A true friend is one of the greatest gifts we can be given on this earth. I’ve had periods in my life with few deep friendships, and those were without a doubt some of the hardest times emotionally for me. Interestingly, they weren’t the times I’ve gone through the hardest circumstances; sometimes my circumstances were just fine. Rather, I felt alone on my journey and isolated. The bone crushing, heart wrenching times in my life have been brutal to be sure, but I have been blessed to have deep, close, honest relationships during most of those storms, and that in and of itself makes the storm much more bearable.
God tells us, “A true friend loves regardless of the situation, and a real brother exists to share the tough times” (Pr. 17:17, MSG). So many, many times, it has been my close relationships that have helped me hear God’s voice and to move away from adversity and ahead toward light and freedom. I believe God gives us friendships for that reason. Consider the following:
“ Wounds from a friend can be trusted,” (Pr. 27:6a NIV)
“A man’s counsel is sweet to his friend.” (Pr. 27:9b NASB)
“A despondent person deserves kindness from his friend,even though he strays from the fear of the Highest One.” (Job 6:14 VOICE)
“Friends come and friends go, but a true friend sticks by you like family.” (Pr. 18:24 MSG)
“Love one another the way I loved you. This is the very best way to love. Put your life on the line for your friends.” (Jn. 15:11-13 MSG)
“By yourself you’re unprotected. With a friend you can face the worst. Can you round up a third? A three-stranded rope isn’t easily snapped.” (Ecc. 4:12 MSG)
Obviously, friendship is not only important to God, it’s part of what we need in order to truly understand God’s love and connect more deeply with our creator – not just the giving of friendship, but the receiving of friendship from others. Yet the Bible also makes clear not every friend is equal. Some friends come and go; some stay by our side no matter what happens. Some can be trusted; other’s can hurt you. Proverbs 12:26 puts it this way, “The righteous choose their friends carefully, but the way of the wicked leads them astray.” (NIV)
There are many examples of positive friendships in the Bible – Jonathon and David, Elijah and Elisha, Naomi and Ruth, Paul and Timothy to name a few. These were priceless relationships where each person helped the other to grow, strengthen and move forward in life powerfully. But there are also some very negative examples of relationships in the Bible – Cain and Abel, Samson and Delilah, Jezebel and Ahab, and even Barnabas and Paul. Some of these relationships were downright destructive. Each person spurred the other on toward evil, bitterness and heartache. In the case of Barnabas and Paul, they sharply disagreed on an issue and parted paths. Their friendship was deep and powerful for a season, but their journey’s diverged and they went separate ways. Neither path was wrong; they were just different.
I’ve learned one of the secrets to having those strong friendships that spur you on toward powerful growth is to be intentional about whom you pull into your life. Not all friends are created equal, and some friends who were perfect for one season may not be the best fit for the current season we find ourselves in. Just understanding those two statements puts great power at our fingertips – the power to choose a person (yes, we get to choose!) who actually helps build us up and the power to realize sometimes a person is no longer the best companion to move forward with on our journey. The first helps us to surround ourselves with people who genuinely “get” us and have our best interests at heart. The second frees us from the guilt we can sometimes experience when a friend, despite our best efforts, no longer does “get” us and isn’t going to necessarily help us make the best choices moving forward. It hurts; it’s hard, and tears may be shed, but it’s a normal part of the process.
No one is perfect, myself included! Friends have let me down, even the best ones in my life, and I have let them down. But because we are close, I cut them slack, just as God (and my true friends!) cut me slack. And working through those challenges together makes us better people. It’s worth the effort. Unfortunately, there are still times a friendship needs to come to an end. To discern this I’ve learned to ask myself some basic questions: do I consistently feel like I’m less or bad about myself after spending time with this person? Do they respect me and honor my personal boundaries? Do they have a tendency to bring out the worst in me? Do they take the time to understand, or do they jump to conclusions? If a consistent, negative pattern emerges, I’ve learned to respectfully but firmly bring the relationship to a close. And when I have opened up that space, stronger and richer relationships have been allowed to enter in.
All of us need relationships. Research shows time and time again the benefit of having genuine, close friends. Such friends are gifts. They are the ones who are there for me through thick or thin, come hell or high water. They are the ones who are willing to tell me what I need to hear, not what I want to hear. And even if I don’t listen, they still love me, accept me, and make me feel safe and secure in our friendship. They don’t tell me, “I told you so.” They don’t judge me. They just love me and are committed to helping me on my journey, and I do the same for them. These are special, intentional relationships. These are the relationships to water, cultivate and grow.
For further thought: Researcher and author Brené Brown says, “We cultivate love when we allow our most vulnerable and powerful selves to be deeply seen and known, and when we honor the spiritual connection that grows from that offering with trust, respect, kindness and affection. [It’s] the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.” What does this mean to you? Post your thoughts 🙂