At the beginning of 2023, I wrote my goals for the coming year in my journal. “Be a better friend” was on my list. But what does that mean exactly? What do my friends need from me? Is there such a thing as being too good or faithful of a friend? How do we know the balance of how much contact and fellowship is appropriate? It can be especially hard to navigate that balance with new friendships we are excited about. So, what makes a friendship good or “healthy?” How can we be a good and faithful friend?
A healthy friendship should have a foundation of trust and honesty. Most good friends share mutual interests, values, and worldviews. Maintaining any relationship, especially good friendships, requires regular communication. With our busy lives today, navigating communication and getting together can be challenging, but a good friendship is worth the effort.
A healthy friendship should include equal give-and-take and pouring into each other’s lives. The Bible tells us to “carry one another’s burdens” in Galatians 6:2. When one friend is in crisis, the other friend might do more of the pouring out, but that should balance back out once the crisis ends.
But not all friends or friendships fit these criteria. There may be a friendship in your life that doesn’t feel balanced. You are trying to be a faithful friend and be there for her. You pursue her and communicate, but she is not responding as much or as quickly as you would like. You are initiating most of the communication and pursuit in the relationship, and she is more reactive. There could be various reasons for this, but whatever the reason, it can be hurtful.
So how do we manage when a relationship feels one-sided, and we feel like we are the more faithful friend? God built us for relationships and community, and He gives us some of the best guidelines for navigating friendships in a healthy way. The instructions in Romans 12:9-18 have been a great source of direction for me on managing friendships when they feel off. Here is what Paul writes:
9 Let love be without hypocrisy. Detest evil; cling to what is good. 10 Love one another deeply as brothers and sisters. Take the lead in honoring one another. 11 Do not lack diligence in zeal; be fervent in the Spirit; serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope; be patient in affliction; be persistent in prayer. 13 Share with the saints in their needs; pursue hospitality. 14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud; instead, associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own estimation. 17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Give careful thought to do what is honorable in everyone’s eyes. 18 If possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.
These verses address what we are to do and not what others are to do in relationships. Verse 18 has been an anchor verse me in managing my relationships. The verse does not say the peace in a relationship depends on how much you pour into a friendship. If you sense a friendship is off, you can attempt to engage in honest communication, but you cannot force someone to be at peace with you. You can only control yourself. You can find peace in seeking the Lord in what He has for you in that relationship if you can’t get the answers you need from that person.
Thus, part of being a faithful friend is being aligned with the Lord and the relationships He has and doesn’t have for us. Some friendships are for a specific purpose or season. He is good to not let a relationship satisfy us long-term more than our relationship with Him satisfies us. We must bring our loneliness and our need for love to Him first. Only He can fill the longings in our hearts. Everyone else in our lives is icing on the cake. When He is our everything, we can love freely. But close friendships can be wonderful gifts from God if they are balanced. We are not built to be anyone’s everything, not even a spouse or parent can be. We have enough trouble just managing our own emotional, physical, and spiritual needs.
How do you know when you are out of that alignment, crossing over from healthy friendships into codependency, or, in other words, you are putting too much weight on your life’s satisfaction in those friendships?
- If they are not OK, you are not OK. Or if they are not OK with you, you are really not OK.
- You find your “life” or purpose or sufficiency in them. One way to know if that is the case is if you find yourself needing to hear from them or be with them to be calmer or at peace temporarily.
- If the “daily burden bearing” becomes too much and you are exhausted trying to be everything for them and not let them down.
- If you overthink the state of the friendships when you don’t hear back from them after communicating or wonder if they are upset with you. Do you imagine a worst-case scenario? How many minutes or hours in the day are you thinking about the state of the relationship? Are you overanalyzing the future of the relationship or the past? It is important to live in the hour you are in and keep your mind in the present. “Shoulds” and “speculations” aren’t your friends.
It is also healthy to evaluate the friendship and try to see it more objectively. What feelings are surfacing in you? Are you jealous of another friendship your friend has? Are you feeling left out or not considered? Are you finding “life” or fulfillment in this friendship when that can only be found in God? Are you living Romans 12:9-18?
Sometimes the Lord will remove a friendship from our lives when we can’t or won’t do it because the relationship is not healthy for us. I believe He has a purpose and place for every relationship He allows or leads me to in my life, and those places should always line up behind my place with Him.
With all of that said, a true, lasting, and faithful friendship can withstand an honest, hard conversation or disagreement. Proverbs 27:6 says, “the wounds of a friend are trustworthy,
but the kisses of an enemy are excessive.” If you are struggling and need to know where you stand with a friend, then ask her. You may or may not get an honest answer. Friendships with a firm foundation and purpose can withstand these conversations and are often stronger after these discussions.
If it turns out the friendship is fading or ending, it is healthy to accept that and grieve that friendship and seek the Lord for comfort and direction on the people He does place in your life. You can be sure that Jesus does mean for us to have friendships. He modeled friendship for us when He walked the earth as He did daily life with His close friends. He means that for us too. He wants to be our best Friend, and He is the best Friend to have!
Paige Clayton is the author relations specialist for Lifeway Women and also leads their destination events. She led the women’s events team for Lifeway for fourteen years and recently shifted roles so she can spend less time traveling and more time pursuing licensure as a professional counselor. She is currently a master’s level professional counselor at Lantern Lane Farm in Mt. Juliet, TN. In her spare time, she is a fun aunt to four young adult nieces. Paige is mom to her Instagram-posing dog Ruby and loves singing, being outdoors, and spending time with her friends and family.