Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Drop-By Friendship

When I was still in high school I started dropping in on friends unannounced. My favorite kind of visitor is the surprise one, so I decided to try it on other people. Calling terrifies me, though I push through and do it all the time. I much prefer the extreme awkwardness of being found on one’s doorstep at the least opportune moment. The reason is, you get real friendships that way. “Am I calling at a bad time?” can be answered with vague politeness. But “Hi! I was in the neighborhood…” will be met with sincerity, even if only momentary.

If the friend invites me in, I can see how they live when they aren’t expecting company. I know that they’re letting me inside their everyday lives. And much depends on how I handle myself as a guest. Sometimes I go bearing gifts. Complimenting artwork, furniture, or the atmosphere is great – if I mean it! Whatever the reception, I try not to overstay my welcome or be too much of a burden. For the first attempt, it can be useful to drop by between appointments, so that the potential length of my visit is established.

Why does it work? Friendships that revolve around real life go deeper. They’re more useful, as they turn into a sort of discipleship or accountability. I end up being friends with whole families instead of just one person. There is no pretension when my friends don’t have time to straighten up or dress up. Visits happen more often if you just go for it than if you try to work out schedules. Frequency goes a long way in building relationships.

Of course I can’t pick on the same friend too often. I wouldn’t drop by unannounced more than twice a month. One must be careful not to burden the amount of supper set on the table by stretching it to feed an extra, especially if the friend is watching their budget. Also women, at least, tend to neglect their work if they have a friend nearby. Discourage this. Try offering to help – but not in a way that implies you’re uncomfortable! Waiting around for a friend to arrive if they were not home initially is not recommended. I do sometimes call ahead about 5 minutes. One of my friends has been known to greet unexpected visitors with a knife behind her back!

The success of this method in building close friendships is amazing. Almost every friend since high school has been subjected to random visits. My first try lived down the street, so before I could drive, I walked there. Now she has moved but I have a car, and I drop in and help her fold laundry and sweep her kitchen, making dinner together for her family. My younger friends get occasionally kidnapped to the mall, used bookstore, or Coldstone Creamery. One of my most recent first-visits included a loaf of homemade bread, and resulted in holding her newborn all afternoon while discussing theology, family, books and movies. “Let’s be good friends,” she says. Which is exactly what I mean to do.

To God be all glory.

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