reality that those my age and older are facing — a shrinking community and the prospect of loneliness.

Desperate, these people try to cultivate relationships that were abandoned decades ago, and to be honest, it feels odd, weird. Relationships take time to cultivate; they can’t be revived overnight. If you’ve ignored someone for decades and then suddenly decide you want a relationship with them, the normal response would be, “What??” Or worse.

My takeaway is, don’t just discard your friends just because you’ve gotten married and have had children, an exciting career and a higher social status. Friendship, like marriage, is for life. Take time to nurture your friendships so that when you need your friends, they’ll be there — naturally.

Re-gifting your Christmas gifts

Many put a lot of thought into their Christmas gifts, but sometimes, what they give you may not be appropriate. For instance, I received a large-sized Yankee Candle — I know it’s a nice gift coming from a warm heart, but I am allergic to some fragrances, especially Yankee Candle’s. If I keep it, it would gather dust. So I decided to give it away.

(Refer to my article, the Trojan Horse Gift https://wordpress.com/post/tree-of-healing.com/228 for my rationale in giving away gifts)

But who would like it? I went through my list of friends — most have allergies or prefer gifts that are organic in origin — then, I recalled one of them loves fragrances. How do I know? Most people give as gifts the things that they themselves enjoy. So I sent a text:

I also added in the gift I originally intended to give her. So she had a bonus!

Christmas is a time of giving — a time of being generous in love, thought and deed. May your Christmas season be rich in all three.

Navigating around Noxious Leaders

What happens when the leader appointed over you is insecure and somewhat unpleasant to deal with? What happens if you are the noxious leader? Let’s deal with the first category, before we go to the second.

If you’re in the first category, there are three clear options:

First, ask for a transfer. I was known as a capable writer and I got transferred to another department to get it started. But I didn’t like the new boss, so I tweaked a connection and got myself out. This is one of the advantages of working in a big organisation and of being junior in ranking. There are more options.

Second, grit your teeth and bulldoze your way through. This was viable as the boss liked me, although I disliked his style. The positive factor was that I had established trust with him over time by constantly being able to meet expectations as well as taking over a project that another colleague had overtly rejected, to his great discomfiture. I was also very honest with him.

By God’s grace, I could handle the pressure for some time. When I was near the end of my tether, another more mature boss took over. Thank God.

Third, resign. This is a viable option when you find that what your boss wants doesn’t coincide with your design. As the saying goes, It’s like trying to force a square peg into a round hole. It’s doing violence to who you are, and what God has designed you to be. It’s not a good situation to be in and it’s better to resign and look for another position — and so preserve your mental health — than stay and be miserable.

If you cannot change your situation, then it’s time to evaluate if God is trying to develop certain attributes in you that you don’t have yet. And the likely reason you don’t have it is that you never learned it from your family — the first place where you’re exposed to leadership, good and bad.

For instance, if one of your parents was controlling or inflexible, then it’s quite likely you’re going to repeat that behaviour in the workplace — it’s the only kind of “leadership” style that you know. And God allows you to lead a team and in a confrontation, a member calls you controlling and inflexible. Oops.

Or to remedy that awful controlling behaviour you so despise, you become so un-controlling and so flexible that your leader tells you that your team is out of control. Oops… again.

Then, what to do? Learn to balance both structure and freedom. Those are key values for me. In a previous article on forming a prayer team, I integrated both values in the way the team functioned https://wordpress.com/post/tree-of-healing.com/104

Agreement was also important — I spell out my working style and ensure the other person understands and agrees before moving ahead. Then, there’s unity. And with unity, there’s power to do God’s work (Psalm 133).

In God’s moulding process, I found out some of my key values: structure and freedom, agreement and unity. What are you finding out about yourself?

Working with Good Leaders

I am known for working well with some prominent leaders and sometimes am the target of jealousy because of that. 

While my enemies like to think I was plotting, planning and scheming, actually it was simpler than that. God was arranging a series of divine appointments all along.

By His direction, I joined a prominent organisation, and just over a year later, a mature, respected leader was appointed to lead it. Staff were generally happy about it and when he came, the first thing he did was set expectations. Our organisation, he said, was a big one and change had to be done slowly. He also set the tone of our interaction — we were not to act like fishwives, but were to address each other respectfully, regardless of our position. Then, he set about having one on one conversations with the staff.

Newly arrived and desiring to get things going ASAP, he wanted me to lead a key position. It would be a position of prominence and if I had been ambitious, I would have leaped at it. Except that I had a reservation and decided to tell him to direct his queries a certain direction.  And said no more.

Later, he came back with a look in his eye and immediately changed his plans — I had told him what the issue was, without telling him anything. He could see for himself. And also because I wasn’t fighting him when he wanted to lead in certain areas of my domain, he trusted me more.

As far as I was concerned, he could take the lead if he wanted to. He had made it clear he wanted the right to make the final decision on any matter as he would be taking the blame if anything went wrong. That was fair enough. He was a far cry from the insecure leaders I had to work with, who would take the credit for themselves when things went well, but blame the subordinate when things went awry.

We worked well because we had similar values.

Because I was a leader [of 50s, he was a leader of 5,000 (Exodus 18:21)], I also knew what a leader needed and because I was an introvert — and he even more so — I knew he needed space and I gave it to him.

I respected his privacy and his boundaries. And he also respected mine. Because of his unofficial mentoring, I became a better leader. From him, I learned how to have friends in the office without practicing favoritism. He was the most humane and effective leader I had ever met.