I’m guessing you drew some conclusions about what this post is going to be about based on the title. And I’m also guessing you’d probably be wrong (no offense). This is not a warm-and-fuzzy post about those friends that stick with you through thick and thin (although that would be a good post); nor is it a nostalgic post about my best friend now or in the past. Instead, I want to look at what exactly constitutes “a good friend.”
First, let me tell you what prompted this post. I heard a young gal moaning the other day about how she didn’t fit in with a certain group of people. I knew the people she was talking about, and I knew how badly she needed to fit in. It was obvious that the reason she did not “fit in” was the fact that she simply felt intimidated around them. It wasn’t a matter of them being rude or snooty; they were anything but that! But her insecurities were rising to the surface, and I could tell that she was considering reverting to her “comfort zone”—which would send her ten steps backwards in her personal growth and most likely into a lifestyle of low-level living, possibly even prison. I so wanted to give her a pep talk and tell her to hang in there, to paint a picture of how her life could be so different if she would just press past this temporary discomfort of not fitting in. Though it might be difficult for a season, in a short while, she would be comfortable, but more importantly, she would be better, because she would have grown to a new level in her personal development.
I wanted to tell her all that stuff, but I couldn’t. So I decided to write this post and tell you instead.
Whether consciously or unconsciously, I think we generally choose our friends based on how similar they are to us —people whom we have a lot in common with. I wonder if we shouldn’t tweak our “friend criteria” to include people we want to have a lot in common with. In other words, how about looking for friends that have the qualities we wish we had? I know; it would be uncomfortable at first. Not because said people are hard to be around but because we might feel intimidated by them, like we don’t measure up. Just that fear of not fitting in is usually enough to dissuade people from moving beyond their current sphere.
My husband, Steve, told me about his experience playing intramural basketball in college. He played on the basketball team in high school, but he he was very average. In college, the caliber of the guys he was playing with was far superior to his high school team, and he played with them several times a week. When he went home for Christmas break, he and some of his high school buddies got together and he—and they—were shocked at how much he had improved. He hadn’t realized it until he was placed in his old context, but the strength, the talent of the college context had pulled him to a far higher level of basketball playing.
I’m sure he felt out of his element when he first started playing with the college guys, but he hung in there, and without even realizing it, his skill level rose significantly. Pretty soon, he wasn’t so intimidated any more. Actually, he probably didn’t even realize his mental shift, that he was no longer intimidated. He just enjoyed playing.
I had a similar experience several months after I started running. Some young friends and I were getting together on the weekends to do our “long runs.” We would meet at various parks in town and run the different trails. Then several of us signed up for a race that took place around the university, so we met there one weekend to run the race course and get familiar with it. The course had some pretty intense hills. I had memorized the route, so I started off in the lead. When we got to the steepest hill, I started to lose steam, and my entourage passed me (with my blessing, I might add; I didn’t want anyone saying “the old lady” held them back!). They got further and further ahead of me, but I managed to keep them in my sight. I had a specific distance that I wanted to run that day, and I was just shy of that when I reached the parking lot where we had all parked. As I approached my car, some of the girls were already leaving, but one of them rejoined me, and we ran the perimeter of the parking lot as my Runkeeper app continued to tally our distance. I reached the mileage that I was aiming for, and we did some stretching together and then parted.
When I got home, I recorded my distance and my pace, and I was pleasantly surprised to see that I had just run my best pace ever! Do you see where I’m going with this? I could have gotten discouraged and quit when my fellow runners passed me. Instead, I kept trucking, and unbeknownst to me at the time, I was trucking faster than my normal. As for the girl that finished with me in the parking lot, she posted on Facebook later that day that she had run her farthest-ever distance that morning. Would that have been true if she hadn’t finished with me? I don’t think so. Would I have run my fastest pace if I had been running alone? Or with a group that ran like me? I know I wouldn’t have.
The point to these two stories, of course, is that the more out of place we may feel in a certain group of people due to insecurity, the more we need to be with them. If we will persevere past the discomfort, our personal development will accelerate. Pretty soon, we’ll be “one of the guys” (or gals; whichever the case may be).
All this is a long way of saying what the Bible states very succinctly: “He who walks with the wise grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm” (Pro 13:20).
In answer to the title of this post, what makes a good friend, it is not necessarily someone who agrees with everything you think or do, someone who you have a lot in common with, someone who you get along with. The best of friends are those who motivate you to be the best you, who inspire you to stretch upwards and outwards beyond your current status, who cause you to become better just by being around them. Yes, we all need friends to “do stuff” with, but the very best of friends are those who provoke us to a new and higher standard.
I’d be interested in hearing your take on this concept. Do you have friends that “provoke” you—in the good way? Tell me about him or her in the comments.