I once believed in the lie of Disney channel friendship.
I looked around me as a middle schooler, a teen, a college student, and then a young mom praying over my life, asking God to send me the friend that everyone else seemed to have. I wanted real friendship, real investment.
Then I found myself praying the same thing over my heartsick nine-year-old daughter, who also longed for this mysterious friendship.
God did answer my prayers, but not in the way I expected. Instead, he removed the scales and opened my eyes.
We all long for a good friend. We are all crafted as different individuals. We have different needs and different personalities. Some of us search for companionship and intimacy more than others, but friendship is a deep human need. Between practicing therapy and life in the church I have found a flaw in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Most people I have met would take a good friend over food any day. Survival is significant, but connection is part of that survival, not a secondary system.
Still, friendship is hard and complicated and the lies of friendship prevail, swirling around us. I talk to teens and adults all the time that express a desire to have one of these things in a friend:
One really good friend, preferably who lives next door and occasionally brings you chocolate or wine for no good reason
A friend you don’t have to tell your backstory to, someone that just “gets” you and instinctively “knows”
A friend who never makes you feel bad by bringing up your flaws
or a friend that calls first, that magical unicorn of an individual who picks up the phone and reaches out instead of you having to do it all the time
This is our cultural idea of friendship.
This is often how we define “besties”, “mates”, or “bff’s” whether we are eight or forty-eight. We may not struggle with friendship the way we did when we were 13, but somewhere inside of us, most of us will continue to struggle with unrealistic ideas about friendship our whole lives, because life is a journey of learning, not a destination of knowing. We will always be walking this journey of trying to understand relationships until heaven meets us here on earth. The moment we stop learning about relationship is the moment our relationships suffer. They will lack what is real, what is honest.
We would be fooling ourselves if we didn’t recognize there is at least a little bit of a spiritual battle in there somewhere sorting through friendship. To love well, to love often, to love first, to love more – these are the things of God, of course the devil would like to destroy them, mangle them, or rearrange them.
I say this as one warrior on this journey to another – the cultural lies of friendship are keeping us from real friendship.
Today we call out four myths of friendship so we can claim real friendship:
The myth of one best friend – this is awesome, but exceedingly rare, and tv makes it look as common place as tomatoes in salsa. Most of us adults, either set the idea of a best friend aside for a few really awesome friendships because we refuse to compare apples and oranges much less the people we love. Or we have an amazing friend that we confide all our hopes and dreams in but they likely live three states away, so we have to be creative and use Facetime a lot and it’s just still not all slumber parties and clay face masks.
The myth of a friend who just “knows” – this is as destructive as expecting our spouse to read our minds. No one reads minds, except for Jesus, and the Bible tells us He’s a friend like no other, so that makes sense. Friendship is about knowing, deep intimate knowing, and it’s really awesome when your friend sends you Star Wars undergarments because she “knows,” but she didn’t read your mind. Instead, you had conversations and shared details and listened and took notes. It takes time to build friendship, and effort, and more sacrifice than reward. It takes hard stuff happening like loss and transition and life change to get to the good stuff and they still won’t just magically know. This is a hard realization.
The myth of the friend who calls so you don’t have to – it’s nice to get a phone call. (Or if you’re like me, a text, because all my friend’s know I don’t answer my phone.) It’s nice to be invited places, but so many of us miss out on genuine friendship because we are waiting to be invited. When you look around you and long for a friend, I have found that God’s answer is usually “lean in.” By this I mean, we have to be willing to call, to text, to invite, and to ask in, because most other people are waiting to be asked in as well. If we stand around and wait, we may be standing around a very long and lonely time. It’s nice to be invited, yes, but it’s better to friend, to reach out, because that’s where the good stuff is, the worthwhile, and God works there with an authenticity we would miss otherwise.
Last, the myth of a friend who never points out your flaws. Lord, at 38-years-old I do not want this person in my life. I want friends who tell me I’m beautiful, friends who tell me “well done,” but I also want friends who say, “I forgive you” because that means we’ve been our real selves going through real stuff together. I don’t want harsh friends, hurtful friends, or mean girls in my life, but I do want to give my friends permission to be awkward by being a little awkward myself, permission to mess up by messing up myself, and friends who are full of grace which means I have to give them a reason to share grace in this life.
Real friendship, this is the goal. It isn’t easy. It isn’t simple. It doesn’t happen overnight, but it can happen and it starts with His love, tucked inside of you.
(Learn more about real friendship, real relationship, and what is really beautiful in both in Altogether Beautiful.)