At the start of each school year, I ask my daughter what qualities she will seek in a friend that year. The first time I did this, we wrote them on a big dry erase board in my office. She rattled off words like honesty, kindness, sense of humor, and loyalty. "And she needs to keep a secret if I ask her to." I nodded and wrote, "trustworthy" on the board. When she stopped listing the qualities of her ideal friend, we assessed the list together, talking again about each quality. My daughter smiled thinking about this friend she would seek at school.
Then I said, "If you want a friend like this, you have to be a friend like this." Woah. Suddenly she looked at that list with new eyes, bigger eyes... doubtful eyes.
I believe that most of us want to be a good friend. That can be easy in good times. We send birthday cards (or at least intend to). We meet for coffee and share stories about work, potty training, and teen angst. But when things get hard, when things get real, many of us pull away. It's not because we don't care; I think it's more often that we feel ill-equipped. We want to say and do the right things, but sometimes we don’t know what those things are.
As friends, we are called to be third strands, alongside Jesus. “Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken” (Ecclesiastes 4:12). There are no rules about what to say to a friend going through a tough time. In fact, sometimes silence is better than words. But presence…presence is a life force. The writer of Hebrews speaks to the importance of presence: “Do not give up meeting together as some are in the habit of doing” (Hebrews 10:25). Why? Because presence brings love and life and hope and strength. Presence – not productivity – is why we were created.
You don't have to be able to answer the dreaded question, "Why is this happening to me?" Even if your friend asks that question, she knows you don't have an answer. But you can sit with her and help her see where she is succeeding despite her struggle: "You got your kids off to school this morning. That's a win." "You showed up for work today. That was brave."
And you can pray with her. In Matthew 18:20, Jesus said, "Where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am with them." There is a huge difference between, "I will pray for you" and "Let's pray right now." You don't even need to be in the same place. I often text prayers to my friends. I figure if God can "know my anxious thoughts" (Psalm 139:23), He can read my text messages, too. Sharing prayers with a friend is so much more meaningful and encouraging than just telling her you will pray for her. It communicates, "I stand with you in this right now. You are not alone." That's what all of us need when we're struggling, right? We don't expect our friends to solve our problems or answer tough questions. We just want them to walk with us so we know we are not alone.
What are your best tips for being the friend you want to have?