Whether you feel like you have a lot of friends or only a few, friendship in today’s world is muddled by the role social media plays in our lives. We may have 200 “friends” or 200 “followers” consisting of family members, neighbors, old high school classmates, current colleagues, friends of our parents, or even celebrities. These people share their vacation pictures, anniversary and birthday celebrations, their children’s trophies, and even new haircuts. We know about their times of trouble and heartache, be it a death in their family or loss of a job. Their thoughts on politics and religion also come across our newsfeed opening the door to heavy, but shallow, conversation online. We know them, and they know us. We are friends, right?
More than ever, the depth and breadth of who we connect with is far-reaching. But who are our real friends? Who are we going to when we are hurting and struggling, or when we are smiling and rejoicing? Who do we have in our life that will walk beside us when life isn’t pretty, and who will say the hard things that keep us from destruction? Rather than being shallow with so many, how do we go deep with a few?
This has always been a struggle for me. Rather than expanding my friend circle, social media has confused it. If a friend from highschool has cancer and shares her story, shouldn’t I donate money? If a neighbor down the street has a baby, shouldn’t I take them a meal? If a long lost friend sends me a direct message, shouldn’t I set up a coffee date? How do I manage all of these things I “should” do? How can I be a good friend?
First, we must identify who our friends are. And if we are Christ followers, it must start with Jesus. He knows us best. It sounds cheesy, but he IS our best friend. In Matthew 11:28-30, Jesus says, “Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” In biblical times, a yoke was a type of collar where, when farming, one animal was attached to another to help bear the burden of the work. Jesus applies this image to our life with him. We are to be “yoked to him” by walking in step with him and letting him take the load. Psalm 139 tells us that God knows our thoughts, worries, concerns, and joys. It says he knows our sitting down and rising up. He understands our thoughts afar off. He comprehends our path and our lying down. He is acquainted with all of our ways. Before a word is on our tongue, he knows it completely. He has hedged us in behind and before and laid his hand on us (vv. 2-5). Who else knows all these things? Nobody. Truly, he is our best friend. So, talk with him. Ask him who your friends are. Ask him if there is someone in your life who needs a money donation, meal, or coffee date. Ask him to direct your path because as Psalm 37:23-24 says, “The steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD and He delights in his way. Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down; for the LORD upholds him with His hand” (NKJV). Always spend time with him first.
Second, take time to reflect on all the flesh-and-blood, real people in your life. The fact is you can’t be close with all of them. And that’s okay. The word “bestie” has confused many of us. Besides Jesus, one friend can’t rise above the rest because God has made us all differently and he didn’t make one friend to meet all your needs. It took me many years to realize this. When I was younger, I would try to peg one friend as “my best friend,” but with time I came to see that they each play a different role in my life. He created all of us to reflect his image in a variety of ways, and each of those ways is demonstrated by a friend in a different way during a specific season in our lives. Think about your friends. Is there one you laugh a lot with and enjoy doing fun activities with? How about one who loves to talk deeply? Maybe you have a particular friend who exudes grace, so you feel safe being vulnerable with them and sharing your struggles? Each friend in our lives serves a beautiful purpose but they can’t be our everything. And every friend can’t know you deeply, so who do we open up to?
- “Inner Circle Friends”: Although Jesus had 12 disciples, Lazarus, Mary and more, he had three that were closest to him. In Luke 5:1-11, we see that Peter, James, and John saw miracles that others didn’t see. Despite their unlucky overnight fishing trip, Jesus told them to let down their nets. “And when they had done this, they caught a great number of fish, and their net was breaking” (Luke 5:6 NKJV). The passage says they filled many boats with fish. So many that “when they had brought their boats to land, they forsook all and followed Him” (Luke 5:11 NKJV). They were so impacted by his miracle that they put everything aside to chase after Jesus. He also asked Peter, James, and John to join him in the garden of Gethsemane when he knew he was facing his crucifixion on the cross. He experienced great agony. So much so that he sweat tears (Mark 14:32-34). He reserved this moment for his inner circle friends. It didn’t mean he loved his other friends less; it’s just that some friends have a behind the scenes look at our heartaches, struggles and fears. These are friends who push you to be more like Jesus. They help us grow spiritually because we spend so much time with them. They say the hard things that we need to hear. They walk beside us pursuing an eternal perspective and do not let us get caught up in the world. These are the handful of friends who Jesus uses in your life to help direct your path. Choose them carefully.
- “Outer Circle friends”: As an adult, your spouse, children, and inner circle will get most of your time and attention. This is good and healthy! Your outer circle friendships will change over your lifetime as you step in and out of different seasons. Outer circle friends will actually make up the majority of your relationships. You know, love, spend time with, and pray for them, but they aren’t as close as inner circle friends. Be careful when choosing who you spend your time with. All throughout the Bible, God teaches us the importance of who we surround ourselves with. First Corinthians 15:33 says, “Evil company corrupts good habits” (NKJV). Proverbs 13:20 says, “He who walks with wise men will be wise, But the companion of fools will be destroyed” (NKJV). Proverbs 22:24-25 warns us against becoming friends with an angry man, or we may be one, too. Proverbs 12:26 says, “The righteous choose their friends carefully, but the way of the wicked leads them astray” (NIV). As you can see, who we spend our time with influences who we are becoming.
Different friends come during different seasons of life. We aren’t designed to be able to maintain thriving relationships with all the friends we make across our lifetime. This is where social media can lie to us. Our worlds weren’t meant to collide in the ways of sustaining meaningful friendships. We aren’t made to carry everyone’s struggles. Yet, we have been blinded into thinking that we can. Being fully present to the people God has put right in front of us is the best way to be a faithful friend. These friends will change over the years. Release yourself from the pressure of reaching into seasons past and ask God who he wants you to be faithful to right now.
- How has social media muddled your understanding of friendships?
- How do you maintain your relationship with your best friend, Jesus? What are practical ways that you can stay in touch with him daily?
- Have you asked Jesus who your inner circle friends are? If so, who are they?
- How about your outer circle/seasonal friends? Who are they?
- List the name of each person within each of these circles. How do they encourage your relationship with Jesus?
- Do you have an unhealthy relationship that you need to let go of?
- How can you be a faithful and encouraging friend to each of the people in your circles?
Photo credit: Emilee Carpenter
Amy is a Cincinnati native. She met her husband in high school, and married young. They have four kids: one in college and three teenagers busy at home. Teaching has always been one of her passions, so she spends her days with 4th graders teaching them to find their voice through writing. She loves Jesus with all of her heart and knows that her calling in life is love God and love others well. Amy loves colorful food, coffee with friends, being in nature, and playing music with family.