“How can I be surrounded by people and feel so utterly alone?”

Have you ever thought that before? Think of that social event where everyone had a date except you. Or that society meeting where you thought you made a new friend only to realize they had forgotten all about you the next day. What about those evenings at the dining common where you had only your laptop to keep you company?

Whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert, you have something built into your psyche that makes you long for friendship. No man or woman is an island—God Himself said that it was not good for man to be alone, and that was the only time before Adam’s fall that He said something was not good. Christian believers especially need close friends to encourage them in their walk with Christ, to hold them accountable to their goals, and to offer support in trying times.

I want to have close friends like that, but it has been difficult for me to find them. And I’m sure many of you—introverted or extroverted—have had the same experience. I can’t tell you for sure why you struggle to make friends, but I know that I struggle with the idea of being vulnerable with others.

A healthy relationship requires a certain amount of vulnerability. This doesn’t mean that you must always share your deepest, darkest secrets with your friend. It means that as friends you should be able to bear each other’s burdens, like Paul says in Galatians. Everyone struggles with something on a daily basis, whether it be anger, despair, grief, or temptation. You don’t have to go into specifics to share your burdens and to ask for support.

But being vulnerable like that requires trust that many of us don’t have. Many of us have been hurt in the past; perhaps we were vulnerable with someone, and they rejected us. Perhaps your friends couldn’t or wouldn’t give you the support you needed. Perhaps they gossiped about you and damaged your relationships with other people. Or perhaps they just distanced themselves and had nothing to do with you once they “figured you out.”

Because of these or similar experiences, you might find it difficult to trust new people. These new acquaintances may be nothing like your old friends, but it doesn’t matter. You don’t want to be hurt again, so you settle for superficial “friendships” instead of the real thing. You get along nicely with people you appreciate, but you refuse to be vulnerable again. And you never ask them to be vulnerable with you. These relationships likely will not last long, but at least you will be safe. Or so you think.

When Christians isolate themselves from each other, they are not seeking to be encouraged to live the Christian life and to avoid sin. They are divided and conquered by the enemy, who then seeks to conquer them one at a time. The enemy would have us seek the comfort we are not getting in all the wrong places rather than in the company of believing friends. The consequences of this are often devastating.

“What should I do, then?” you are asking.I don’t want to open myself up to more pain and heartbreak. What if someone hurts me again?”

Believe me, I understand where you are coming from. I feel the same way. But to grow as Christians, we need to learn how to trust our brothers and sisters in Christ. And by obeying His command to love one another, and to bear each other’s burdens, we demonstrate our trust in Him as well.

First, you must be discerning about who you trust. When you make a new friend, don’t start by baring your soul; get to know that person over time. See if they share burdens with you as you share yours with them. And don’t forget to pray, asking God for wisdom and discernment. In time you will become better at gauging whether a friend can be trusted.

Secondly, it’s helpful to remember that your friend is in no way superior to you, either as a Christian or as a human being. You are both equally precious in God’s sight, and He loves you both dearly. A good friend will call you out when you do wrong, but that person is not your moral superior and has no right to despise you for your weaknesses. Neither of you is the other’s judge.

And finally, when looking for good friends, it is important for you to be the kind of friend you want to have. Show people you can be trusted with their secrets and that you are willing to bear their burdens with them. Trust is a two-way street. The more your true friends see that they can trust you, the more they will reward your trust in them.

It isn’t easy to trust people when they have let you down time after time. Searching for godly friends can be a slow, painful journey, but you must not be afraid to take it. And you can take comfort in knowing you are not alone on the trail. I and countless others will be taking the journey with you this semester.