It can be easy to identify the laughter, acceptance, and fun of a friendship, but what marks 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. Likening a person to 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 on a case-by-case basis.
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 versus 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 your original time commitment.
- 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 being 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 exception 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 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 something like, “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. Take a heart rate monitor, for example. A smooth line means you’re dead. While fake friends, like shadows, disappear when it gets dark, true friends will sympathize 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.
“I’m doing what we always do. We’re gonna fix this. Together.”-Leopold Fitz, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
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. As Proverbs 17:17 says, “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.”
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 the journey.
A true friend is someone who walks in when others walk out. They are with you through thick and 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 someone 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 honest. 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
Now, there is a need to be respectful of a third party’s privacy and wisdom about things that would be better kept quiet. However, 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 because they know the other is still going to be there when all is said and done. A true friend will not be scared away by your darkness.
“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 yet 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 someone 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 your character than your feelings. Therefore, in a sense, a true friend will offend you. They 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. As Proverbs 27:17 says, “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.”
True friends feed your soul, which you’ll know by how you feel good after spending time with them. They make your laugh a little louder, smile a little brighter, and life a little better. True friends 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. They enjoy rollerblading, making videos, and swimming just as much as grocery shopping, meal prep, and laundry. The activity doesn’t matter as long as they’re together.
I got to live in the bliss of this reality during my last summer in college. My best friend moved in for the three weeks I was house/dog-sitting while my family was out of town, therefore allowing us to “do life” together like never before.
From everything it takes to maintain a home to being in the same social circles, we were consistently interacting in multiple contexts. Through all that work and play, we gained a synchrony that felt more like a sisterhood than a friendship.
#1 — Is unaffected by distance and time
This last point is a fitting reminder amidst the change of seasons. Toward the end of my college career, I had an irrational fear that I would no longer see the girls I’ve known and loved for almost a decade now, but we’d been there 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. In other words, good friends are like stars: you don’t always see them, but you know they’re always there.
After high school, my girls and I ended up in the same college and church, so we were seeing each other almost on a daily basis. We were thus enabled to “do life” together, which caused the bond between us to grow exponentially.
To return to an earlier analogy, true friendship is like reading a good book: picking up where you left off, no matter how long it has unwillingly been set aside.
“It seems they had always been, and would always be, friends. Time could change much, but not that.”-Winnie the Pooh
It isn’t about who you’ve known longest but who came into your life and never left. Through the tears and through the laughter, a true friend will never leave your side. Seasons change and time goes by but—while different eras may have different friends—true friends are with you through the seasons.
Those seven points encapsulate a lot, and a lot more could be said about each one but—for now—consider what has been said. Then, as a friend of mine noted in a review of this post, “true friends are people who have all seven signs about them but they are also the people trying to apply the seven points to becoming a better friend.”
Determining your inner circle is not always an external search. If you want people to remain true to you, you need to meet them halfway. Scripture does not measure love by how much we are willing to receive it but by how much we are willing to give, and “greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).