You may have heard, “choose your friends carefully.” But does it really matter? It’s not like they can make you do something you don’t want to do, or can they? The truth be told, friends influence our choices more than we realize. They also can make or break our sense of hope and joy.
I don’t know what I would have done without a good friend to support me through several years of difficult life circumstances. Let’s talk about why it really matters who your friends are.
Why we need friends in our lives
The entire world recognizes that friendships are a necessary part of life. “Friendship day” is traditionally the first Sunday in the month of August.
But why is this bond between people so important?
Studies have shown that people who are socially connected live longer. (Anthropologist Robin Dunbar of the University of Oxford)
According to the Mayo Clinic, friends help us celebrate, as well as cope. They help us deal with stress which is the cause of numerous health problems.
We need positive human interaction. During times of war or disaster, babies who had been separated from their families don’t do well in near isolation. Human contact affects our growth and development physically, emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually. That is part of the reason that when man was created, God said that it was not good for him to be alone.
Bible verses about friendship
The Bible is a good place to learn about the best and worst friendships. Here are just a few of the verses (1)
Benefits of friendships
- A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity. Proverbs 17:17
- Two are better than one … For if they fall, one will lift the other up … And though a man might prevail against one, two will withstand him. Ecclesiastes 4:9-12
- He that walks with the wise will become wise. Proverbs 23:20
- Therefore encourage one another and build each other up. 2 Thessalonians 5:11
- Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. Galatians 6:2
- Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Romans 12:15
Warnings about friendships
- Do not be deceived: bad company ruins good morals. 1 Corinthians 15:33
- The companion of fools will suffer harm. Proverbs 23:20
- Make no friendships with a man given to anger, nor go with a wrathful man, lest you learn his ways and entangle yourself in a snare. Proverbs 22:24-25
- Whoever repeats a matter separates close friends. Proverbs 17:9
Who are your friends and what are the dynamics?
There are healthy and unhealthy friendships. It all comes down to the dynamics between the two.
Psychologist Robert Seyfarth of the University of Pennsylvania developed a definition of friendship using three elements.
1. Healthy friendships are long term
Real friendship does not happen overnight. Much like nurturing a plant, it takes time and effort. One of my best friends and I have shared meals, visited the beach together, worked together on projects, and been in the same Bible study group. This effort is well worth the investment.
“If you need a shoulder to cry on, you need to prepare that shoulder ahead of time.” Robin Dunbar
2. Healthy friendships are positive
Storytelling and laughing are priceless when shared with friends, as well as celebrating victories and accomplishments. These activities release oxytocin into our bloodstream, a happy chemical that helps reinforce the bond between friends.
Additionally, there is no judgment involved in healthy relationships. Constructive criticism is tempered with love and compassion. Understanding is always important, recognizing that there is always more to a situation than meets the eye.
Another part of being positive is recognizing when we can not help, and referring a friend to someone professional.
3. Healthy friendships consist of mutual cooperation
Listening is an important aspect of mutual cooperation. Listening goes in both directions. Neither dominates the conversation.
Helping is another important part of mutual cooperation. When I had a nasty job to do, my lovely friend offered to come help. On another occasion, I helped her with a backyard project that I had the tools for. Even just being present for moral support helps a friendship grow. It is the willing spirit that speaks volumes. These kinds of friends will be there for each other through thick and thin.
“Just because people hang around you and laugh with you does not mean they are friends. Fake friends are like clouds. They follow you in the sun but disappear in the dark.” (unknown author)
“Fake friends” are quite easy to spot when life gets hard. But why wait until you need a shoulder to cry on to make that determination? Here are early warning signs that you don’t want to overlook. They are red flags of unhealthy friendships.
- Time spent together leaves you feeling drained
- Things you share are not always kept confidential
- Teasing borders on bullying and is not fun for you.
- Encouragement and help is lacking
- There is no support for your growth and change
- You do almost all the listening and they do almost all the talking
- The other person is jealous of your other friends
- You feel like you have to control your feelings
- Your social status is used to elevate the other person
Wow. This is not the kind of friend I want to be or to have. What about you?
Friendships in the Bible
I have been impressed with how people interacted with each other in my daily Bible reading plan. Some have been loyal, encouraging individuals that nurtured their friends. Others were quite the opposite.
Jonathan and David were two very close friends. They were drawn to each other through mutual goals and values. They supported each other and came to each other’s defense. (2)
Naomi and Ruth are also examples of two close friends. Yes, technically they were family, but they didn’t have to be friends. Naomi was Ruth’s mother-in-law. Their husbands both died about the same time. These ladies helped each other in the adjustments they needed to make as widows. (3)
In the book of Job (pronounced jobe), we find three people that were not good friends. They seemed to be good listeners in the beginning, but when Job did not progress emotionally as fast as they thought he should, they were judgemental. They talked Job’s ear off, trying to convince him that his troubles were all his own fault. They were more concerned about being right than having compassion for the person they called their friend. (4)
Do you know people like this?
Stages of friendship
Once in a while when you meet someone new, you will know immediately if the two of you are going to click or not. But in most cases, it takes time to find your real friends because there are stages to a friendship.
All friendships begin at this level. These are people with whom you share facts and public information, but trust is not established for sharing more personal information or opinions. They may know what kind of work you do, car your drive, how many children or grandchildren you have, and if you are married or not. Most of us have many acquaintances at work, school, the gym, etc. The majority of acquaintances never move on to a higher level of friendship. We either don’t click all that well with them or we don’t have the time to nurture those relationships.
These are individuals that share common interests and concerns with us. When I lived in an area of the country where there were many bluegrass festivals, I had a lot of peer friends. We looked forward to seeing each other again and playing music together to all hours of the night once the concerts were finished. But we didn’t really communicate much beyond those shared activities. You may have friends like this on a service project, bowling team, political campaign, or hospital volunteer group. These are individuals that we can share some opinions with and for which there is some level of trust. Most people have many peer friends.
Close friends are usually small in number. First of all it takes time to cultivate relationships to this level and we all have a limited amount of time. These are people with whom we share similar life goals. Due to a higher level of trust, we may also share some of our weaknesses for encouragement and prayer, or just simply understanding. They know a lot about us and have gone through some ups and downs with us.
Best friends are few in number. These are people for which we have a high level of trust. We know that they will never share anything inappropriate about us. They have our backs. These friends we can share our dreams with and some intimate details. There is mutual support between us and these people. These are the ones who will be with us through thick and thin. We all need a few friends like this.
Who your friends are and why it matters
Anyone who has gone through some traumatic experience knows the value of a few close friends to help them through those rough spots in life. This is why we need to choose our friends carefully. We may not need that support right now, but life is full of challenges and we will eventually need that shoulder to cry on.
Scripture and modern studies confirm that the wrong friends can make or break our sense of hope and joy. Now is the time to be building those close bonds.
To encourage you to nurture healthy friendships, I would like to give you this scripture card, free to download. No email required.
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