In this age of isolation, introverts and social media it is hard to make real life connections with people who are available to hang out, grab coffee, talk about life, and help in a jam. Regardless of whether you are single, happily committed, or in a “complicated” relationship, it is important that we develop our support systems; our tribes. This is an essential piece to developing a healthy and happy life.
There are some people who you will meet who will stay in the large outer circle of your tribe. These are people who you may interact with in your neighborhood, at work, at church, or at your child’s school. You may be friends on social media and hang out on occasion, but they are not the people who you would pour out your heart and soul to simply because you do not know them well enough. Maybe they are “inner tribe” worthy, maybe they’re not, only time and testing will tell. For now they are on the outskirts of your tribe. They are people with whom you have something in common and that you enjoy or find helpful on some level. While they are essential and enjoyable, they have not yet earned the right to be in the inner circle of your tribe.
Then there is the inner circle of your tribe. These are the people who love you and who you love. These are the ones who will do anything for you, who will tell you the truth even when it hurts, who will always have your back. It is this inner circle, this core group of people, who will help clarify who you are and who you are becoming. They will help you solve problems and create an atmosphere where you can grow and flourish. These people are your inner tribe.
If the people of this inner circle are not carefully selected and the deep friendships not cultivated, then you risk being isolated and lonely, or deeply hurt and betrayed. That is why it is so important to carefully choose who you allow into this sacred part of your heart. That being said, here are some things to consider:
1.) How big should your tribe be? There is no magic answer to this question. Typically I suggest cultivating around three or four really close friendships at any given time. The longer you live and practice the process the more close friendship you may end up with over the course of time.
2.) Where do I find these people? It would be fabulous if it were super easy and we could just go to the mall and grab a few that met our criteria. Unfortunately that is not the way friendships work. They take time to develop and require that we develop a history. So examine the people in the outer circle of your tribe. Who do you have some history with? Who do you admire or enjoy? From that group of people begin to select a few that you think might make a good inner circle for you.
3.) Is she safe? Let’s face it, if you are going to open your heart to someone you want to know that they are safe. A key factor in determining the safety of someone is watching how they handle the hearts of others who have entrusted their secrets to them. Does she break confidences? Does she gossip about other people? Does she tolerate listening to gossip from others? Does she tear people down or build people up? It’s a pretty safe bet that if she does it to others she will do to you.
4.) Do you have similar values? Since you will hopefully one day be coming to this person for their advice and opinions you are going to want to make sure you have similar values. Are you on a similar page when it comes to dating, marriage, parenting, partying, fun etc.? If you have totally different values in practically every area then it could pose problems when you come to her for counsel or advice. While she may make a wonderful friend, and a great person to bounce ideas off of for a different perspective, she may not be the person you want to go to for advice regarding upholding your own values and morals.
5.) Do you trust their judgement? By choosing this person to be a part of your inner circle you need to be able to trust them. Have they demonstrated that they will do what is right concerning you and your relationships? Do they seek to make good decisions in their own lives? Have they consistently given you good advice even when it was not what you wanted to hear?
6.) How do they handle conflict and confrontation? It is important to notice how they handle these things because with out a doubt this will become a part of the relationship. This will ultimately affect how you deal with others as well as how you and she deal with interpersonal issues between the two of you. Does this person handle conflict in a way that you would like to imitate? Consider what a confrontation with them look and feel like if you were on the receiving end.
7.) Are they loyal and available? There is really only one way to test this out. Ask them to be involved. Now I don’t mean straight up ask, but I do mean test things out. Send them a text or call them. Invite them to an event or to get coffee. This is how you will learn if they are available. If they consistently turn you down, or don’t respond, I would suggest that they are not available to cultivate a friendship with you at this season in their lives. As far as loyalty watch to see if they keep their promises. Are they ditching others to spend time with you or vice versa? If so that is a good indicator that at some point you will be the one being ditched.
8.) How often and in what ways can you invest in each other’s lives? Let’s face it we only have so much time that we can truly give, that is why it is so important to intentionally invest in these relationships. Figure out how frequently you can check in with your friend and be faithful to do it. Find ways to connect with them, bless them, pray for them, encourage them, and celebrate them. This is an investment that will have great rewards for you and for them.
A couple other things to think about.
While it is important to find the people you want in your tribe, it is even more important to be the kind of person you want in your tribe. Re-read through the list and evaluate how you are doing in each of those areas. Make a plan to improve in areas where you are weak.
No one is perfect. People are messy and relationships are messy. To have these kinds of friendships you have to be willing to take some risks knowing that the possibility exists that you may get hurt. You also need to be willing to try to work through things showing the same measure of love and grace that you would want to be shown.
These kinds of relationships take time to build. Be an observer of others. Choose carefully with whom you will begin to share and build a relationship. Offer little pieces of your heart at first and evaluate how they handle it. If they do well, offer more. If they do not do well, then you can always address that with them and use that as an opportunity to develop your own conflict resolution skills, which will make you an even better friend in the end.
Sometimes people are available only for a season in your life. Allow the natural flow of life to move some people in and out of your life. Treasure them while you have them and continue to connect when you can.
If you are currently in a destructive relationship it is likely that your partner will hinder your attempts to reach out to other people. Building this support system is critical to your emotional, mental, and possibly even physical health!
Proverbs 4:23 “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”
Proverbs 15:22 “Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.”
Proverbs 13:20 “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm.”
Proverbs 27:5-6 “Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.”
1 Corinthians 15:33 “Do not be deceived: Bad company ruins good morals”