It can be easy to identify the laughter, acceptance, and fun of a friendship, but what are marks of a true friend? What’s the difference between fake friends or friendly acquaintances and someone who sticks closer than a brother?
First of all, we’re talking about small circles, quality over quantity, four quarters over 100 pennies. You don’t need a certain number of friends, just a number of friends you can be certain of.
“A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.”-Proverbs 18:24
True friendship is also a plant of slow growth because it takes time for words to be backed by action, to identify the big picture or patterns rather than episodic blips. If each person is a book, you cannot get the synopsis of who they are by the chapter you walk in on, but time will tell.
With that in consideration, a true friend…
#7 — Prioritizes you
Of course, there is a balance between putting people first and God-given responsibilities that need to get done in a timely manner. While people are more important than projects, wisdom must be used case-by-case.
I’ve found this to come down to weighing the importance of the task at hand, the emergency of the image bearer (soul perplexing needs vs a desire to hang out), and how I can adjust my timetable accordingly.
Sometimes you fit in a meal, sometimes you send your apologies to where you originally committed your time.
- Example 1: If you make a commitment to your employer to work a certain number of hours at a certain time, or to complete an assignment before a certain date, a best friend you don’t get to see very often should be scheduled around your shifts.
- Example 2: In a similar case as the first example but considering a life threatening emergency, the friend would obviously come first, but the employer should still be alerted of your impending absence and your shift/responsibilities should be covered if possible.
- Example 3: If you commit to be in a choir that requests attendance to at least four of the Sunday morning rehearsals, but one week your best friend can’t wait to relieve something that’s weighing on her heart, take the expception and let your director know you won’t be able to make it this one time.
- Example 4: When your homework load becomes particularly heavy, but you know you could squeeze it it in and make it to a weekly gathering, do it. Instead of skipping to give yourself a little more leeway, buckle down and get it done. Gathering with people is a gift that should not be taken for granted.
There is a distinct difference between those who talk to you in their free time and those who free their time to talk to you. True friendship isn’t about being there when it’s convenient, but when it’s not.
“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”-John 15:13
True friends say, “If you need me, call me. I don’t care if I’m sleeping, having my own problems, or angry at you. If you need to talk to me, I’ll be there for you, no matter how big or how small your problem is.”
#6 — Pushes through hard times with you
Life is full of ups and downs. Just look at a heart rate monitor: a smooth line means you’re dead. While fake friends, like shadows, disappear when it gets dark, true friends will empathize with your sorrows and bear down with you.
If someone breaks your heart, a true friend will cry with you. If you’re perplexed by life’s puzzles, they’ll listen to your verbal processing. If something is out of your control, a true friend will cry out to God on your behalf.
There’s no guarantee they will make you laugh, but a true friend is willing to cry with you. “I’m doing what we always do,” Fitz told his best friend in Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. “We’re gonna fix this. Together.”
“A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.”-Proverbs 17:17
Everyone wants to be the sun to lighten up someone’s life, but why not be the moon to brighten in the darkest hour? A true friend will walk with you through whatever darkness you’re facing.
If you’re in a place where you can’t look on the bright side, a true friend will sit with you in the dark. They might not be able to take on the weight you’re bearing, but they can help you along your journey.
A true friend is someone who walks in when others walk out. They are there for you no matter what, thick or thin. They don’t give up on you. They say, “I’m with you until death do us part.”
“But we followers of Jesus do value faithfulness, and we do value staying in a relationship even when ‘it’s complicated.’”-John Dyer
Someone who sticks by your side through your worst times is one who deserves to be with you at your best times.
#5 — Opens up to you
Relationships are built on trust, so the best of friends will be truthful. They will say what they mean and mean what they say. They will be utterly transparent with you. About you, about themselves, about the things their mind gets caught on.
“She’s my best friend, of course I’m going to tell her everything you just said.”-Unknown
There is a need to be respectful of one’s privacy and wisdom about things that would be better kept quiet, but aside from serious matters, there is a level where—until you get married—your inner circle should almost be one with your conscience.
This is possible because of the previous point. True friends can sit down and work through hard situations or truths because they know the other is still going to be there when all is said and done.
“Always be there for the people you care about. Let them know that you mess up, you say the wrong things and fight but, if you really care, you won’t consider leaving a solution.”-Isaac Jansen
Friends don’t shut friends out, no matter what they may be going through. They let each other in on the insanity of their minds, on their thought processes, not just their well-thought-through conclusions. That’s what love is, anyway, giving someone the power to destroy you but trusting them not to.
Being open and raw is a vulnerable place to be and requires a lot of courage but, in that hard but beautiful dance, true friends will push through the struggles and find themselves able to relate in ways they didn’t know they shared.
#4 — Knows you better than yourself
A true friend is someone who sees the pain in your eyes while everyone else believes the smile on your face. One who understands your tears while many more only know your smile.
A true friend is the person who lifted your head when you were losing yourself. They know your weaknesses but show you your strengths.
“A friend is someone who knows the song in your heart, and can sing it back to you when you have forgotten the words.”-C.S. Lewis
When life, depression, and hard times cause you to hang your head, a true friend will come alongside, lift your chin, and say, “Hey, look at this. Remember who you are. This is why we keep fighting.”
“You will never have a better friend than a friend who points you to Christ.”-Alistair Begg
#3 — Doesn’t always agree with you
A true friend is more committed to their friend’s character than their friend’s feelings. In a sense, a true friend will offend you because they care more about the inside of your life than the outside.
A best friend won’t agree with you to make you happy. If anything, they’ll say what needs to be said, no matter if you want to hear it or not.
True friends say good things behind your back and bad things to your face. While a friend merely accepts you for who you are, a true friend will also help you become the best you can be.
“Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.”-Proverbs 27:17
True friends feed your soul, which you’ll know by how you’ll feel good after spending time with them. They make your laugh a little louder, smile a little brighter, and life a little better. They will change you for good.
“When you have deep friendships with good people, you copy and then absorb some of their best traits.”-David Brooks
Many people will walk in and out of your life but only true friends will leave footprints in your heart.
#2 — Doesn’t have to have “fun”
Friends are the people you hang out with once in a while. Best friends are the ones you can barely go a day without seeing. The people you can do anything and nothing with and still have the best time.
True friends do life together, fun things but also the monotonous everyday things: grocery shopping, meal prep, laundry, making beds. The activity doesn’t matter as long as you’re together.
#1 — Is unaffected by distance and time
This last point is a fitting reminder as seasons change in my life. There is an irrational fear that wants me to believe the end of my college career means I will no longer see the girls I’ve known and loved for almost a decade now, but we’ve been here before.
After meeting in the seventh grade, we were enrolled in different high schools. While get-togethers were sparse and communication was thin, reunions still saw love and trust stronger than the time before.
“The most beautiful discovery true friends make is that they can grow separately without growing apart.”-Elizabeth Foley
True friendship isn’t about being inseparable, it’s being separated and nothing changes. Distance means so little when someone means so much because good friends are like stars. You don’t always see them, but you know they’re always there.
When the three of us ended up in the same college and church we saw each other almost on a daily basis and were therefore enabled to “do life” together, which caused the bond between us to grow exponentially.
“Their friendship was like reading a good book: picking up where you left off, no matter how long it had unwillingly been set aside.”-Tristen Thomas
It isn’t about who you’ve known longest but who came into your life and never left. Through the tears, through the laughter, a true friend will never leave your side. Seasons change, time goes by, but—while different eras may have different friends—true friends are with you through the seasons.
“It seems they had always been, and would always be, friends. Time could change much, but not that.”-Winnie the Pooh