I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. John 15:15
How many friends do you need? No, we’re not talking about Facebook friends, but the real thing. Social science researchers quantify friendship types by the levels of relationship depth, starting with acquaintances, casual friends, close friends and then, intimate friends. Acquaintances are people you make small talk with, maybe at the mailbox or the gym. You might share an activity with a casual friend but probably wouldn’t see them outside of that activity. Close friends are who you call when life turns upside down or something amazing happens to you, no matter what time of the day or night it is. But intimate friends are far and few. An intimate friend, hopefully would include a mate; this is someone you trust with your deepest secrets and your most vulnerable self, described by an old Arab proverb as, “One to whom we may pour out the contents of our hearts, chaff and grain together, knowing that the gentlest of hands will sift it, keep what is worth keeping, and with a breath of kindness, blow the rest away!”
How many real friends do you have? Data from a new study (Degges-White, in review) of adults from their thirties to their seventies makes it clear that the number of close friends we need to feel that we have enough, is somewhere between three and five. Adults with four or five friends enjoy the highest levels of life satisfaction and even those with three close friends aren’t far behind. And if you have one person who considers you their best friend, the satisfaction you enjoy in life is significantly higher than those who don’t.
Having close friends or having a best friend, just doesn’t happen. Like anything else that is really valuable, friendships take work and they involve risk.
Friendship begins as you reach out to someone else. Proverbs 18:24 says, “A man who has friends must himself be friendly…” Where do you fall on the friendly spectrum? The famous general, George Patton, was a man of great talents but he had very few friends. One of his biographers said of him, “He gained the generalship, the medals, and the glory, but he was never able to make any friends” [i] Strange, isn’t it, that someone who was such a leader of people ended up being respected but not considered a real friend to anyone?
Here are 3 concrete ways that you can be a best friend:
- Be emotionally supportive. This means that you believe the best, skipping the unnecessary criticism and judgment. Remember how it feels to be criticized? “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” the Bible says in Luke (Luke 6:31).
- Listen, really listen. James 1:19 reminds us, “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak.” One of the best feelings in life is to be heard and understood by another person. A best friend gives this gift freely.
- Be there. A best friend will stay in the hospital room with you overnight, show up early on moving day and pick you up at the airport. “One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin,” says the Proverb, “but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Proverbs 18:24). Be the best friend that sticks close by in all the ups and downs of life. Especially the downs.
Two friends may be from different social backgrounds, different generations and even different cultures, yet they can be drawn together in a friendship that spans these differences.
How many close friends would you count in your life? Are you a close friend of another? Social scientists point out that friendship is an essential of a healthy life, just like the Bible put it, “Perfume and incense bring joy to the heart, and the pleasantness of a friend springs from their heartfelt advice.” (Proverbs 27:9 NIV).
Resource Reading: Proverbs 18:1-24
[i] As quoted by Muriel James and Louis Savary, The Heart of Friendship, (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1976), p. 160.