By Maggie Swofford, Marketing & Editorial Assistant
Friendship is a complicated subject that I love to think about because of all the fascinating dynamics and emotions that go into finding and sustaining a true, deep friendship. As a result of my curiosity and excitement in regards to digging into the details of what makes a friendship a good one, you can imagine my glee at getting the chance to read Michele Howe’s book Navigating the Friendship Maze: The Search for Authentic Friendship. As I dove into Howe’s thoughtful advice, there were so many fascinating points that I could barely keep up! She attacks friendship head-on, addressing topics and issues I hadn’t thought of. She doesn’t evade the difficult and complicated matters of “bad” friends and gives sensitive advice on how to cut off unhealthy friendships. Not only that, but she discusses intimate details that friendships should possess in an accessible way.
To give you a little glimpse into the book as well as a peek into my initial reaction to Howe’s main points, I give you the following eight things that struck me about maintaining friendships while I read Navigating the Friendship Maze. These first four points draw on the healthy, good friendships side of the spectrum, while the blog post that will be put up a week from now will discuss souring friendships and how to recognize and handle them.
Signs of a Good Friend
1. Friends who remind you of what matters
There are many times in my sad, pitiful life when I just can’t seem to get out of the cycle of pitying myself. It’s so easy to feel like the whole world is against me, rather than turning my gaze to the great store of people and things that I can be thankful for, not to mention the God that faithfully loves and provides for me.
In her chapter “Why Biblical Friendships Are Essential,” Howe gives an example of a time when she needed a friend’s gentle challenge to remember the Lord’s presence in her life and the things he’s blessed her with:
What I treasured and needed most of all was someone who loved me enough to sit with me, listen to me, and then gently redirect my faulty thinking back toward God and what he has to say in the Bible. My friend was kind, patient, and gentle. She was also a warrior on my behalf who challenged me to rely on Jesus, my ultimate healer. Because I was confident in my friend’s stalwart love for me, I was able to gain some emotional and spiritual momentum toward long-term healing that afternoon. She spoke biblical truth into my heart and it stuck.
While reading Howe’s personal example, I was reminded of a time when a friend of mine emulated this idea. A few months ago I was mid pity-party when my dear friend stopped me and listed off one by one the host of blessings that I could be thankful for. I’m going to pause here to point out that while it’s one thing to remember these things in your mind and brush them aside, it’s another to hear your best friend recall on your behalf all the ways in which the Lord has provided for you despite your distrust and fear. In this scenario, I can’t even describe how incredibly humbling it was to be called out on my woes. It was quite a shock to remember that my energy going into my self-absorbed melancholy could instead be put into praising God’s faithfulness and trusting him to pull through in my present situation. My friend’s honest words were the wake-up call I needed in order to remember all the things that put the silly scenario that had me down and out in its place.
In Howe’s own words: “Every woman needs a friend like that, and every one of us needs to be that friend for another woman.” It’s refreshing to hear from Howe that this quality is an important one for friendships to have, as it is not the easiest quality to manifest. Despite the difficulty in finding or creating this kind of friendship, we should actively seek it out. As my own experience indicates, it’s very important to have people who can redirect our thoughts to positive, uplifting ideas that will bring us rejuvenation and thankfulness.
Have you ever had a friend call you out and change your perspective on your current situation? If so, how did their words help you?
2. Friends who unashamedly call you to a higher standard
I’d like to start off by sharing this bracingly true paragraph from Navigating the Friendship Maze:
We all need a few friends who will rise to the challenge if we need a gentle nudge in a new direction. Feeling stuck? Discouraged? Defeated? Feel like giving up? Depressed? Downhearted? Enter in that stalwart inspire-me, challenge-me, type of gal pal. Most women have at least a few of these bold-as-brass but loyal-to-a-fault friends. You know the type. Those people who never lack in the courage department when they spot a friend on the verge of making a terrible mistake in judgment. This friend lays it out on the table.
I know many people who hesitate to tell their friends the truth. Granted, it is an incredibly vulnerable thing to call someone else out on their faults, especially when you know that you yourself have a bouquet of issues of your own to worry about. However, I appreciate Howe’s dedication to the idea that we should pursue biblical truth in order to speak it when it’s applicable to our friends. She expresses that this should be done not in the hopes of disciplining or breaking down our friends for their questionable decisions, but instead to call them to a higher standard and to be the best version of themselves.
When I thought about how this principle is true with me and my friends, I swelled with pride over one particular relationship that I have. One of my friends who was my college roommate and who I consider a sister never hesitates to give me the truth, no matter how difficult it may be for me to hear. Because of our close proximity to each other for so long as well as the countless hours we’ve spent together, she knows my habits and personality better than nearly anyone else. She possesses insights into my life that are practical and directly relevant to me, and she knows how to share these thoughts with me in a way that I will be receptive. In the last couple years, she has with boldness and love confronted me about issues she sees riddling my life. With deep concern for my well-being in the long term, she has pointed out my faulty logic and called me to protect myself on a level higher than I call myself to.
Hearing Howe’s insistence of having friends who have this capability renewed a sense of thankfulness in me for my friend, and it also made me want to encourage everyone to find people in their lives who they can go to for helpful criticism and utter honesty for their own sake.
In regards to this, when you contemplate your own friendships do you have any friends that you know you can give and receive the truth from? If not, are there any friendships that you think are strong enough to potentially boost into this position?
3. Friends who will build you up when you’re in times of trouble
As someone who leans toward independence, I’ve always found reaching out to others when I’m in distress to be a surprisingly difficult task. Even when I’m deep in despair, texting or calling a friend is typically my absolute last resort. I believe that this is because of my deep-rooted insecurity that people couldn’t possibly care about me enough to willingly trek and work through my emotional muck.
This being said, I was really touched by Howe’s story of when a friend came to her in her hour of need and ministered to her in a deeply compassionate way. “That afternoon so many years ago is just one of many instances I can happily recall when a godly, Christ-honoring friend met me wherever I was and in whatever state I was in, acting like an iron-sharpening-iron companion who cared about me,” Howe says. A few sentences later, she describes a friend who “leaves you with biblical truth to meditate on, continues to pray for you, and checks in on you long after others have forgotten your pain and struggle.” It was in reading this passage that I began to fully understand the critical nature of having friends who surround you in your hour of need. From experience I can tell you that it is possible to survive a miserable moment without any support, but from Howe’s description it seems that it would have been much easier for me had I leaned on my empathetic, caring, loving friends for encouragement and godly reassurance.
It can be an act of humility to open ourselves up to others, because we must admit to ourselves and to our friends that we are far from perfect and that our junk piles up as quickly and easily as anyone else. What Howe is highlighting, though, is that despite the shame and humiliation that seemingly go along with opening up, those aren’t truly the products of vulnerability. Vulnerability breeds compassion and change. It’s only through being honest with our friends that we can receive the counsel necessary to recognize and implement the change in ourselves that will make our lives joyful and free. Our friends can only sharpen our iron with theirs if we allow our hearts to be struck together.
Is there something that you’re struggling to open up to your friends about? I’d encourage you to make a list of all the ways that telling them could potentially benefit you and your friendship with them in the end.
4. Friends who you can have fun and celebrate with
Something I really struggle with is sharing exciting news about myself with others. I generally hate when attention is put on me, and I also constantly battle with a part of myself that whispers that nobody cares when I talk about myself. This personal struggle of mine has made it especially important for me to have friends who ask me about my life and who are excited to share in my excitement and celebrate me when I succeed at something. When Howe discusses the importance of having friends to do this, she does so in a whimsical, uplifting manner:
Another essential aspect in each woman’s friend arsenal is to have a friend who gives us wings—one who hones in on our sometimes subtly hidden talents, gifts, and abilities, and who helps us develop those for the enrichment of others’ lives (and our own). Your own particular give-me-wings friend will also be on the lookout every time your gifts shine through work, family, and ministry. She will happily lift you up so you feel it’s possible to step out in faith when the next opportunity arises.
In the midst of the everyday grind, it’s unfortunately perilously easy to get bogged down by the regularity and have our passions and dreams swallowed. This is where it’s critical for us to maintain friendships that can bring us out of our comfortable ruts and remind us of what we truly want from our lives. Howe writes, “The friends who can make me laugh lighten my load considerably, and I leave them feeling better about my life and wanting to pass on the same contagious sense of joy they sparked in me.” Our friends should draw out of us a joyful spirit and a renewed appreciation and excitement for life. When they do that, we are more fully available to God’s bidding and ready to celebrate the good work he has done and is continuing to do in our lives.
Do you have any friends who celebrate you well or who make you laugh? Let’s make a point of telling them this week how much they mean to us and why we care about them.
Stay tuned for next week’s blog post about the controversial subject of friendships gone bad: how to know whether to cut them off or resurrect them!
Maggie Swofford is a marketing and editorial assistant at Hendrickson Publishers. She graduated summa cum laude with honors from Gordon College with a BA in English Language & Literature. She can often be seen ogling Impressionist and Renaissance art and scribbling bits and pieces of poetry and memoir in her writer’s notebook.
For more information about Navigating the Friendship Maze, feel free to visit our website.