Most of us long for close, meaningful friendships. Someone has defined friendship as “knowing the heart of another and sharing one’s heart with another.” We want people in our lives to encourage, appreciate, understand, and forgive us. In a life filled with adversaries, we need people who are assets to us. Our hearts long for people who live out the Golden Rule by “doing for others.” Friends like these are hard to find.
King Saul’s son Jonathan is an example of a healthy, loyal friendship. Jonathan admired David’s courage and bravery when David killed Goliath. Jonathan and David became loyal friends. Jonathan even gave David his sword and armor. The souls of Jonathan and David were tightly knit.
1 Samuel 18:1 As soon as he had finished speaking to Saul, the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul.
Jonathan’s friendship with David was a close, life-giving bond. Even when Jonathan’s father Saul hated and tried to kill David, Jonathan continued to be loyal to David. Jonathan could have taken his father’s side and preserved his own legal right to the throne of Israel. However, Jonathan honored his promise to David and warned him when Saul tried to kill him. David’s relationship with Jonathan saved his life. David had found in Jonathan a friend closer than family. David’s son later coined this phrase:
Proverbs 18:24 A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.
1. Beware of toxic friendships.
Not all friendships or relationships are life-giving. Some friendships are toxic. A friendship can get us off track from our spiritual journey. A powerful negative influence can steer us in the wrong direction.
Proverbs 12:26 One who is righteous is a guide to his neighbor, but the way of the wicked leads them astray.
Few things impact the quality of your life like the people in your life. Thus, you have to be cautious about your friendships. Some friendships can cost you peace of mind and health. Toxic friendships aren’t just a spiritual or emotional problem. They can be dangerous to your physical health!
“It turns out that Jill Bolte Taylor, a neuroscientist, also had a similar experience in her thirties when a blood vessel exploded in her left brain and she experienced a stroke. ‘Once hospitalized, Dr. Jill could no longer walk, talk, understand language, read or write, however, accessing her right brain she was able to feel immense feelings of satisfaction and well-being. She experienced people as concentrated packages of energy. Although she could not cognitively understand the doctors and visitors as they came in and out she could sense what others felt. By closely studying their body language she would notice how some people would bring her energy and others would take it away.”
Daniel Goleman, in his book Social Intelligence, explained, “Nourishing relationships have a beneficial impact on our health, while toxic ones can act like slow poison in our bodies.” He wrote that like colds or flu, “emotions are contagious.”
Several years ago, I worked with a woman who was in a relationship with a negative man. I will call him Jim. Jim had experienced a lot of pain in his own life. At the pinnacle of his career, Jim was pushed out of his job. Jim was angry. Jim thrived by listening to angry talk radio. He began to treat everyone rudely. Jim suspected that everyone had ulterior motives. Jim was a pain to be around.
I observed this woman compensating for and excusing Jim’s behavior. Her compensating was painful to watch. Jim’s negativity cost this woman her peace of mind. She caught Jim’s negativity like a cold. Jim’s words were like death to her.
Proverbs 12:6 (NLT) The words of the wicked are like a murderous ambush, but the words of the godly save lives.
Ask probing questions about your friendships.
· Are your friends habitually critical or negative?
· Do your “friends”run when you are going through adversity?
· Have your friends demonstrated that they will accept you as God created you to be?
2. Nurture life-giving relationships.
Henri Nouwen wrote, “Friends cannot replace God. They have limitations and weaknesses like we have. Their love is never faultless, never complete. But in their limitations they can be signposts on our journey towards the unlimited and unconditional love of God. Let’s enjoy the friends whom God has sent on our way.” Healthy, Godly relationships can lead us closer to what God intends for us to be.
Proverbs 27:17 Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.
To fulfill God’s will in our friendships, we must choose our friends wisely. Certain associations are forbidden in the Bible. Yes, you heard me correctly. We must not be friends with everyone.
Proverbs 22:24 Make no friendship with a man given to anger, nor go with a wrathful man.
Consider your friendships carefully. Every relationship has a cost. Sometimes the price is too much. No, we will never find ourselves completely isolated from negativity and pain. No, we cannot avoid the pain of disappointment. However, we can position ourselves for the best by following God’s Word and nurturing the right friendships.
Robert Putman, in Bowling Alone, wrote, “Countless studies document the link between society and psyche: people who have close friends and confidants, friendly neighbors, and supportive co-workers are less likely to experience sadness, loneliness, low self-esteem, and problems with eating and sleeping. . . . The single most common finding from a half-century’s research . . . is that happiness is best predicted by the breadth and depth of one’s social connections.”
To put it bluntly, you have to pray and set standards when it comes to letting people into the inner circle of your life. If you are single, you have to set standards for the person you will date. This means you have to know what your standards and values are! You develop those standards from reading God’s Word and walking with Jesus Christ.
Look at your friendships like a garden. To have plants that grow and thrive, you have to provide nourishing soil and adequate water. Your plants will need the right amount of light. The temperature will need to be appropriate. Likewise, your friendships need to be watered with Godly kindness. Your friendships will need to be nourished with understanding and forgiveness. They will need to be supported by the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you’d have them do unto you.”
Also, your friendship garden must be weeded from time to time. Some friendships need to be pulled up and removed. Other friendships need to be pruned back so that they may grow at another occasion. These skills take the time to develop. Being a good friend takes thought and people skills. Whatever we do, we must do in love.
Proverbs 17:17 A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.
3. Recognize that relationships go through stages.
Life-giving relationships are not always easy. Even healthy relationships go through difficulties. We must not terminate relationships or friendships just because we go through difficulties. When our relationships go through a rough patch, we have the opportunity to grow spiritually and to learn to trust God.
In his book Be a People Person, John Maxwell mentioned the stages of relationships. The honeymoon stage is when we enter a business, work, or romantic relationship and see the other person’s positive qualities. You may be blind to any negative qualities.
In the specific irritation stage, we begin to see things we don’t like. Your view of the other person becomes more realistic than before. You see imperfections and realize that the honeymoon is over.
In the general discomfort stage, the irritations have been stored in our memory banks. You become more open about the things that bother us.
The try harder stage is when you try to overcome the discomforts to help the relationship. In this stage, it is hard to separate the people from the problem.
Sometimes the relationship moves to the exhaustion stage. Exhaustion is when you get tired and quit trying.
When this happens, unfortunately, the relationship may go to the separation stage. The relationship is terminated with little hope for restoration. Sometimes, you feel numb and do not care.
However, this cycle can be broken or reversed. When you put the other person before yourself, you can work through the problem and restore the relationship.
Matthew 18:15 If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.
The goal in a disagreement between friends is to bring forgiveness and healing to the situation.
Your best friend must always be Jesus.
Jesus Christ is our best friend. The closest, most intimate friendship is possible with God. Think of Moses.
Exodus 33:11a Thus the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend.
Jesus is always there for us to give us his undivided attention. His presence is truly a gift. Jesus came from Heaven to earth to live, die, and rise again to restore us to friendship with God. He atoned for our sins on the cross. We can repent and turn to Jesus to receive acceptance.
Romans 15:7 (NLT) Therefore, accept each other just as Christ has accepted you so that God will be given glory.
If you are a follower of Jesus Christ, he has accepted you. When we face challenging issues, lose a job, go through a divorce, or find ourselves in need, Jesus is there to restore us to God.
“Although we know that Jesus is our friend, can we say that we are His friends? Do we listen to Him? Or do we only want Him to listen to us? Do we want to know what’s on His heart? Or do we only want to tell Him what’s on ours? To be a friend of Jesus, we need to listen to what He wants us to know and then use the information to bring others into friendship with Him.”
Georgia Shaffer, Avoiding the 12 Relationship Mistakes Women Make, (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 2014), 58.
Henri Nouwen, Bread for the Journey (San Francisco: HarperOne, 1997), May 1.
Robert D. Putman, Bowling Alone: The collapse and Revival of American Community, (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2000), 332.
John Maxwell, Be a People Person, (Colorado Springs, CO: Victor Books, 1989), 113.