My husband is a pilot, and his career has moved us all around the country. We began in Georgia, moved to Colorado, and are now headed back to our southeastern roots to settle in Tennessee.
I have made wonderful friends from each of these places, and they are the sort of friends I want to continue investing in. There’s a God-ordained power in friendships, a spiritual undertow pulling us to those who may not always share our same views but who always need what we can offer them (and vice versa).
However, if you are like me, moving from place to place, or your friend is the one who has packed up and moved into a different season of life, how can you stay close to them? When face-to-face conversations are no longer an option, is it possible to remain close? To still share secrets and silly stories?
In my experience, the answer is yes.
Just last night, I visited a dear friend from college I hadn’t spent time with since I moved to Colorado. While I was on the other side of the country, she had her first baby, who is already over a year old. When I walked into her home, we sat on the floor, in between baby books and toys, and chatted for three hours straight.
No talks about the weather or surface-level thoughts; we simply discussed life and the seasons we are enjoying and enduring. Our conversations were as deep, if not deeper and richer, as when we planned her wedding, when I cheered her on as she crushed law school, and when she and her husband first struggled with starting a family.
Next week, I am driving to Atlanta to visit friends I met in Colorado who are now moving on to Seattle (as I move on to Tennessee). Turns out, we will both be within an hour of each other as our husbands train for their next piloting phases, so we are carving out time to catch up.
It isn’t easy to make long-distance friendships work, but it is possible and oh, so worth it.
Let’s check out three key ways you can invest in long-distance friendships:
Don’t Neglect the Simple Thoughts
When you see a meme that makes you think of them, send the graphic to their phone. If you aren’t a pro at cooking, but your friend would know which secret spice to add to your chili recipe, call and ask for her advice.
When a place, scent, meme, or activity makes you recall their friendship, let them know. As with most things in life, quality over quantity reigns supreme. You might not talk all day every day, but if you are consistent with letting your friend know when you think of them, they know they are remembered.
And if there is one thing we all need, it is to know that we are remembered by others, that our presence, though limited, lasted in their life. In a world plagued by anxiety, depression, loneliness, and darkness, it is more crucial now than ever to remind people that they are valued by you. By doing so, you show them the love of the Father who hand-fashioned their being and has a bright, hope-filled future waiting for them.
Be Gracious with Your Time
Just as we should reach out to our friends when we think of them, the truth is reality often makes this simple task difficult. Work meetings pile up, kids’ extracurricular activities fill up the weekends, and all other errands are squeezed into whichever window of time they can fit.
Life is hectic for all of us, and if we can remember that our friend is likely experiencing the same chaotic routine as us, we will be more apt to extend grace when Facetime plans are pushed out or texts are left unanswered for days and sometimes weeks.
If I may be frank, our culture has fallen in love with playing the victim, with pointing fingers at everyone else without examining self. But if we can stop looking for ways to feel sorry for ourselves and seek out reasons our friends can’t follow through with every plan, perhaps we will be less prone to search out the faults in friends and focus on ways to offer understanding instead.
Of course, this doesn’t mean we are to hold fast to friendships that aren’t, well, real friendships. Friendship is a two-way street that requires effort from both sides, but effort, in human hands, is prone to failing and missing the mark from time to time. We can’t expect perfection from our friends, just as we can’t expect flawlessness within ourselves.
Take time and space to decipher who your true friends are, and make special note of ways you can practice patience, extend grace, and offer empathy when you feel communication is one-sided. (Besides, you never know what someone is privately struggling with. Perhaps an unusual silence on their end results from a battle they are facing. Could a card of encouragement or phone call aid in their journey?)
Ignite a Sense of Adventure
I hate driving through Atlanta traffic; folks are wild, reckless, and inconsiderate as they squeeze themselves between thousands of cars clogging the interstate. I also loathe finding a place to park and paying all sorts of meter fees once I finally reach my destination. But seeing my friends will be worth it.
Though I wouldn’t consider Atlanta traffic a thrilling adventure, you must be willing to ignite a sense of adventure when experiencing a long-distance friendship. Time and space physically separate these sorts of relationships, so you must be willing to cross physical dividing lines to see one another.
Sure, some seasons are busier than others, allowing for little free time, and unexpected bills might make travel expenses impossible for a while. This is okay. However, when an undeniable opportunity arises for you to physically see your friend, take advantage of this gift.
In two weeks, I will fly to Colorado to visit a friend I haven’t seen in months. As someone who struggles with clinical Contamination Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, navigating an airport induces chest-pain anxiety. In short, I dread being around so many people from so many places bunched into one airport.
However, my frustration with flying fades compared to how much my friend means to me. She’s the sort of friend who would always knock on my apartment door with homemade Nigerian food. She and her husband always looked out for my little family. Spending face-to-face time with her will be worth the internal woes of surviving an airport.
If you have a friend you truly care about, and you have the time and means, dig deep to find a new sense of adventure, even if it’s a bit scary. After all, love is only love when it faces hard things and chooses to endure for the sake of someone deemed more important than self.
In a day and time when jobs take us thousands of miles away, or God calls us to a new country, a new culture, we must tap into the resources needed to sustain long-distance friendships (and other relationships, for that matter).
Take a few moments to examine the relationships in your life that feel stretched thin by time and distance. Discern ways to be more present and gracious to those who matter in your life.
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/monkeybusinessimages
Peyton Garland is an author and coffee shop hopper who loves connecting people to a grace much bigger than expected. Her debut book, Not So by Myself, was promoted by Former White House Press Secretary Dana Perino and Endorsed by TED Talk speaker and creator of the More Love Letters Movement, Hannah Brencher. She lives in Colorado with her husband, Josh, and their two gremlin dogs, Alfie and Daisy.