The Invitation: How Friendships Improve Our Health
by Julie Fisk
“Hi, I’m Katrina. Our husbands are on the worship team together. Would you like to sit by me?”
I didn’t know then that accepting Katrina’s invitation would be one of the best decisions of my life.
A newly married twenty-something, I was in the first year of my first post-college job and had recently moved to a community far from family and friends. As I sat through the pre-service in a pew by myself, watching my husband chat onstage with the guitarist, I recognized a truth that had started to haunt me: I was lonely.
More introverted than extroverted, I’d found female friendships to be fraught with competition and backstabbing. I shied away from groups of women, preferring the company of my husband and a best friend who now lived three states away.
I wasn’t alone in my loneliness. According to studies, loneliness affects 25-60 percent of Americans and has a risk factor with a health equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day. In fact, it’s so toxic that it has the cumulative effect of shortening one’s lifespan by eight years. Loneliness not only impacts our level of happiness, but it also spurs a decline in physical health and brain function.
Accepting Katrina’s invitation with a smile, I gathered my Bible and purse and moved across the sanctuary. As Katrina cheerfully introduced me to other women our age, including me in the conversation and the camaraderie, my trepidation eased.
When Katrina told me she was starting a Bible study and asked if I’d like to join, I immediately agreed. And I prayed that the opportunity would help me to find friends among the young women who gathered around Katrina’s kitchen table every Tuesday afternoon.
Our group met for more than a decade in living rooms and kitchens, wrestling through hard questions of faith and life as we navigated marriages, miscarriages, babies, layoffs, grad school, career changes, and Katrina’s death after a five-year journey with cancer. We lived life alongside one another: grieving losses, laughing like loons, gently holding one another accountable, and wildly cheering one another on as we each followed the path Jesus set before us. We found a community of sisters whose friendships have lasted beyond that Bible study, and Jesus is at the center of it.
Recent studies reveal that the loneliness epidemic continues to grow, affecting all age groups. God never intended for us to do life alone. Living in a healthy community with other believers makes us stronger both spiritually and physically, and yet—as connected as we are online—the loneliness epidemic is worsening. How do we reverse this trend?
As people who love Jesus, we’re the ones He deploys into the places and spaces we frequent with a warm smile and an invitation. He sends us to co-workers, to fellow parents sitting on sports sidelines, to the people living across the back alley, to those we volunteer alongside. Like Katrina, He asks us to keep our circles open, looking for the newcomer standing by herself at the edge of the gathering and inviting her to join. When we make time and space in our schedules and lives for others, we are blessed beyond measure and find encouragement, comfort, and even health.
Looking for practical ideas to combat loneliness and cultivate friendships?
- Host the neighbors in your backyard for s’mores on a Tuesday evening.
- Invite a co-worker out for lunch at a locally owned cafe on a weekly basis.
- Send a card through the mail, encouraging someone who is experiencing difficulties.
- Offer to babysit for a young couple in your neighborhood so they can enjoy a date night.
- Text or email a prayer to a friend every Sunday afternoon.
- Invite an international college student into your home for an American dinner (most international students never step foot into an American home or experience an American holiday celebration).
- Look for someone a generation older or younger than you and invite her out to coffee.
Oftentimes, it’s the small gestures that mean the most. Just as Katrina’s invitation brought me into a community of women who became my most trusted advisors, I try each day to pay that invitation forward by keeping my own circles open, asking God to introduce me to my next new friend.
Julie Fisk, Kristin Demery, and Kendra Roehl—creators of the website and online community known as The Ruth Experience—are three friends whose lives are intertwined as writers, speakers, wives, moms, and world-changers. They are the authors of several books, including The One Year Daily Acts of Friendship: 365 Days to Finding, Keeping and Loving Your Friends and 100 Daily Acts of Friendship for Girls: A Devotional.
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