I’ve been thinking a lot about friendship lately. It’s funny how suddenly something can come to the forefront of thought through a variety of small reminders and triggers. While I was reading a book about raising great kids, the author cited the quality of friendships as the greatest single predictor of personal happiness. The mobile in my baby’s crib plays “Make New Friends” as one of several tunes. Among other things, these small experiences have made me stop and think.
Young adulthood is a time of tremendous changes. A quick glance at your Facebook news feed will easily confirm this. If it’s anything like mine, friends are getting engaged and married, having children, graduating from college and graduate programs, buying houses and cars, moving, starting new careers and hitting milestones in established ones, and so on and so forth. With all these changes come increasing levels of responsibility. Friendships evolve as well. Suddenly, being the same age doesn’t necessarily equate to being in the same stage of life. Maintaining friendships becomes increasingly difficult since you’re no longer attending the same school or living in the same dorm or even the same city or town, etc.
Yet friendships are still vitally important. Ideally, our relationships are a source of reciprocal growth, bettering each person symbiotically. We know this instinctively to be true: who our friends are has a large impact on who we are and who we are becoming. Friends wield tremendous influence, for better or worse. Toxic friendships can wreak havoc on our lives with negative peer pressure accelerating poor life choices. However, the opposite is equally true. Beneficial friendships can drastically improve our lives with positive peer pressure, encouraging the formation of good habits.
So how do we go about fostering and nurturing good friendships while avoiding unhealthy ones? Today I would like to present 10 ways to do this.
First, look introspectively and work on your own self:
1. Become a good friend yourself. You only get as much out of a relationship as you’re willing to put in. Be the kind of friend you want to have: one who’s reliable, empathetic, caring, thoughtful, and generous.
2. Take responsibility for your own actions. Yes, friends have tremendous influence, but ultimately you choose your friends and allow the degree of impact. Avoid situations that lead you into temptation and try your willpower. Know your limits and be able to say no.
Next, take stock of the friendships you have. Make the important relationships a real priority in your live, even when it’s difficult. Be able to distinguish between good and bad friendships and influences.
3. Evaluate how you speak and act when you’re together. Is the conversation uplifting or does it tend toward gossip or dirty jokes or coarse language? Do you feel that you’re getting to know a kindred spirit or being drawn into ugly comparisons and unkind words? Is this relationship encouraging good or bad habits? Are you changing for better or worse? Are you a positive or negative influence on one another?
4. Understand what made you friends in the first place and what keeps you friends today. Is it a shared interest? Wonderful conversations? Encouraging you while holding you accountable to your resolutions?
5. Don’t keep score. Does it really matter whose turn it is to call or email or text? If the friendship is important to you, it’s worth maintaining. You’ll go through seasons where one or the other is putting forth greater effort.
Build your current social network, focusing on face-to-face interaction.
6. Initiate wholesome fellowship. It doesn’t have to be costly to be fun. Organize a hike or picnic or flag football game or another outdoor activity. Plan an outing to a local sports game or concert. Invite friends over for a game night or dinner party. Set up group bowling or ice skating or dinner out or trivia night, etc.
7. Know where to find good friends. Look for young adult Bible studies or groups at your church. Join a recreational sports league. Take a class on something that interests you. Perhaps some of your coworkers share interests outside work. Feel free to make new friends wherever you are.
8. Don’t feel limited to people who are your exact age or in the same state of life. It’s good to have friends who can relate to where you are because they’re in similar circumstances, but it’s also good to have friends who are in different places in their lives. Single people can have friends who are married and vice versa. Interactions with people who are in other places can encourage greater growth.
9. Don’t fall into a popularity trap. Reach out to the person who doesn’t fit in, or is uncool or awkward. Don’t be afraid to initiate a friendship.
Lastly, and this may be the hardest, don’t be afraid to end a friendship that is hurtful.
10. Know when to let go of a friendship. As important as friendships are, there are some that aren’t going to stand the test of time. Sometimes it’s because they’ve grown unhealthy, and those need to be ended quickly. Other times, it’s more of a drifting apart as you become less relevant to one another. It’s okay to mourn a lost friendship, but it’s also important to move on.
True friends enrich our lives and increase our happiness. May you be blessed with the best of friends. I will leave you with these words of advice from Sirach 6:5-17:
Pleasant speech multiplies friends, and a gracious tongue multiplies courtesies. Let those who are friendly with you be many, but let your advisers be one in a thousand. When you gain friends, gain them through testing, and do not trust them hastily. For there are friends who are such when it suits them, but they will not stand by you in time of trouble. And there are friends who change into enemies, and tell of the quarrel to your disgrace. And there are friends who sit at your table, but they will not stand by you in time of trouble. When you are prosperous, they become your second self, and lord it over your servants; but if you are brought low, they turn against you, and hide themselves from you. Keep away from your enemies, and be on guard with your friends.
Faithful friends are a sturdy shelter: whoever finds one has found a treasure. Faithful friends are beyond price; no amount can balance their worth. Faithful friends are life-saving medicine; and those who fear the Lord will find them. Those who fear the Lord direct their friendship aright, for as they are, so are their neighbors also.”