Friends. We all want — and need — them. God made us to exist in community and imprinted the desire for sisterhood deep in our hearts. I’ve been blessed with some incredible friendships in my life; they have a huge impact on my path to sainthood and help honor God’s design for community.
I’ve also learned the hard way that some friends might not inspire the best decisions, allow me to be my authentic self or keep my best interest in mind.
Cultivating healthy, life-giving friendship can feel intimidating; it requires patience, selectivity and self-investment. Often we struggle with boundaries or loneliness, getting stuck in shallow relationships and unhealthy patterns.
Thankfully, it’s never too late to reassess our relationships and work to build friendships on solid ground.
So where to start?
1. She’s her own person. A faithful friend has an innate sense of self-worth. She won’t turn your friendship into a competition, try to become a carbon copy of you (or anyone else) or expect you to conform to her every belief. Healthy friends can still connect deeply whether or not they happen to like the same food, clothes, music or have the same opinion. God created each of us to relate to the world uniquely. An authentic friend will inherently value the person that she — and you — were created to be, without suppressing individuality.
2. She’s not just a fair-weather fan. A healthy friend is a friend in times of mourning and rejoicing. She shows up instead of running away when things go south for you, and expects the same from you when she’s in a rough patch. At the same time, she keeps it healthy by recognizing your role strictly as a friend, not a professional counselor or personal dumping ground for all the things she can’t manage.
3. She listens attentively. A faithful friend listens with her heart. She makes eye contact, asks questions and is willing to put down her phone or other distractions to really, truly hear you.
4. She gives sound advice. Whatever issues you’re wading through — whether it’s heartache, school stress or work woes — a trustworthy friend will help you keep a firm grasp on reality, as well as your value and potential. Avoid the “yes” friend, who tells you only what she thinks you want to hear. Search instead for the friend who will always encourage you to choose virtue over vice, and advocate for you to make decisions that allow you to become the best, healthiest, most faithful version of your unique self.
5. She’s secure in your friendship. Unhealthy friends can be possessive, controlling and jealous. A true friend understands balance and will expect you to have other friends — and have them herself. She’ll thoroughly enjoy her time with you, but won’t pressure you to drop all your plans just for her or begrudge your time spent with others.
6. She can laugh at herself. She’s not self-deprecating, but she doesn’t let mistakes and imperfections diminish her sense of self. At the same time, a good friend won’t be content with mediocrity; she’ll set goals that foster growth and show a desire to move toward God in virtue.
7. She enables you to be authentic. She respects and values you, and wants you to recognize your value, too. She’ll celebrate with you in your joys, encourage you to recognize your gifts and talents, and propel you toward self-acceptance. You can laugh, cry, sing off-key in the car, have a deep heart-to-heart or simply hang out in silence. Whatever you’re doing, you can be yourself, without constantly worrying about what she’s thinking or whether or not you’re saying the right thing. She’ll accept and love you for who you are, just as you are.
8. She challenges you. While she’ll love you right where you are, mess and all, she should also love you enough not to leave you there. If you’re headed down the wrong path or sitting stagnant in your mess, a true friend is willing to call you out charitably and encourage you to get back on track.
9. She practices forgiveness. We’re not perfect and neither are the best of friends. Nevertheless, faithful friends work to forgive you or others who have hurt them, instead of resorting to gossip or slander. And she’ll always encourage you to forgive, too.
Healthy friendships take time and effort, but as the prophet Sirach says, “a faithful friend is a sturdy shelter: he that has found one has found a treasure” (Sirach 6:14). Faithful friendship is a gift that helps us recognize, affirm and encourage genuine feminine beauty in each other. The more we cultivate it, the more it will overflow into the world and bless others with a beautiful example of God’s love.
Megan Hjelmstad is a wife and mom 24/7 and an Army Reservist in her “spare” time. She’s a bibliophile, tea drinker, sleep lover and avid admirer of Colorado’s great outdoors. When not writing or speaking for the ministry Blessed is She, you can find her writing in Chicken Soup for the Soul or on her personal blog, www.positivelyimperfect.com.