Why Do We Need Friends?
In Genesis 2:18, we are told “And the LORD God said, it is not good that man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him.” This scripture (KJV) introduced God’s plan for marriage to us, because God created Eve to be the “help meet” for Adam. But married or single, from this scripture, it is clear that God has always desired that we have companionship. Therefore, it is natural for human beings to want and need friends.
God says it is “not good” for us to be alone. And anyone who has ever felt alone knows from firsthand experience that it is not good for the body or the mind or the soul to feel isolated and separated from everyone else in the world. We all need “help” to meet and to navigate both the wonderfully calm and the dangerously turbulent waters of our lives.
“Two are better than one … for if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow.” Ecclesiastes 4:9-10)
As children, we learn to understand the value of friendship. Could that be because, as kids, we wear no masks, and we unashamedly admit to ourselves and our parents that we desire companionship with others of our own age and stage in life? Kids are not ashamed to admit that they want someone to play with, and they treasure the interaction and camaraderie that friends bring to their lives. In fact, we all learn how to socialize through child’s play, something that provides a foundation for socialization skills that we use throughout our lives.
Even as children, we tend to choose friends who like the things we like. If a little girl likes to play with dolls, she’ll likely find more delight in friends who also like to play with dolls. She and they share a common joy. Through play and sharing, all children learn to care about their friends, and if they become close as friends, the relationship becomes almost like being part of a family. As children, we learn to care about the well-being of our friends, just as members of families care about the well-being of family members.
“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” John 15:13
As adults, we desire the same kind of interaction and camaraderie that we needed as children. We have a need to share our lives with people who don’t expect us to be perfect, and we enjoy being in the company of people who have our best interest at heart. We want good things for our friends, and—in turn, we expect them to want good things for us. Although we have a great sense of “fair play,” our friends offer a level of comfort that we don’t enjoy with people who are not our friends. But as adults, true friendship comes at a great price that includes responsibilities, trust, and loyalty, and it’s not always pleasant either. But even when things get a little off balance—when you or your friend might have to do more taking than giving in the friendship, there is still no need to worry. True friendship is strong enough to withstand it. In fact, it’s actually a “built-in” in the friendship relationship, that a true friend is there for you during the times in life when you need a little extra help carrying some of life’s heavy burdens.
Proverbs 17:17 says that a friend is someone who loves you at all times; someone who is like a brother born for adversity. That means a true friend is someone who is not just along for the part of the ride of life that’s fun or joyful. A true friend is really there for when the ride gets bumpy—for when life tosses you and tumbles you. For those times when it shakes you up and beats you down. For the times when you really need someone to hold your hand, even when you’re too numb too feel anything. That’s what it means to be a friend.
“Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend.” Proverbs 27:17
The gifts and talents God gave you do not threaten a true friend. Even though you and your friend are equal in the eyes of God, a true friend will cheer for you if God has blessed you with talents and skills that are far greater than their own. Rather than being a source of contention, your strengths are a source of joy and consolation. That’s because true friends share their strengths, gifts, talents and skills with each other, so your gifts and blessings only add to their gifts and blessings. The sharing of each others' strengths strengthens the sacred bond of true friendship.
True friends release one another from the fear of judgment, the fear of imperfection, and the fear of making mistakes. In fact, we can forget about our fears when we are with a true friend because friendship does not leave room for fear. It puts to rest the tension of competition and the sins of jealousy and envy. A true friend wants you to succeed and feels no need to compete with you, unless it is within the bounds of your friendship. For example, if you play chess with your friend, you will want to win. If you enter a contest that your friend also enters, of course, you will want to win. Still, as friends, you can coach each other, cheer each other on, and hope and pray that your best will be good enough for either you or your friend to win the prize you seek. And if one of you wins, the other will also feel the victory, because the win is actually a victory for both of you.
“Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.” Proverbs 27:6
People you think are your friends, who aren't really your true friends, might laugh at you behind your back when there’s something you need to know about, that no one will tell you to your face. Untrue friends won’t tell you what you need to know, because they either don’t want you to be angry with them for telling you, they don’t want to embarrass you, or they’re afraid of hurting your feelings. But if it’s something you really need to know about, something that will hurt you if you don’t know it, would a true friend keep it from you? Maybe it’s something you don’t want to hear—but something you really need to hear. Well, a true friend will tell you. A true friend will risk having you get angry with them, will risk causing you embarrassment, and will even risk hurting your feelings, if what they need to tell you would help you, and if not telling you would cause you harm.
Who Can Be a Friend?
Why is it that sometimes when we meet people we become friends with them, and not with others? I believe the answer lies in the fact that we don’t always have a lot in common with a lot of the people we meet. And, when we meet someone with whom we share a lot of common interests and/or beliefs, it is possible for the spark of friendship to be ignited. I say it is possible, because I also feel our personalities have a lot of influence on whether or not the spark will be ignited. That is to say we can share common interests and beliefs and still have personalities or personal concerns that won’t allow friendship to develop.
Friendship develops when we feel comfortable sharing with another person. When we can relax, and not have to wear any kind of mask as we share moments of our lives with someone, we can be friends. When we can be informal and open, and not fear rejection or judgment. This is the kind of fertile ground from which rewarding friendship can blossom. A friend is good at talking to you, and at listening to you. With a friend, that critical and delicate balance between conversation and silence is achieved often, and honest and rewarding exchange is something you both look forward to when you're together. It’s part of the give and take that makes your friendship meaningful and lasting.
Do you have a friend? Someone on whom you can rely to be there for you in times of sadness and pain, as well as in times of joy and happiness? As you’re facing your life’s toughest challenges, I hope that you have true friends who, when everyone else is leaving, they are coming to be by your side.
Do you think most people use the term “friend” loosely, to describe anyone with whom they associate?
© 2012 Sallie B Middlebrook PhD