My two-month-old daughter and I attended a short morning retreat this past week, and while a nursing infant isn't exactly the most helpful partner on a retreat, it's amazing how God made sure I did get to hear something that He wanted to put on my heart.

One of the meditations was on the works of mercy, and the woman giving the talk spoke briefly about "the apostolate of friendship," the ministry that God calls all of us to within our community of friends.

The term "apostolate of friendship" really put into words some things I've learned and experienced about friendship over the past few years. One of the biggest blessings in my life here in Houston is our amazing, ever-growing community of friends. We celebrate together, eat together, grieve together, play together, and with certain friends have the intimate, joyful bond of praying together. I feel so blessed to have this community, since I didn't know a single person when Michael and I arrived in Houston three-and-a-half years ago!

God puts people into our lives for a reason, a season, or a lifetime. Moving to Houston and experiencing the process of making friends made me take more seriously the people He slowly brought into my life here. I will never forget how a few of those people reached out to me in friendship. And I will never forget the few friendships that God called me out of my comfort zone to initiate!

I am no expert in friendship, but I can tell you from my short experience of life that God wants all of us to take a more studied look at the friends and friendly acquaintances that God has put into our lives. Being God's hands and feet in the world comes into play with our family, friends and acquaintances. Be truly faithful in praying for the intentions of your friends. Make meals when new babies come or when tragedies befall them. Meet your neighbors. Make time for Skype or phone "dates." Send an encouraging note, email or text. Invite an acquaintance over for a play date or dinner. Be attentive enough to notice when someone is having a tough day. Treat a friend to a latte. Get a group of people together to help someone with big home projects or a move.

Thinking about friendship as an apostolate also put something else on my heart this week: how lonely motherhood can be, with or without a strong community of friends around you. It's so easy to become lonely in motherhood, no matter if we're working or at home full-time. I've been there. I am still challenged by loneliness sometimes. Children take up so much of our time and energy, and it can be such a feat sometimes to even leave the house. It's also easy to get wrapped up in our own group of friends, and not to be as open as we should to meeting new people or nurturing  new friendships. It can also be incredibly intimidating to try to make friends when you're the new mom on the block. I've been on both sides of that though. It is such an amazing feeling when someone reaches out to you, but it's a lot harder for some of us to take the initiative and reach out ourselves as a leader in friendship. It's also hard for some of us to step out of our comfort zone and take someone up on their offer of friendship.

I know it's more challenging for some of us to make friends than others. I'm married to guy who has never met a stranger and for whom making friends is as easy as breathing. I'm jealous of that wonderful quality of his in the best way possible. :) But no matter how introverted or shy you are, you have to reach out of yourself a little. Accept someone's offer to get together sometime. Ask to exchange cell phone numbers or email addresses. Maybe you need to talk to your priest about starting a mom's group at your parish. Or find and "friend" someone first on Facebook. Or create a Facebook event to organize a play date at the park. Or bake cookies and send a short a note to an acquaintance who was having a tough day the last time you talked to them.

Just because you may live in an area that doesn't have a lot of people your age or state in life, just because you're new in town, just because all of your friends have moved away or are too busy to spend time with you anymore...don't let excuses, however good they are, keep you from letting God make you bloom where you're planted and let His kindness, thoughtfulness, and love shine through you. Because you have been planted, and that's a fact. No matter where God has placed you, God has good work for you to do, and that work involves others. It may be a small group of people, or you may find yourself in the midst of the blessing of a much larger community. I don't think that God needs us to be friends with everybody, but He certainly means us to develop friendships with somebody. :)

If I may humbly submit, I get to write all of this that because I, for one, am not a natural extrovert. :) Ask my parents, my siblings, and my childhood friends. I wouldn't say I'm exactly an extrovert now; I'm just sort of an enlightened introvert by the grace of God. I think that many experiences God has brought into my life have helped me to break out of my shell a little. (Being married to my outgoing husband has certainly been one of them!)

Blessed John Paul II, when asked the best way to grow in one's faith, said, "The best way to grow in your faith is to give it away." I think the same idea applies to friendship. :)

Copyright 2011 Erin Franco