What is a friend? I know, such a loaded question. Especially because as humans, we are constantly evolving, changing, growing, and morphing into newer, hopefully better, versions of ourselves. What I might have needed in a friendship in my 20s is profoundly different than what I need now as a 40-year-old woman. Some friends come and some friends go. Some friends are there for the mountaintops and others for the valley lows. Some friendships are seasonal, while others are lifelong.
Here are a few lessons I’ve learned, both good and bad, through many types of friendship.
Have a Safe Place, But Beware!
I remember my younger days of chatting on the land line with a certain friend of mine. We were both tired and stressed out moms having four kids under five. The calls lasted way too long, and without fail I’d feel so icky and blah after hanging up. Because you know what can happen when two women spend too much time talking? Sometimes it turns into a gossip session or a complaining fest about our husbands, our kids, and our lives.
In those days, I spent way too much time on the phone or watching soap operas when all I truly wanted was to feel accepted, loved through my flaws, and embraced in my mess. Being such a young mom with no family close by, I longed for a friend I could be my truest self with. I wanted to be able to show the icky side of me, but I also I wanted to expose the me who was growing wiser and stronger. I wanted a friend to give me grace, but I also wanted her grit—to tell me when I was acting like a fool, to push me forward while also holding my hand in the weary moments.
I wanted a friendship that went beyond the surface level, a person to stick by me closer than a sister or a brother. We all want that. Maybe that is why we’re sometimes too afraid to say, “Let’s change the subject,” or, “Life isn’t really all that bad.” Sadly, misery loves company. Having a safe place to express yourself is a great thing, but don’t overlook the opportunities to speak life into your friendships. You might be surprised by what kind of fruit it can produce.
I wanted a friend to give me grace, but I also wanted her grit—to tell me when I was acting like a fool, to push me forward while also holding my hand in the weary moments.
Some Friends Are For a Short Season
When I first lost my 18-year-old son in a car accident, everyone and their mothers surrounded me. For weeks and months, my house was flooded with comers and goers. People I had barely spoken to before were cooking meals for my family, making our beds, and folding our laundry. They were vital, and I’m forever grateful for their love when I could not even express any gratitude—when I had nothing to give in return, they were there. Tragedy has a way of bringing out the humanity in people; it’s a beautiful thing. Let them come into your life and care for you, but don’t feel the pressure to make them into a lifelong friend. And don’t be afraid to be there for others when they need a hand (or shoulder or meal) too.
(Hear Shannon’s story on This Grit and Grace Life: What I Learned From Making the Hardest Choice with Shannon Barbosa – 110)
Take Care of Yourself Within Your Friendships
At that same time in my life, there were some other friends, friends that I once considered my best. Friends that I called to cry or pray or ask my never-ending questions. Friends that were there for me hardcore, no holds barred, in the early months and early years. They were not just there for me but my husband and my children as well. These were the friends I was sure would be there forever because of what we’d all been through together. But guess what? Grief changes you, and it changes the way others feel about you. You become either too much for some or not enough for others, and people get weary. I get that, but it’s so, so, hard. It’s hard when you get left behind by the people who always walked by your side. It is hard when the ones you love most say the most hurtful things.
“Why are you posting so much about him?”
“Well, what do you want people to do for you?”
“You know, you have to move on.”
“I know I don’t have it as bad as you, but my day sucked.”
“Well, I know it is hard for you to hear this, but your son is in a better place and I’m happy he is there.”
“You’re not the same person you used to be?”
“You need to start disciplining your kids. Just because they lost a brother doesn’t mean they can walk all over you now.”
“You need to let it go.”
Questions and statements like these hurt so much. They made me feel misunderstood, isolated, confused, and more broken. But, somehow, they also taught me so much about life and about friendship. In my broken season, I drew on God in a whole new way. He became my very best friend and reminded me that while He does want me to love all people, I get to choose my friends. I get to decide who speaks into my life and what they speak into my life. I get to decide my own boundaries and create whatever space I need in order to become the best version of myself. So, don’t be afraid to set boundaries and take care of yourself first.
Be a Good Friend to Be a Good Friend
I’ve always heard this statement, “Be the type of friend you wish to have.” While this is a beautiful sentiment, I think it can motivate people to give something just so that they can get something. I don’t want to be a good friend just so that I can get one. I want to be a good friend because the way that God loves me motivates me to share it with others. I want to be a good friend because I know what it feels like to be mistreated, gossiped about, and misunderstood. I want to believe the best in every person because there truly is good in everyone. I want to be a good friend because I know I’ve been a bad one at times. Yes, I too have hurt people. With my words or my actions, or maybe with what I failed to say or failed to do. But, being a good friend doesn’t come from a place of doing everything right—that is simply way too much work and pressure. It comes from a place of knowing we might fall short, being willing to say sorry, and trying again and again and again.
Tried and True, Ride-or-Dies
Lastly, I want to talk to the tried and true friends. Those ride-or-dies. You know who you are. Funny, though, right? It is often the ones you least expect to show up who are not only there but stick with you through the thicks and the thins of this life. That’s what happened for me. My now and forever best friend miraculously rose up from the backseat role I had unintentionally given her and became a leading lady for me and my family. It hasn’t been perfect. We have both been through a lot in the last six years. We’ve gotten mad at each other and even had a couple arguments, but both of us chose to endure and became better people for it. Friendships should do that. They should make us better. We’ve cried together, grieved together, prayed together, misunderstood each other, supported one another, corrected each other, loved on each other’s families, gone on double dates, and eaten lots of yummy food together. Thank God for those friends.
This Is the Key to Friendship
Being a good friend is simply deciding each day to love each other. This means being patient and kind, but also honest and true. To yourselves, to each other, and to what you believe in. As we try to love others well, we will find blessings in it—even in our hot mess situations. So be the kind of friend you’d want to have, but not just so you can have one. Because you get to decide who you are going to be regardless of how others receive you or respond to you. You get to be the best you and the best friend, and that alone is so worth the effort.
For related articles and more relationship advice for women, start here
9 Qualities You Need in a Good Friend
Ask Dr. Zoe – How Do You Make Friends as an Adult?
Coffee & Conversation: How to Connect With a Friend
What Your Grieving Friend Really Wants You to Know
Why You Need to Support Other Women and 5 Ways to Start
Grace Is Not Weakness; It Requires Strength
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