I emailed a friend recently.
I hadn’t emailed her in over a year. To be fair, she hadn’t emailed me either. It wasn’t that something had gone wrong or gone badly. It’s just that, as with most things, life and being busy got in the way. We started attending different churches, we both took on some major life projects, and weeks passed and turned into months. We sort of forget we were friends in the middle of everything else.
Fortunately, she responded to my email within a day. We’ve been writing back and forth and we’re all caught up; we have plans to meet up before too long, and everything is pretty much the way it was before. We had a good laugh over the gap in communication, and reestablishing our friendship was simple. I was glad of it.
I recently took my car for an oil-change and a once-over since the red light on my dash reminded me that it was time. The guys who went over my car were nice and friendly and very reassuring: brakes good, fluid good, tires good, car good. Their efforts once every 10,000 miles or so keep my car running properly, catch problems before they start, and ensure that I need to get where I’m going.
It matters for believers, too, perhaps most of all.
I know a lot of Christians who are really great at starting relationships. They excel at meeting people, finding common ground, and establishing a beginning with someone. That’s great, and it’s a wonderful gift to have. But I know far fewer Christians who are great at maintaining relationships. All too often, we bring people into the church and then fail to cultivate relationships in any meaningful way (or, worse, expect them to cultivate everything themselves). And when a relationship isn’t maintained, it goes dormant. It decays.
A few shared experiences and some good feelings aren’t enough to keep a friendship – or any kind of relationship – going through neglect and disinterest.
The thing is, maintenance doesn’t take an awful lot. Sometimes it means a phone call. A card. A text, an email. A lunch or dinner get-together. A brief stroll. It doesn’t mean you have to be super-best-friends or joined at the hip or that you talk every single day or like all their Facebook photos. Maintenance is basically any sort of engagement or activity that says (and shows): I acknowledge you, I care about you, and I am here for you.
And what maintenance requires most are two things: 1) sincerity and 2) consistency.
If you just make a list of people to call to “maintain” friendships and you fly through those lists the same way you would a telemarketing target group with little to no interest in the individuals you contact, people are going to note your lack of sincerity. If you send a form email to keep up with your “dear and beloved friends,” people are going to note your lack of sincerity. If you invite someone to lunch or dinner or to go on a walk and spend the whole hour on your phone, people are going to note your lack of sincerity. So be sincere. Engage with people in a genuine way. Treat them like individuals. Make them know that they matter.
And then be consistent. That doesn’t mean you have to get in touch every single day – but once a week every week, or even once a month every month is good. Don’t be irregular. Don’t drop out of someone’s life for three months and then pop up again for two and then drop out again for seven. Don’t lose someone’s phone number just because they went to a different church or a different class or a different study. Be a stable presence in their life, regardless of time and circumstance, and they’ll notice.
It really is the little things that matter. And when it comes to friendships and relationships, they’re everything. Just a little bit of effort and the barest amount of maintenance can keep a relationship from falling into decay. Because decay is dangerous. That’s how we lose people. That’s when people start to think we don’t care, or that they don’t matter.
Starting relationships is a great skill. Keeping them is an even better one. So take some time today and do a quick check of your friendships and relationships. Which ones need maintenance? How long as the light been glowing on your dashboard? Make the call or the text, and take that tiny step to stave off decay.
The act of preserving relationships is a ministry all its own.