What are friends for?
I once heard it said that “friends are the family you choose.”
This really resonated with me because I’ve had friends in different seasons of life who felt closer than my blood family and were, geographically, the closest thing I had to family.
I believe friends can serve as a mirror for us to look at ourselves through their eyes and see if the feedback they give matches how we see ourselves. Am I who I really want to be?
As with most human relationships, friendship is transactional, meaning that both people in the friendship bring something to the table and have something to offer the other. If only one person is bringing value to a friendship and is always the one pouring out while the other only takes and never reciprocates, that relationship won’t stand the test of time.
Many of us have casual friends who we can have fun with. We might meet them through participating in things like like team sports, hobbies, or work. Yet each human only has the capacity to have a small handful of very close “heart friends”. These are the ones we can laugh with over the most ridiculous things and the ones we can safely cry with, knowing they won’t run from our tears. While most of us cannot choose our coworkers and we certainly can’t choose the family we were born into, friendships are very intentional relationships with others who we desire and choose to live life with.
Healthy friendships don’t involve manipulation or exploitation. They are life-giving, producing good fruit in our lives. The people who have walked with me in true friendship are those who saw when I stopped walking in the fullness of who God created me to be and who reminded me of my true identity when I felt defeated and disappointed in myself. They called out the gold in me. They loved me unconditionally and accepted me right where I was.
A true friend will call us out when we need it and encourage us to be the best version of ourselves. They see our potential, hear our dreams and stand with us in unlocking all that God has for us!
Who we choose to spend the majority of our social time with serves to shape and influence our personality, life choices and habits. This is why it is so important we choose to surround ourselves with people who lift us up and who we want to rub off on us.
I also believe friendship holds an invitation to practice laying our lives down for others in sacrificial love. In John 15:13 Jesus said, “there is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” How many of us have a friend who we know we could lay our life down for if it came to that? Aside from physically dying for someone, I think Jesus’ words are an invitation to serve one another in love and humility. Laying down our time, money, possessions, emotional energy and our own needs and wants in service of another is what Jesus invites us into as we follow Him.
On a less spiritual note, but no less important, let’s delve into the physical health benefits of friendship.
In a 2010 meta-analysis1 on social relationships and mortality risk, researchers Holt-Lunstad and colleagues reviewed data from 148 studies, showing that people with strong social connections are 50% more likely to survive than people without strong relationships. High-quality social connection is linked to lower blood pressure, lower B.M.I., less inflammation, and a reduced risk of diabetes across all age groups. Another very practical purpose of friendship is to boost our immune systems!
Science has proven how our mental, emotional, spiritual and physical health are all deeply interconnected. Each area affects the rest. The research shows that friendships are just as important as diet and exercise. Neuroscientists have found that “social pain” triggers the same parts of the brain as physical pain. In other words, social disconnection causes literal pain inside the human body. Weak social relationships or a lack of friends is correlated with a greater risk of death, regardless of age, sex, health status, or cause of death.
The Bible speaks to this in many ways, showing that friendship is quite literally imperative to human survival. One of the clearest examples of the importance of friendship is found in Ecclesiastes: “Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” Ecclesiastes 4:12
Choosing high quality friends has a huge impact on our ability to thrive, not just survive. At the end of a hard day, week, or month, being able to debrief with a close friend who can empathize with us lifts an enormous weight off our shoulders. Two of the most powerful words we can say to someone are “me too.” It’s so special when those who have walked with us through grief and hard times can see us through to the other side and celebrate our victories with us.
I moved to the Kootenays on June 1st, 2022. As I write this, I have been living here for five and a half months. I came here seeking intentional community with others who share my faith, values, and a similar lifestyle and I was amazed to immediately find exactly what I was looking for in a church family.
Since then I have been blessed with a few new friendships with women who I am able to have deep heart talks with, skipping the shallow small talk and getting straight to the things that truly matter in life. Having in-person church community again, a small group that meets weekly, and a few close female friends who share my values of authenticity and growth have had visibly positive effects on my health. I have never felt healthier than I do right now and I am so grateful to know I am not alone.
I hope that reading this has encouraged you to seek deeper friendship with those who are in your life already, and if you are in need of real friendship I pray with you that God will provide it.
1Holt-Lunstad J, Smith TB, Layton JB. Social relationships and mortality risk: a meta-analytic review.