“Friendship… is born at the moment when one man says to another ‘What! You too? I thought that no one but myself.’”— C.S. Lewis
True friends are a gift from the Lord and a crucial part of our growth as Christ followers. When you share an interest with someone, or have a “What! You too?” moment like Lewis describes, your life is enriched. As young adults, we have learned a thing or two about friendship, and they aren’t always easy; in fact they can be the cause of grief and frustration. While there isn’t a perfect formula for making and maintaining friends, we can spur one another on as Hebrews 10:25 says, and as we have some honest conversations about the topic.
I am sure you have faced some disappointments with your friends. Maybe they forgot to follow up with your latest text, only listened half-heartedly to an important conversation, or even spaced off an important event. Those experiences are discouraging, but there is a difference between being disappointed and being devastated. Scripture tells us that the wounds of a friend are trustworthy (Proverbs 27:6), so sometimes you might need to have an honest conversation to let a friend know you were hurt by what happened. Other times, love covers a multitude of sins (I Peter 4:8). However, if you find yourself bitter and bent out of shape because your friend messed up once again, then the reaction reflects more the condition of your own heart. That way of thinking is all around us in our present culture. If I do this for you, then you should do this for me. You may have fallen into the “giving to get” expectation of friendship. In his book Counterfeit Gods, Tim Keller states:
No person, not even the best one, can give your soul all it needs… you can’t balance the things that are disappointing you and try to move on to better ones. That’s the way of continued idolatry and spiritual addiction.
Somewhere along the way, your expectations for that friendship became a requirement for contentment. We can easily forget that friendships are imperfect gifts to be enjoyed, flaws and all.
Friendships have seasons. The more we accept that, the more we can be grateful for our time with friends and be ok when timings and schedules don’t work out. This line of thinking breathes freedom and joy into friendships instead of suffocating them. Jesus is the only friend whom we are meant to always rely upon and expect to be there in every moment of every day. The promise of Isaiah 41:10 is that God alone is the one who is with us through all of life. Still, He uses friends in different times and circumstances to help us rely on Him and reflect His kindness.
THE REAL DEAL IS MESSY
Completely balanced friendships are rare. One person is often giving more than the other at certain times (Think about Jonathan and David. They had a beautiful friendship, but Jonathan sacrificed much more than David). Having close friends with whom you bare your soul is healthy. Deep friendship requires us to open up about the topics we naturally avoid—trials, sin struggles, fears, you name it. But, we don’t have the emotional capacity to have those conversations with everyone, and sharing everything with the whole world is unwise. Our closest friends are the ones we sit with after an unexpected loss or after sending a loved one to rehab. These are moments that stay with us. The friend who walks with you through those dark days is a true gift. The NLT puts Proverbs 27:9 this way:
“The heartfelt counsel of a friend is as sweet as perfume and incense.”
If you are wondering why you don’t have any friends like that, is it possible you haven’t really opened up to others? Being transparent is scary, and you’re not required to share your whole story on social media, but if you can take steps to open up with a few godly people, you will begin to experience the beauty of messy friendship.
In short, how do we cultivate good friendships? We learn how to be good friends ourselves first. We serve alongside our friends or help them move when they change apartments for the 47th time. We ask good questions when they seem overwhelmed but haven’t admitted it to themselves. And we sit with them when life is broken and words aren’t needed.
As we cultivate being this kind of friend, God may bless us with sweet friendships. But even in that obedience, we may still face periods of loneliness. Those seasons are also by design. In the moments when we are alone or disappointed, whether by the messiness or absence of friendship, the promises of God and His character become dearer to our hearts:
For I am the Lord your God, who holds your right hand, who says to you, “Do not fear, I will help you.