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Walking into a new school in the middle of my seventh grade year, I felt waves of excitement, fear and trepidation. No familiar faces—a whole new set of classes, teachers and students to meet. New friends to make? I hoped so, but on a day like this, that seemed too much to hope.

I’d had these feelings before, like coming into my fourth elementary school in the middle of my second grade year. The students were all reciting something I’d never heard: “ I before E , except after C .” I felt like an alien, very lost and out of place.

It’s happened to just about everyone at one time or another. Being a stranger in a new place, knowing no one, with no friends in sight. Or having your best friend move away, or worse, turn away and no longer be your friend.

Friends can give life both its zest and its stability. They can make the good times far better and the bad times much easier. But what can you do when life throws you a curve and takes you away from your friends? What if good friends are really hard to find?

Mother Teresa, a hero of the poor, sick and downtrodden of the world, was no stranger to disease and suffering. But when she was asked “What is the worst disease you have seen?” she replied: “Of all the diseases I have known, loneliness is the worst.”

We all have times of loneliness—it can even happen in a crowd. But the God who made us doesn’t want us to be lonely. He wants us to have strong, meaningful relationships—with our families, with friends, with His Church and with Him.

What can we do to gain more friends? Here are a few ideas gleaned from many wise people, young and old, and from observing many friendly people. Let’s start with a very simple one that can have surprising results:

• Smile! Remember a time when a simple smile meant a lot to you? Give some of that power away. Try a scientific experiment (or trust those who have): People often smile back when others smile at them. You have to make this first move in breaking the ice. It’s a subconscious clue that you are friendly.

• Say something encouraging. “I hope you do well in the game [or in the concert or on the math test].” Too often people hear put-downs—but a sincere compliment or friendly word of encouragement can be a welcome breath of fresh air.

• Show your interest. Ask about their hobbies, sports or other interests.

• Listen. So many of us hunger for others to listen to us. We can provide that invaluable service—free! Communication experts talk about the importance of eye contact and body language as cues that we are really listening. Don’t let your eyes wander or you’ll send the wrong message. (You don’t have to stare the person down, though. Just let your eyes show you are interested.)

• Develop a hobby; join a club or team. Friendships grow most naturally in the soil of shared interests.

• Study friendly people. Consider the things the “friend magnets” you know do, and see how to adapt them to your personality. A high school senior I know, who always seems to be able to meet new people, is bold and outspoken and cheerful. Maybe your personality won’t stretch enough right now to be bold and outspoken, but the cheerfulness part might work.

• Be willing to accept personality and other differences in your friends. We all have a personality type, but we can shape it and stretch it more than most people ever try. Friendliness is a trait everyone can have.

• Focus on what you can give a friend. Too often friendship problems come when we focus on what we are not getting.

• If you’re new in town, meet some of the other new kids. At least you start with one thing in common! Plus they too could use a friend.

• Expand your circle beyond just the “usual suspects.” Some of those who become our best friends might not seem likely candidates at first. Often a good place to look for a friend is in someone who could use a friend. The most popular person may not have time for another best friend. Consider the handicapped, the elderly.

One teenager wrote about an extraordinary friendship. “Seven days ago I lost a friend. He wasn’t a usual friend, but was a very special friend. He was a 71-year-old man who attended my local congregation … Anyone who knew him will tell you he was one of the most pleasant people you could ever meet. He had a rough life. He battled many health problems that ultimately resulted in his losing both his legs.

“Whenever you saw him, you saw his smile. He always had a smile and an encouraging word. I thank God for letting me get to know him in the last years of his life. He was like the grandfather I never had, and he was the kind of man I hope I can be.”

• Study stories of good friends . One that moved me is the story of Damon and Pythias, loyal friends who were willing to give their lives for each other (William Bennett, The Book of Virtues , 1993, pp. 306-308). The Bible is full of real and inspiring stories that can help us improve our friendships. Read about David and Jonathan, Ruth and Naomi, Jesus and Mary and Martha, Jesus and Peter, Jesus and John and many more.

• Remember, it’s not worth it to go against your morals and beliefs to try to be accepted. The Bible gives many examples of false friends (consider Delilah and Judas) and even talks about some friends to avoid (Deuteronomy 13:6 Deuteronomy 13:6If your brother, the son of your mother, or your son, or your daughter, or the wife of your bosom, or your friend, which is as your own soul, entice you secretly, saying, Let us go and serve other gods, which you have not known, you, nor your fathers;
American King James Version×
; Proverbs 22:24 Proverbs 22:24Make no friendship with an angry man; and with a furious man you shall not go:
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; James 4:4 James 4:4You adulterers and adulteresses, know you not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.
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). God will provide another way—ask Him.

This short article only scratches the surface of this important subject, but we’d love to hear your tips and your stories about friendship for a future issue. Also, you may want to explore the biblical principles of right relationships in more detail. Our free booklet Making Life Work can help you in this. VT