Recently, I shared a conversation with a friend who is approaching the end of her freshman year in college. This isn’t the first time I’ve had this conversation, in fact, it’s one I’ve shared with quite a few freshman girls. Typically, our discussion begins with a description of her relationships, like her roommate(s), sorority sisters, boyfriend, or the friends she’s made in her dorm hall. As the conversation deepens we usually end up talking about how lonely she feels, even though she is surrounded by more people than ever before in her life. I listen with empathy, remembering my freshman year of college and what a stressful time that was for me emotionally & physically.
I had access to two heart friends from high school at the U of A [pictured during our sophomoreyear — fortunately, we demolished all photo documentation from freshman year, as it is just too painful to recount], but I still struggled with feelings of loneliness as I walked through campus, attended classes of 200+ students, and sat in our sorority chapter meeting with my 74 pledge sisters that I couldn’t even call by name. I felt like a small fish in a really big pond. There were so many moments in which I struggled with feeling awkward, insecure, and out of place. The only place I wanted to be after my first semester of college at the University of Arkansas was back home.
Fast forward to the tail-end of spring semester, in which I felt better about life in Fayetteville & decided to live in my sorority house the next year, in hopes of developing friendships with my sorority sisters. There was a girl that served as our sorority chaplain [pictured right], who started a prayer group I attended with a few other women, including Elizabeth [formerly] Chenoweth [now] Seifried [pictured left]. These two asked if I would like to be their roommate in the Kappa house my sophomore year. I was stunned. I thought Sarah Baker [pictured right] was the most beautiful person I’d ever laid eyes on and Elizabeth Chenoweth [pictured left] was way out of my league socially. I mean, she even had her own Facebook group, “We Love Cheno,” which I am dismayed to report has since been deleted [yes, I tried linking it so you could all give it a thumb’s up]. Anyway, why in the world would they want to room with me, the girl who hardly made it to chapter on a weekly basis? I still have no idea, but this began a sweet season of learning how to cultivate friendships.
You see, prior to college, my friends happened upon me without requiring a whole lot of added effort. Kristen, Sarah & I [remember them, the high school girlfriends I mentioned above?] had classes together for 5+ years, hung out in the same friend group, and over time our friendship developed, mostly out of the convenience of close proximity + common interests. Don’t get me wrong, I cherish their friendship deeply & they are still a part of my ‘inner circle,’ but I’m trying to communicate the reality that our friendship developed without putting in a lot of work.
That approach doesn’t really work with the amount of people + lack of time you have in college. You can only expend so much energy to so many people. Unfortunately, if you’re like me, you might not have experience cultivating friendship any other way.
While grieving with this college freshman over the fact that her friendships lacked depth, I had a bit of an epiphany. I suggested that she strive to become the kind of friend for which she is longing. That’s when it hit me: I didn’t really know how to be a friend or how to cultivate friendship either, until the Lord brought Elizabeth Chenoweth into my life.
Elizabeth discipled me in the ways of friendship [and in a lot of other ways, but we will focus on this one today for the sake of trying
to be concise]. I want to share a few things I learned from my friend, “Cheno” [that’s what we called her back then & I can’t seem to let it go yet, though she is now technically a Seifried] about being a friend.
1. Friendship requires devotion & devotion is a whole-hearted pursuit.
Elizabeth pursued [and continues to pursue] me. She left notes for me on my bed, on my desk, in my notebook, and on my computer. She made funny videos and posted them on my Facebook wall. She even gave me a first-day-of-school present [it was an apple cutter and I donated it to the KKG house when we graduated, so now all of you girls know who that thing belongs to, hehe]. Elizabeth was devoted to being my friend, and she showed that to me in the way that she pursued me.
2. In order to be a friend, you must seek to know & be known.
Elizabeth was intentional about getting to know me. Living together helped tremendously, but she also took time to visit my family in Oklahoma with me. She invited me to tag along on her family vacations. She asked me questions and listened to the answers. Elizabeth knew my favorite snack, she knew I loved RVs & old people and that I love hate the sound of balloons bursting. In return, she shared her heart with me.
3. Friendship involves celebrating each other & recognizing each other as a gift from God.
This point builds on the latter, because in order to celebrate someone you must know them. Elizabeth celebrated me. Get this: on my birthday she blew up a photo of my face & wrote, “Wish this girl a happy birthday today!” & hung it up all over campus. She wrote “Happy Birthday!” signs on the sidewalk with chalk. I woke up to fresh donuts & blueberry coffee from my favorite breakfast joint in Fayetteville. And that is just one of many instances I could describe. Elizabeth spoke life into me. She was [and still is] one of my biggest fans. We knew that it was a gift to do life together and we communicated that to each other often.
4. Friendship involves service.
I literally had to make myself out of bed in the mornings when I lived with Cheno. If I didn’t, I kid you not, my bed would be made by the time I returned from my trip to the bathroom. She took out the trash, drove me to class, and lightly scratched my forearm because she knew I loved physical touch. Romans 12:10 says, “Outdo one another in showing honor.” Elizabeth did just that & I could hardly keep up with her.
I had the privilege of living with and cultivating friendship with Elizabeth for three years in college. You know what’s funny? 8 hours south in College Station, TX there were two men named Brooks & Grant who were also college roommates for three years. To be honest, Brooks & Grant may have been even more intentional about cultivating friendship than Cheno & I were. I met Brooks through Pine Cove & he asked me on a date. A few weeks later Grant met Cheno [independent of Brooks & me] & he asked her on a date. Through a sequence of events most commonly known as dating and engagement the four of us ended up where we are today: best friends, married to best friends. Or maybe I should say, “couple best friends.” I’m not really sure about the wording, but here is what I am sure of: Elizabeth showed me what it looks like to cultivate a deep friendship & those principles have carried over into my marriage.
I am now learning that marriage requires devotion, & devotion is a whole-hearted pursuit. To beone with your spouse you must know them & be known by them. That involves celebrating each other & recognizing that each of you are a gift from God. We are to serve each other in marriage as an expression of The Gospel & the service that God has extended to us through the Cross of His Son.
God made us to need & require friendship, and the ultimate expression of friendship is marriage. [Credit goes to Chris Legg
for teaching that to me]. I am so grateful Elizabeth chose to ‘disciple me in the ways of friendship,’ as I didn’t really know how to cultivate & develop depth of friendship until she lived it out in front of me & showed me how to do it. The extension of her friendship to me has greatly impacted my life & my marriage. My hope is that you will be encouraged to be
the kind of friend that you desire, recognizing that ultimately, it is an expression of the ultimate friendship that has been extended to us in the Person of Jesus Christ.