The more I spend time with the people I love, the more I realize that relationships are hard! I’ve learned that whether we’re trying to point strangers to Jesus, love our friends well, or just figure out how to be kinder to ourselves, we can totally end up pushing people away without realizing it. So often our intentions are good, but our conversations can end up sabotaging our friendships. A year ago, I met a friend for coffee, not realizing that what I thought I knew about cultivating relationships was about to shift forever! There was one thing that helped me have a more meaningful conversation that day. And the result? It was the beginning of a journey to cultivating deeper friendships with the people around me.
It all started as we sat down at our favorite coffee shop and began to catch up about life. I listened as my friend shared about what was going on in her journey at work and about what God was teaching her. She asked me about how I was and what was going on in my life, and I gave her my go-to answer, “Everything is fine! Life is really good right now.”
Honestly, I really wasn’t lying. It really was a great season in my life. But there was more to it than that, and my friend must have heard it in my voice. Her reply to me in that moment completely changed my life. “Jillian, you know this is a safe place.”
She was right—I did know it. I had every reason to believe that my messiness was always safe in the hands of those who loved and cared about me, and I was confident that she did. But week after week, I’d default to the same several answers, skirting around the things that were really on my heart.
I spent most of my adult life attempting to love others well and cultivate healthy, godly relationships in my life, but somehow along the way I began to subconsciously withdraw my trust out of fear. This resulted in surface-level conversations that weren’t very meaningful and didn’t add value. Because of this, a pattern of emotional distancing emerged, and I had no clue. Well, that is, not until my friend offered her presence as a “safe space.”
In that moment I knew God was drawing me into a deeper conversation, not just with my friend, but with Him, too. Just look at what 1 John 4:18 says: No fear exists where [God’s] love is. Rather, perfect love gets rid of fear, because fear involves punishment. The person who lives in fear doesn’t have perfect love.
Because I was living in fear of how my friend might respond to vulnerability, I wasn’t allowing myself to rest in God’s love for me or to receive my friend’s love in that moment! That’s when I realized that vulnerability was what my life was missing. It was the key to having meaningful conversations with others that would draw us closer and not apart.
So how can we have more meaningful conversations with the people around us? Vulnerability definitely isn’t something that’s easy to do, and I’m not sure there’s a step-by-step guide that we can follow. What I do know is that it’s something that we all can grow in if we’re intentional. Here are several things that helped me to have more meaningful conversations with the people in my life:
1. Be present. It can be easy to come into conversations with others completely distracted. We all have a lot going on most of the time, and sometimes the mental to-do lists or the struggles we’re facing can distract us from fully investing in conversations with the people we care about. Listening is all about setting our messiness aside for a few minutes and allowing our brains and emotions to take action on what someone says.
2. Tell the truth. Sharing our deepest struggles or admitting our weaknesses to others requires courage. But when we speak honestly and transparently about our lives, we’re allowing others to help us fight the constant battle against fear and shame. We’re not meant to face combat on our own! In fact, Galatians 6:2 reminds us to “help carry each other’s burdens. In this way [we] will follow Christ’s teachings.”
3. Have patience. Sometimes being vulnerable involves showing patience with ourselves and with others. It’s not easy to bring deep things to light, so it may take time to learn how to dig below the surface, and we may not always get it right! As long as we’re taking each next step and challenging ourselves to be courageous in conversations, we can count it as a win.
4. Show empathy. Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. When the people we care about are opening up about the things on their heart, they can feel that their safety with you is at risk. We can validate our friends’ value and acceptance with us no matter what they share by acknowledging their feelings and sitting with them in it.
5. Love yourself. We must understand that in the moments when we hold ourselves back from those around us, we’re not loving ourselves well. There’s a reason why Jesus tells us to love our neighbor just as we love ourselves— because we can’t love others well until we can first learn how to love ourselves! The courage to be vulnerable involves loving ourselves enough to invite our friends into those deep places with us.
I used to think having a meaningful conversation just meant showing up for people and giving them my time. All it took was a simple reminder from a friend for me to realize that I was all wrong. It’s really about vulnerability. When we’re able to embrace the safety of others, only then will we be courageous enough to go deeper with our friends and have truly meaningful conversations. Sometimes they may look like awkward silences or confessing sin, but every time we’ll discover that it’s truly our vulnerability that can lead to healing. This is where faithful friendships are formed and bold love can bloom!