Good Friends—Bad Friends
A YOUNG woman we will call Sarah poured out her heart in distress. A man she had thought of as a friend turned out to be a murderer. ‘If someone I trusted could do such a thing, how can I trust anyone?’ she asked. Her listener asked Sarah if she had known what kind of values the man had. She responded, “What do you mean?” Sarah didn’t even know what was meant by “values.” What about you? Do you know what your friends’ values are?
The answer to that question can literally mean life or death, as Sarah’s experience bears out. One Bible proverb puts it this way: “He that is walking with wise persons will become wise, but he that is having dealings with the stupid ones will fare badly.” (Proverbs 13:20) Yet, like Sarah, many people select friends merely on the basis of whether they “hit it off” or not—how they feel when they are around them. Naturally, we like to be with people who make us feel good. But if that is the only criterion for our choice, with little or no thought given to a person’s real inward qualities, we may be headed for great disappointment. How can you know whether a person has good values?
The Need for High Moral Values
To begin with, we must have our own good values. We need to know what is right and wrong, good and bad, and hold firmly to high moral principles all the time. Another Bible proverb states: “By iron, iron itself is sharpened. So one man sharpens the face of another.” (Proverbs 27:17) When two people bring ironlike moral strength to a friendship, they can help each other to grow, and the bonds of friendship between them will be stronger.
Pacôme, from France, says, “For me, a true friend is one who listens to me and speaks kindly to me but who is also capable of reprimanding me when I do something stupid.” Yes, our best friends—whether they are young or old—are those who help us to stay headed in the right direction and who correct us when we are about to do unwise things. The Bible says: “Faithful are the wounds of a friend.” (Proverbs 27:6, King James Version) To strengthen ourselves morally and spiritually, we need to associate with others who have love for God and his principles. “When there was no one else in my school who shared my Christian values and beliefs,” recalls Céline, from France, “I learned the importance of having real friends in the Christian congregation. They have helped me tremendously to keep my balance.”
Sizing Up Potential Friends
If you are interested in making friends with someone you have met, you might want to ask yourself, ‘Who are his or her friends?’ The type of close associates someone has tells much about the person himself. Also, what opinion do mature and respectable people in the community have of him? In addition, it is wise to consider not only how potential friends treat us but also how they treat others, particularly those from whom they have nothing to gain. Unless a person displays good qualities—such as honesty, integrity, patience, and consideration—at all times and to all people, what guarantee is there that he will always treat you well?
Getting to know someone’s true character requires patience and skill, as well as time to observe the person in real life. The Bible states: “Counsel in the heart of a man is as deep waters, but the man of discernment is one that will draw it up.” (Proverbs 20:5) We need to talk to potential friends about serious subjects—those that reveal their true personality, motivations and, yes, values. What sort of people are they? Are they kind or cold? Basically positive and cheerful or negative and cynical? Unselfish or self-serving? Trustworthy or disloyal? If a person talks critically about others to you, what will prevent him from talking negatively about you behind your back? “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks,” said Jesus. (Matthew 12:34) When it does, we should listen.
The Most Important Things to Have in Common
Some think that their friends must have exactly the same tastes as they do. One little boy asserted, “I could never be friends with someone who doesn’t like cheesecake.” It is true that friends need to have enough in common to be able to understand each other, and it is best if they share the same basic moral and spiritual values. But they do not have to be identical in personality and background. In fact, differences in life experience can bring richness and mutual benefit to a friendship.
Two timeless examples of friendship in the Bible—that of Jonathan and David and of Ruth and Naomi—were based on a shared devotion to God and to his principles.* Significantly, in both cases the friendship transcended great differences in age and background. They thus teach us something else about friendship: Young ones and older ones have much to offer one another as friends.
Benefiting From Differences in Age
Having friends who are older or younger than we are can be mutually enriching. Consider the following expressions from young people based on their personal experiences.
Manuela (Italy): “I made friends with an adult couple a while ago. I opened up to them, and what makes me happy is that they also opened up to me. They didn’t underestimate me just because I was young. This moved me to draw close to them. Their friendship is very helpful when I experience problems. I find that when I discuss my problems with people my own age, at times my girlfriends give me advice that isn’t well thought out. But my older friends have experience, discernment, and a certain balance that we young ones have not yet acquired. With their help I manage to make better decisions.”
Zuleica (Italy): “At gatherings we include not only young ones but also some who are older than we are. Personally, I have noticed that when older and younger ones get together, we all feel really encouraged at the end of the evening. We enjoy ourselves because everyone sees things differently.”
Older ones, you too can reach out to younger ones. As shown by the foregoing comments, many younger ones greatly appreciate your depth of experience and enjoy your company. Amelia, a widow in her 80’s, says: “I take the initiative to keep in touch with the younger ones. Their energy and vitality uplift my spirits!” The good results of such mutual encouragement can be far-reaching. Many happy young adults give much of the credit for their success to friends of their youth who were at least a little older and who served as good examples and gave them good advice.
Improving Your Friendships
To have good friendships, you don’t necessarily have to make new friends. If you already have worthy companions, why not see what you can do to strengthen your friendship with them? Longtime friends are a particularly precious treasure, and we should treat them as such. Never take their loyalty for granted.
Above all, remember that true happiness—and true friendship—come from giving of yourself, your time, and your resources. The rewards are more than worth the effort and sacrifices involved. However, if you think only of yourself when choosing friends, you will never succeed. So when considering potential friends, do not restrict yourself to those you look up to or those from whom you can gain something. Reach out to those whom others might overlook or who may have difficulty making friends themselves. Gaëlle, from France, says: “When we are getting a group together to do something and we know of young people who are lonely, we invite them along. We say: ‘You don’t want to stay home all by yourself. You can come with us. Let’s get to know one another.’”—Luke 14:12-14.
On the other hand, when good people extend friendship, do not be quick to refuse it. Elisa, in Italy, notes: “Perhaps a bit of resentment can well up inside you when you feel you have been left out in the past. You may start thinking, ‘After all, friendships are not so important to me.’ So you close up, solitude sets in, and you just think about yourself. Instead of looking for friends, you create a barrier.” Rather than letting unfounded fears or selfish interest cause you to avoid making new friends, open up to others. We have reason to be deeply grateful when people care enough about us to want to be our friends.
You Can Have True Friends
It takes more than wishing, waiting, and reading articles like these to have true friends. Learning to make friends is like learning to ride a bicycle. We cannot learn either skill entirely from books. We have to get out and practice, even if it means falling down a few times. The Bible shows that the firmest relationships are deeply rooted in shared friendship with God. But God cannot bless our efforts to make friends if we do not make those efforts. Are you determined to have real friends? Do not give up! Pray for God’s help, reach out unselfishly, and be a friend.
You can read about these friendships in the Bible books of Ruth, First Samuel, and Second Samuel.
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A Note to Parents
Like so many other lessons, learning about friendship begins at home. Ideally, family life will supply most of a very young child’s needs for companionship. Even under such circumstances, a child’s thinking, feelings, and behavior are powerfully affected by his contact with others. Consider, for example, how quickly many young children of immigrants learn to speak a new language only through contact with other children.
As parents, you have the privilege of helping your children choose friends wisely. Young children and adolescents are not yet fully equipped to make such judgments without parental guidance. However, there is a problem. Many young people feel closer to fellow young ones than to their parents or to any older ones.
One factor that turns teens to their peers rather than to their parents, some experts believe, is that many parents doubt their own moral authority. Parents must shoulder their God-given responsibility to reach out to and stay involved with their children. (Ephesians 6:1-4) But how? Family therapist Dr. Ron Taffel meets many parents who are at a loss as to how to deal with their adolescent children. He writes that many “succumb to a series of media-hyped child-rearing fads” instead of actually parenting their children. Why do they resort to this? “They don’t know their own children well enough to relate directly to them.”
It doesn’t have to be that way. Parents must understand that children will look to their friends if they are not getting what they need at home. And what is that? “They need what young people have always needed: nurture, appreciation, security, clarity in rules and expectations and a sense of belonging,” says Taffel. “The tragedy of our times is that most adolescents do not get these basic needs met by adults and do not feel truly ‘at home’ within their own families.”
How can you help your children in regard to friendship? The first step is to consider your own way of life and friendships. Are the goals and life-style you and your friends pursue noble and unselfish? Spiritual and not materialistic? “Actions speak louder than words, and your children are bound to pick up the attitudes and actions they observe in you, your friends, and your friends’ children,” notes Douglas, a Christian elder and father.
Even many animals instinctively and often ferociously protect their young from other dangerous creatures. An expert on bears reports: “Mother bears are legendary for protecting their cubs from all perceived threats.” Should human parents do any less? Ruben, from Italy, says: “My parents reasoned with me from the Scriptures. They helped me to understand that it was better to avoid certain kinds of company. My first reaction was: ‘Look at that! I can’t have any friends at all!’ But time has proved them right, and thanks to their patience, I was protected.”
Also, actively bring your children into contact with people who are good examples and who will help them to set good goals for themselves. A successful and happy young man named Francis remembers: “My mother noticed that we young ones were keeping to ourselves, so she helped us by inviting friends over who were very active in the full-time Christian ministry. In that way we got to know them and to make friends with them, right in our own home.” Through such efforts on your part, your children’s homelife can become a fertile seedbed in which good friendships germinate and grow.
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Take note of how potential friends behave
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Unselfish friendships thrive despite differences in age and background