What is a friend?
"I feel plain, unlikable and lonely," despairs Lisa, a bright teenager from a loving home. "It seems nobody wants to be my friend — or at least my really good friend. What's wrong with me?"
Like Lisa, many of us experience loneliness, some more than others. The truth is that all people, no matter what their age — even the most outgoing, wealthy and popular — experience loneliness at least occasionally. But sporadic feelings along this line are light years away from facing the rejection of peers on a day in, day out basis. That's how Lisa feels. Nearly every day she wakes up to a world where it seems no one her age cares.
Perhaps you can relate to Lisa. You've been there. Or you are there. Or maybe it's just that you're lonely more often than you'd like to be. You'd like to have more friends. Or at least one or two very special friends you can count on.
Let me begin by saying it's healthy and natural to want to be around people who care. After all, from the very beginning of time, God has said that it is not good for man to be alone (see Genesis 2:18). We've all heard the phrase "No man is an island." It's true. We all need others in our lives.
How do I make friends?
Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, offers counsel in Proverbs 18:24 on the subject of friendship. He explains that if we want friends, we must be friendly and reach out to others. But reaching out involves risk. Perhaps you think, What if they don't like me? What if they embarrass me in some way? Because we are often afraid of rejection, many of us are unwilling to reach out to others. We take a safer approach and wait for others to befriend us. But if we want friends, we've got to get beyond this. We must realize it is our responsibility to make friends. So just how do we go about it?
The Bible Says ...
As a girl, I was very shy. I desperately wanted friends but did not know how to get them. My mother told me to reach out to others who were also timid and alone and start talking to them, just as Proverbs says. Reluctantly, I tried it. To my surprise, it worked. I started connecting with others who felt as I did. Because I was willing to take a risk, I went from feeling lonely to having some terrific friends.
If making great friends is your goal as well, consider these actions:
Be willing to take the initiative. If you see someone whom you would like to know, don't wait for her to make the first move. Approach her and begin a conversation. Invite her over to your house or to church or a youth activity. Let her know in a nonaggressive, nonthreatening manner that you are interested in being friends.
Reach out to those who are lonely. When you see someone at school or at church sitting alone, go over and sit with her. Talk to her and get to know a little bit about her. And don't let popularity determine whom you reach out to. You'll often be surprised at the beautiful qualities hiding behind a shy or awkward appearance. When you break the ice by demonstrating that you love and care, you receive love and care in return.
Ask questions. People always like talking about themselves, so initiate your first conversation by asking this potential friend what she likes to do. Show interest. Find out if she plays sports. Ask about her favorite subject in school or about her family. Probing allows you to discover what you have in common. Showing an interest in others also allows them to respond by showing an interest in you. Be sure to ask questions that cannot be answered yes or no. For instance, don't ask, "Do you have a dog?" Instead say, "So, tell me about your pets." This gives your potential friend an opportunity to elaborate on the question, not end it awkwardly with a one-word answer. Even more important than asking the right questions is listening (and remembering) the answers. Of course, interrupting is a big turnoff to almost everybody.
Be friendly and smile. Be warm and friendly to others. Smile ... a lot. We all enjoy being around someone whose face reflects happiness. So make sure you approach your potential friend(s) with warmth and body language that sends an "I care" message.
Be patient. Give friendship time to grow. Many times we scare away potential friends by sharing or expecting too much, too soon. Allow your friend time to get to know you, and give yourself time to know her before you share the deeper things of your life. Remember, when you give anyone some of your heart, you are giving that person a precious gift. Therefore, you want to present it to someone who will treasure it. That means you will want to know that your friend is trustworthy. But it takes time, so don't rush the process.
Remember, not everyone will like you. None of us wants to be rejected. Yet, we must realize that sometimes when we reach out, people will decline our offer of friendship. That's okay. Remember that friendship involves risk. And we can only have so many friends. If you have three or four intimate friends in a lifetime, you can consider yourself fortunate. For one thing, you only have a limited amount of time to invest in relationships. If you seek too many friends, you will shortchange yourself; you'll find you do not have a real closeness with any of them. Intimacy takes time and investment. When you discover that your efforts at finding a true friend haven't succeeded, don't give up. Just begin the process all over again. It's truly worth it when someone responds and a great friendship is formed!
What makes a true friendship?
"People with deep and lasting friendships may be introverts, extroverts, young, old, dull, intelligent, homely, good-looking, but the one characteristic they all have in common is openness." Alan Loy McGinnis
When Val told her best friend, Marie, that she was interested in a guy named Travis, she made Marie promise not to tell anyone. "My lips are sealed," Marie pledged. But as Val entered her homeroom the next day, a guy in the back row shouted, "Hey, Travis, your future wife just walked in the door." After that, the teasing was nonstop. Of course, Val felt hurt and betrayed by someone she had called her "best friend." And rather than apologize when confronted, Marie tried to turn the situation into Val's problem. "What's the matter, can't take a little teasing?" Marie blurted.
All of us have experienced the pain of being stabbed in the back by someone we thought was a friend. Although Val forgave Marie, she also realized something important that day: what she thought was a close friendship had simply been wishful thinking. When Val faced the facts, she knew Marie only talked to her when none of her other friends were around. It was not real friendship. Val overlooked this treatment in the past. But she decided that from here on out she was going to find a true friend. In addition, she promised herself to be a true friend.
A true friend is someone who is ...
trustworthy. You've got to be able to live up to your word and keep a confidence. Are you "using" someone as a friend until a better option comes along? A true friend would never do that. True friendship finds fulfillment in encouraging, supporting and building up the other person. If you're in a friendship only for what you can get out of it, you're in it for the wrong reason. A real friend is always faithful and looking to protect and seek what's best for the other person.
loving. Part of genuine friendship is telling your friends what they mean to you. Be creative in looking for ways to express your feelings: hugs, notes, pats on the back. Or give small tokens of your appreciation. Treat your friend to a Coke at a local fast food restaurant. Send a letter to your friend's parents thanking them for helping make your friend into the person she is. Depending on your age, personality and interests, you'll find ways of expressing affection that are genuinely your style. However you do it, do it often. No one ever gets tired of hearing that she is loved, valued and appreciated. The important part is being consistent and making sure your thoughts are communicated and received.
open. Be honest with your friends. As you learn more about them and become more comfortable in your relationships, you will naturally share more about yourself. Go slowly at first. Friendship is a process. Do not share the most intimate details of your life until your friends have proven that they will love you and value what you share.
respectful. Respect means listening without interrupting. It means you don't focus on your friends' weaknesses but look at their strengths. It means avoiding a judgmental (condemning) and critical spirit. Instead, make sure the words that come out of your mouth are kind, uplifting and considerate. Your friends should walk away from you feeling they've been treated as the most important people in the world.
a servant. Selfishness is one of the biggest enemies of true friendship. Rather than asking what your friend can do for you, find what you can do for her. Make a deliberate effort to discover what your friend needs. A kind word? A helping hand? Encouragement? Comfort? One of the side benefits of serving your friends in this manner is that, more often than not, they will respond by returning the favor.
a speaker of truth. There may be a time when you need to lovingly confront a friend on her wrongdoing. Pointing out weaknesses can be difficult, but it's a true act of love all the same. The Bible says that if you "rebuke a wise man, ... he will love you" (Proverbs 9:8). As long as you're speaking the truth in love (and trying not to be hurtful), these tricky times can prove to be building blocks in your relationship. If you ignore every wrongdoing and bottle up all the hurt inside, you will grow increasingly angry and probably wind up lashing out under pressure — something that almost always proves damaging to friendship.
a positive person. No one wants to be around a person who's negative all the time — the person who sees the glass as half empty instead of half full. Look for the best in people and in situations. Then express those optimistic thoughts. When you hear someone else's grumbling and complaining, try to turn those thoughts into positive ones.
What do I look for in friendships?
Friends since third grade, Jill and Laura do almost everything together. They play guitar and go shopping together, run on the same cross-country team and go to the same youth group. Unlike some so-called friendships, when they're together, there's no game-playing. They don't wear masks or try to do or say things to impress each other. They just like being together, hanging out and enjoying each other's company. It's a safe environment.
In the Bible we see this type of friendship between Jonathan and David as well as Ruth and Naomi. And even in Jesus' life: Although He had 12 disciples, His inner circle — His closest friends — were three in number: Peter, James and John. No doubt, they laughed and had fun together while they learned about God and trained for their mission. If even Jesus considers friendship of great value, how much more do the rest of us need close friends?
When it comes to developing friendships, it is important to look for certain traits. Not just any warm body will do. Look for these qualities:
Similar Values. When choosing your friends, it's important that you value the same things. Sara and Lyn had been friends for years, but when they entered high school it became apparent that their values were very different. Lyn liked to spend her weekends drinking. Sara didn't feel that drinking honored God and, therefore, did not enjoy partying. This eventually led to an end in their friendship, since their values led them to spend their time doing different things. A true friend should help strengthen your own biblical values. Proverbs 27:17 explains it this way: "As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another." But the Word also warns that "bad company corrupts good character " (1 Corinthians 15:33). We want to choose friends who will sharpen us, not corrupt us.
Common interests. Without common interests, you have little to talk about or spend time doing. Good friends enjoy the same type of activities — or at least are willing to participate in each other's interests. Some friends enjoy staying busy — constantly on the go. Others enjoy quiet times at home writing poetry, painting or reading a book. Without similar interests or the willingness to stretch yourself to develop those similarities, you have little to share.
Likability. There are some people you just connect with immediately. You enjoy their humor, their style, their personality, etc. Sometimes you may find someone with similar interests and values but you don't have a friendship-attraction to them. You'll respond better and enjoy your friend more if the two of you mutually like one another.
Consistency over time. More than just initial attraction, true friendship will stand the test of time. You'll want to observe your friend in many different situations and throughout all seasons. For instance, how does she handle hard times? How does she deal with anger, joy, sadness and jealousy? How does your friend deal with an overcast, cold and rainy day? How does she deal with your feelings? Is she a comfort and support? Is she loyal and faithful? As you see your friend handling life situations in a healthy way over a period of time, you will become increasingly drawn to her — reinforcing your initial thoughts that she could be a genuine friend. On the other hand, sometimes as we get to know people we find out they are not what they first appeared to be. We are wise to discover who they really are before calling them close friends. And as noted, this takes time. What's more, we must always make sure that we are being the kind of friend we would want to have.
Working through the most common problems in friendships
Problem #1: My old friends are jealous of my new friends.
Many people feel insecure when a new person comes into a group. To help your old friends feel secure and less threatened by a new friend, reassure them that they are still important to you. Tell them that you still value their friendship. Be careful not to exclude either your new friend or your old friends. Assure them all that there is enough love to go around. As you do this, your "older" friends will feel more secure and be less likely to become jealous and more likely to be accepting of your new friends.
Problem #2: Another person "stole" my friend from me and now prefers this new friend to me. I feel very left out.
A true friend cannot be "stolen." If your friend decides to spend some time with a new friend, excluding you, that can be very painful. It's natural to feel left out. But if your friend is a true friend, she will not desert you for another person. Someone who leaves a friendship because she's found another person she likes better is someone you'd be better off without in the long run. People who experience this kind of betrayal feel sorry for themselves and try to control and manipulate the lost friend to come back, only find that they ultimately lose respect in the eyes of their former friend. This type of groveling separates rather than attracts. For most, once the relationship reaches this stage, it is beyond repair. The wiser, more difficult choice is to let your friend go and begin developing other friendships that are lasting. Sometimes you may have to go through this cycle two or three times before you find that genuine and trustworthy friend you are looking for. But if you continue to pursue close friendships, you will find them.
Problem #3: Someone who's been my friend since elementary school is drifting away.
It is not uncommon to feel that a friend is drifting away when you enter into a new stage of your life (like high school or college). When you go to a new school or get involved in a new activity, you are exposed to many new people as well. Maybe your classes are different from your old friend's. Maybe you'll find that your interests are changing. Do not take this drifting away personally. Rather, allow it to be a time for you to assess your plans, goals and interests, looking out for new people whom you'd like to befriend as well.
This doesn't mean you should just call your friendship off. Instead, reach out to your longtime friend — and reach out to new ones as well. Do not back off just because someone seems to be drifting away. Continue to pursue the friendship. However, if after some time goes by, your friend does not respond by reaching back to you, then it is time to concentrate on those other relationships. Remember, it is up to you to have the friendships you desire.
Problem #4: My friend is jealous because we both like the same guy.
Jealousy and envy are always enemies of genuine friendship. If you're in this situation, no doubt you feel torn. It is difficult when one of you connects with a person you are both interested in. If your friend allows that feeling to ruin the relationship by demanding that you stop liking the guy you are interested in or becomes angry and treats you poorly because of it, she is not a true friend. A real friend would have your best interest at heart. Just make sure, if the guy likes you, that you don't flaunt the relationship in your friend's face. Be careful.
If the shoe's on the other foot and the guy takes an interest in your friend, don't allow yourself to become jealous. Instead, support her, pray for her and seek her best as you always have. Yes, you will likely be disappointed, but if you are a true friend then you will be happy for her anyway. And don't let any dating relationship ruin a friendship. There's no reason to have to drop your old friend for a new guy. Continue to make your friend a priority by expressing your care and concern. Keep calling. Keep seeing. Keep the relationship alive. And keep in mind, in most situations young romances do not last ... but your true friendships will — as long as you don't do something foolish that puts a wedge between you.
Problem #5: My friend is getting into some bad stuff (drugs, immoral behavior, wrong crowd, alcohol) and has been avoiding me.
It is critical that you choose your friends wisely. Proverbs 13:20 says, "He who walks with the wise grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm." We become like our friends whether we want to or not. Our friendships influence who we are and how we act. That is why it is important to choose committed Christians for our closest friends. We can (and should) have non-Christians as friends as well, but our most intimate friends should be in love with the Lord Jesus Christ. These friends should also have the same beliefs, convictions and lifestyle that we have. This way they can understand us and encourage us in the way we should walk. It is easy for a non-Christian to pull a Christian friend down. Not because she necessarily wants to, but because over time the believer will be tempted to excuse wrong behavior, let down her guard and embrace the unbelieving friend's wrongdoings as well.
If your friend doesn't share the same convictions and doesn't have the Holy Spirit to convict and empower her, your Christian walk is in jeopardy if you remain close to her. If your friends are living in a way that doesn't honor God, you shouldn't treat them coldly or cruelly. But it is always better to let go of a friendship than to let that friendship pull you away from the Lord.
Problem #6: My friends and I do not like someone who "tags" along.
Many times someone who tags along does not have many friends. Because as Christians we are told to love others, we must love everyone — even the tagalongs. Though it's tempting, we do not have the option to reject someone simply because she is not "cool" or fun to hang around. We are told to treat all people in a loving and kind way. As you follow the Lord on this, He will honor you for your obedience, making it easier to love someone who is hard to love.
Loving a person doesn't necessarily mean making her a part of your closest circle of friends. What it does mean is that when you have the opportunity, you are to treat her with kindness. The line between the two can seem a bit fuzzy at times, but as you seek God's best, He will direct your paths on what to say and how to act. If your other friends do not like the kindness you're showing to this person, then they may not be the best friends for you to have anyway … or at the very least, they need a "refresher course" from you on what it means to be a loving and caring Christian.
Problem #7: I have a lot of friends but no "best friend."
Most of us think it is critical to have a "best friend." While there's nothing wrong with this, ideally we should shoot for having three or four intimate friends. Not only does it help if one of our friends moves away, but a small group of close, intimate friends can be loads of fun.
Problem #8: My friend is nice to me when we are alone but mean to me when we are around others.
A true friend loves you consistently. If your friend is mean to you when others are around, you need to communicate to her that her actions are hurtful. If she listens and makes an effort to stop, then you indeed have a genuine friend. But if she refuses to stop and continues to treat you differently when you are with others, then she is not a true friend. Although it's hard to do, you'll need to start looking elsewhere for that special and true friend.
When it's all said and done
Everyone has a need for close relationships. God created us as social, emotional beings: We thrive in healthy friendships and find great fulfillment there. Keep in mind that in all healthy relationships we should be asking, "What can I do to benefit and love my friend?" ... not, "What can this person do for me?" Realizing that Jesus had close friends reminds us of God's intentions for relationships — He designed friendship to be caring, loving and intimate. To have these type of friendships, we need to realize it is our responsibility to find and build healthy relationships. To do so, we must reach out to others and treat them the way we would desire to be treated by a friend — looking out for what is in their best interest.
Rather than trying to befriend the most popular people we know, we should target those individuals who are probably as lonely as we are. Think about it — when we do this and the person responds, then neither of us is lonely anymore. Don't forget the power of prayer in finding the right friends. God will direct us as long as we're faithful and obedient to Him.
We need to be willing to slowly share our hearts and allow our friends to do so as well. Everyone is fearful of rejection, but someone has to reach out first. We must be willing to take risks, realizing we really have nothing to lose . . . and a lot to gain. As we seek genuine friends and live the message of King Solomon — if we want friends we must be friendly — we will discover that this biblical principle really works. Just don't give up!
All scripture quotations are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.