The advent of social media has helped to muddy the use and meaning of the word “friend.” It’s quite possible that of the 1000+ friends you have online, the vast majority are acquaintances, people you met on a mission trip, the friend of a friend whose friend request it felt rude to continue ignoring, and relatives.You may share details about your life with this circle of people; sometimes you find that it may not be safe to divulge certain things online, and at times you end up blocking or unfriending someone because of the kids of comments and posts they make. We know the meaning of the word “friend” and we know it has depths beyond what we experience with our online connections.
True friendship is something in a state of crisis. One survey reported that only a quarter of Americans were truly satisfied with their friendships, while nearly two-thirds of those surveyed lacked confidence in their closest friends. We yearn to have deeper friendships with people who possess some of the qualities discussed below – loyalty and being present in times of crisis.
Our friendships have an impact on our quality of life, so surrounding yourself with people who are true friends can enrich your life in profound ways. What then does a true friend look like, and do we exhibit these qualities in our friendships with others?
6 Marks of a True Friend
1. They stand up for you.
In life, there will be people that will either vilify you or attack you in some way. Sometimes, gossip about you will make the rounds. A good friend is someone who doesn’t participate in gossip about you, and they go the extra mile by defending you.
This doesn’t mean they’re blind to your faults (we’ll talk more about that later), but it’s simply that they won’t go with the crowd and join in dragging your namethrough the mud when it’s unwarranted. In other words, they are willing to stand against popular sentiment to speak the truth about you.
2. They challenge you to be your best self.
We all need encouragement and nurture to achieve our full potential. Sometimes, what stands in the way of accomplishing our goals, or living full lives, is us. A good friend is willing to stand up to you when you do wrong, and to challenge you to be your best self.
A friend who is willing to challenge you and call you out on the things that are self-destructive in your life is a good friend. It may not always be pleasant to be called out, but a friend who “speaks the truth in love” may wound us to help us become better. Welcome these wounds from your friends, they are meant for your good.
3. They stand with you.
A true friend walks with you in all seasons; they are not a fair-weather friend, who stands with you when you’re riding high and have every success. It’s easy to be someone’s friend when they are rejoicing.
The person who sticks with you, who rejoices with you when you rejoice, and who mourns with you when you mourn – that is a true friend. Whether you’re down in the dumps or celebrating mountaintop moments and great achievements, a true friend sticks with you.
4. They enjoy things with you in common.
What makes a friendship a friendship is that you enjoy things in common, you have something bigger than the both of you that you enjoy, and that draws you together. It may be your favorite sport, music, movies, art, literature, your family, or something else entirely. A friend is someone with whom you can stand side by side.
5. It’s not about them.
In a functional relationship, whether it’s a marriage or a friendship, while there may not be a perfect symmetry or equality, there’s a healthy give and take in the relationship. You take turns to support, encourage, and celebrate one another. A friend who can celebrate your successes and doesn’t begrudge you other relationships is a keeper.
If your friendship is centered on either of you it may not be a functional relationship between equals. Yes, there may be seasons when the focus is on one rather than the other, but in a healthy relationship, the needs of both are recognized and prioritized.
6. They can apologize.
Earlier we pointed out that a good friend can challenge you and hold you accountable. When you are confronted in this manner, being able to take correction and pursue growth makes for a better you. This is by no means a one-way street, in which you are constantly in the dog box and needing to grow.
Such a scenario might read more like you are a project that the other person is working on, and not a friendship between equals. We all need to grow, and that goes for your friend as well. There are things we all need to repent of, including errors of judgment and more serious sins.
Either way, there will come times when you must challenge your friend and call them out just as they do you. In such situations, a true friend will show themselves by taking your correction and owning up to whatever they need to. If they need to apologize, they will do so. In other words, you can hold them accountable, and they don’t resent you for it.
These six marks of a true friend may come across as ideals that don’t match reality. None of us are perfect, and that means that we often do not act with the maturity and grace we ought to. When a friend challenges you, you don’t immediately see the truth in what they are saying or process it fully and appreciate the heart behind it.Perhaps they may have challenged you in a way that was inappropriate at the moment, and that too raises issues to be dealt with. Life is messy, and the qualities of a true friend may show themselves over years as you struggle together. There are no ready-made, perfect friendships that just happen, but true friendships are built over a long time, and in that time, there is a lot to learn about one another.
While we and our friends may not meet the picture-perfect definition of true friendship, it’s true that above all, we must “love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8). We can forgive our imperfect but true friends and love them just as they love us with our imperfections.
According to the survey quoted at the beginning of this article, the use of social media isn’t a factor one way or the other in the quality of a person’s friendships but investing significant time and energy cultivating important relationships makes a difference in the quality of friendships and their depth.
If most Americans prefer to have deeper friendships than more friends, then being the type of friend described above, and investing in those types of friendships, may go a long way toward that goal.
Making and keeping friends isn’t an easy thing. Being able to make friends in mid-life can be harder than making friends when you’re younger. Sometimes we may have past friendships that have scarred us, making it daunting to venture out anew. Whatever the situation may be, human beings are social creatures, and we thrive in relationships.
It calls for extending grace and forgiveness toward others; it may call for spending time with a therapist to work through any lingering after-effects of a bad friendship. Cultivating friendships and working to overcome obstacles to developing meaningful relationships is a path worth pursuing.
“Four Friends”, Courtesy of Gemma Chua-Tran, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Posse”, Courtesy of Joel Muniz, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Friends”, Courtesy of Duy Pham, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Posing for the Picture”, Courtesy of Naassom Azevedo, Unsplash.com, CC0 License