“A true friend is one who is walking in, when everyone else is walking out.”
Recently, several women have shared their stories with me and asked the question, “What is a godly friend?” They wanted to know both how to be one and how to find them. It reminded me of a blog I had written a couple years ago. I decided to make some edits and send it out on a blog again since it is always a current issue for women.
Looking back on my childhood, one memory from my fourth grade year in particular stands out. At recess, I would play with various girls who were my friends. One of the girls was determined that I would be her “best” friend. She presented me with a contract obligating me to be her best friend, and no one else could be my best friend. She would determine what we did together at recess, who else I could spend time with, and what I could do. Reading this now, it seems appalling, controlling, and silly to even consider. In fourth grade, lacking wisdom and not wanting to hurt her feelings, I signed the contract. I don’t think she was trying to be malicious, but had I been wiser back then I would have kindly told her that I want to be her friend but a contract isn’t necessary. I think as grown women, we sometimes still make these “contracts” in our mind with other women. We might get jealous when we see our closest friends hang out or want to be “in the know” about all they are doing. We might even always decide the activity when we spend time together and not consider their desires. We might spend excessive time with them because they fill our need to be liked by someone.
In retrospect, from our youth to adulthood, friendships can be some of the most confusing and complicated experiences we have. Friendship has a wide variety of meanings today, from casual to serious. How can we find and be a “godly” friend? It takes time and prayerful discernment. And even then, neither of us is perfect so it will be a process that may not work out in the end.
Jesus had good and bad friends, who he faithfully loved and served. The only reason they were still called “friend” was because they were in relationship with him. He didn’t keep a record of what he did for them or how they weren’t a good friend, but he did allow the more faithful mature men closer (John, Peter, James). A good or godly friend leads us toward Jesus. The only way to discern this as women, and not be manipulated (intentionally or not by the other woman), is to put Jesus in the place of Best Friend and, if married, the husband next. A godly friend walks with us as God refines us, and helps us become the person God has created us to be rather than what they want us to be.
For starters, it is important to not just have friends in general, but ensure that our friendship with Jesus is very practically our first priority. This is built by reading the Bible (learning about his life), praying (listening to his instruction), and being in healthy community (living with his people). After Jesus, my very best friend is my husband, Mark, which is discussed in chapter 2 of our book “Real Marriage: The truth about sex, friendship, and life together.” Marriage is certainly more than friendship, but it is not less. We have always enjoyed being around each other, but there were years of our marriage that we neglected to work on our friendship and unfortunately became distant emotionally. We allowed the busyness of life to crowd in and desperately needed to take time and energy to invest in our marriage relationship as Song of Solomon 5:15b says, “This is my beloved, and this is my friend.” After repenting and reorienting our priorities, a healthy and fun friendship has been built over many years of investment. We realized that doing life together, with the good and the hard stuff, is easier when we are moving forward together as friends.
If you aren’t married or already have a good friendship with your husband first, then what does a godly friendship look like with other women? As defined in Webster’s dictionary, a friend is “one attached to another by affection or esteem.” The Bible goes further, giving us a richer meaning of friendship. For starters, the God of the Bible is all about friendship. The Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have an eternal and perfect relationship with perfect love, communication, and service. God, who is a Friend and has friends, made us in his image to be a friend to him and others. The Bible also has a lot to say about friendship:
“Friendship of the Lord is for those who fear Him.” Psalm 25:14
“You are my friends if you do what I command you.” (Jesus) John 15:14
“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” John 15:13
“He who withholds kindness from a friend forsakes the fear of the Almighty.” Job 6:14
“A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” Proverbs 18:24
“Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.” Proverbs 27:6
“Oil and perfume make the heart glad, and the sweetness of a friend comes from his earnest counsel.” Proverbs 27:9
I don’t participate in social media, so I don’t have thousands of “friends,” but to be a good friend starts with a good friendship with Jesus. Do you spend time with Him, talk/pray with Him, listen to Him, cry with Him, laugh with Him? As the verses above pose the questions: Do you follow his commands, knowing that He loves you, created you and knows what is best for you? Are you willing to lay down your life, as Jesus did, for the people you call friends? Are you kind to your friends or do you gossip about them? Do you have tons of “friends” but not anyone you trust and talk to about real life? Are you able to share your pain and wounds with your friends and know they won’t turn them against you like an enemy? Do any of your friendships make your heart glad when they give you counsel?
Unfortunately, few people know how to be a good friend in this day and age. As Christians, we have a prime opportunity to help others understand what a godly relationship can look like. This certainly doesn’t happen over night, in fact it takes years to develop a true friendship and not all women want to or will walk through all seasons of life with you. I have learned how to be a better friend over the years by failing, sinning, repenting, encouraging, listening, being teachable, and allowing the Holy Spirit to mature me in areas that I needed to grow. I still have more to learn about being a godly friend, but I am thankful for the grace that has been shown to me through my relationships. I have learned that some women are acquaintances, some are friends but the goal is to be friendly to all and friends with a few. This was Jesus’ example to us as he was friendly toward many, always spoke out of love (though his honesty was not always seen that way by the religious people), but had a few close friends.
Being a good friend takes time and energy, physically and emotionally. At times in my life I tried to be friends with everyone, but as a result I wasn’t a good friend to anyone. Unlike God, I have limitations. I can’t possibly be a friend with everyone in my life, but as God brings people, I can be friendly and be willing to serve them in that moment or season, depending on what God asks. I would encourage you to let God bring people and not force friendships. When I have desired relationships or felt alone, in time, God has brought women into my life. I now have older women that invest in my life and I am able to serve them. We are busy at home first, but when we get time together we consider it a gift from the Lord and enjoy one another. One of the biggest downfalls for friendships with women is the desire to compare. They are prettier, I’m a better mom, they get to shop at nicer stores, I’m an organized housekeeper, they are happier, I look at things more realistically, and the list goes on and on. Please don’t allow yourself to go down that road because it’s a trap. If Jesus is our best friend, then he is the one to compare ourselves to as a guide of how to love God and love people.
In an effort to be a good friend and pick good friends, it is helpful to consider some signs of a healthy, godly friendship
- She will help you grow in your relationship with Christ. If she doesn’t, then you need to make sure you are strong enough to be a witness instead staying stagnant with Jesus. If you aren’t strong enough then you need to have boundaries or be willing to give up the relationship so that you keep Jesus priority.
- She will serve you and you will serve her. If this is one sided then you will get taken advantage of or be using her. It isn’t always “even” but there needs to be mutual serving. If there isn’t you can kindly duscuss the issue and her response will tell you if the friendship is healthy. This is done without an accounting of who has given or done what, but ebbs and flows back and forth throughout the friendship.
- If you are married, your husband will see her as an asset rather than a hindrance in your marriage. As women, it can tend to be easier for us to be friends with other women than it is with our husband. We more readily share vulnerably with women, confess sin with women, or ask for counsel from women. If our conversations with other women spark division in our marriage, it is not godly.
- When conflict arises or counsel needs to be given, she is willing to both listen and speak into the issue. It is important that both women are teachable or else reconciliation is difficult.
- As important as healthy friendships are, it is also important to hold them with an “open hand” so that the women don’t become idols that you worship. The truth is that many, if not most, of our friendships are for a season and not a lifetime. As we change, circumstances change, and seasons in life change, sometimes friendships move into other kinds of relationships that are less close. This doesn’t have to be negative, rather there are others that can be better friends to each of you in different life stages. If we hold on to tightly, we can drag each other down by forcing them to be in our lives even if it’s not working out naturally.
- It is important that we see our friends as the imperfect human beings they are. She should be someone you enjoy, learn from, and invest in, but not someone you put on a pedestal. A real friendship flourishes when real people see one another as they truly are, and choose to love one another without demanding or pretending that the other person is someone they are not. There should be mutual respect, but not looking down on or elevating wrongly.
I see my friendships as a gift and a blessing. I appreciate and have learned from the friends I have enjoyed over the years with so many different women. They have caused me to grow in ways I wouldn’t have otherwise. The most meaningful friendships are the one’s where we have both been able to encourage one another in our friendship with Jesus. I pray we can all grow to be better friends to Jesus and others.