How Can I Make Real Friends?
“I’VE been going to school in this district for eight years, but in all that time I’ve never managed to make one single friend! Not one.” So lamented a youth named Ronny. And perhaps at times you have similarly felt like a failure at friendship. But just what are real friends? And what is the secret of having them?
A proverb says: “A friend is loving at all times and becomes a brother in times of trouble.” (Proverbs 17:17, The Bible in Basic English) But there is more to friendship than having a shoulder to cry on. Says a young woman named Marvia: “Sometimes a so-called friend will see you get into trouble and then say, ‘I saw you leading up to that, but I was afraid to tell you.’ But when a real friend sees you going the wrong way, she will try to warn you before it’s too late—even if she knows you may not like what she says.”
Would you allow a bruised ego to cause you to reject someone who has cared enough about you to tell you the truth? Proverbs 27:6 says: “There is more trust to be put in bruises from one who loves than in effusive kisses from one who hates.” (Byington) A person who thinks straight and talks straight is thus the kind of person you should want as a friend.
Counterfeit Versus Real Friends
“My life is proof that not all ‘friends’ bring out your best,” states 23-year-old Peggy. As a teenager, Peggy had been forced to leave home. She was befriended, however, by two of Jehovah’s Witnesses, Bill and his wife, Lloy. They began a study of the Bible with Peggy. “The months I spent with them were filled with real joy, contentment and peace,” said Peggy. Yet, she opted to be with some youths she had met—and left Bill and Lloy.
Peggy further recounts: “I learned many things from my new ‘friends’—stealing stereos, cashing bad checks, smoking marijuana and, finally, how to support a $200-a-day drug habit.” At age 18 she met a young man named Ray who offered her all the drugs she could use—free. “I thought all my troubles were over. Never again would I have to steal and cheat,” thought Peggy. Ray, however, introduced her to prostitution. Eventually Peggy fled the city and her fast-lane “friends.”
At her new location, one day Peggy was visited by two of Jehovah’s Witnesses. “Tears of joy flooded my eyes as I embraced the two startled women,” related Peggy. “I had grown to despise the hypocrisy of my former ‘friends,’ but here were people who were for real.” Peggy resumed her study of the Bible.
Conforming her life to God’s ways, though, was not easy. Particularly difficult was giving up smoking. However, a Witness friend advised: “Instead of praying and asking for forgiveness after you fail, why not pray beforehand and ask for strength when you feel the urge to smoke?” Says Peggy: “This kind and practical suggestion did it. . . . For the first time in years, I felt clean inside and knew what it meant to have self-respect.”
Peggy’s experience highlights the truthfulness of the Bible’s words at Proverbs 13:20: “He that is walking with wise persons will become wise, but he that is having dealings with the stupid ones will fare badly.” Says Peggy: “If I had just kept my friendship with those persons who loved God, I would have avoided all those things that are now an ugly memory.”
Where can you find friends who love God? Within the Christian congregation. Search out youths who not only make a profession of faith but also have works to back up their faith and devotion. (Compare James 2:26.) If such youths are hard to find, get to know some Christians who are older than you. Age need not be a barrier to friendship. The Bible tells of the model friendship between David and Jonathan—and Jonathan was old enough to be David’s father!—1 Samuel 18:1.
How, though, can you get friendships started?
An Active Interest in Others
Jesus Christ built friendships that were so strong that his friends were willing to die for him. Why? For one thing, Jesus cared for people. He reached out and helped others. He ‘wanted to’ get involved. (Matthew 8:3) Truly, having an interest in others is the first step toward making friends.
A youth named David, for example, says he has had success in making friends because of “having a real love for people and taking an active interest in others.” He adds: “One of the biggest things is to know the person’s name. Others are often impressed that you cared enough to remember their name. Because of this they may share some experience or problem with you and the friendship starts to build.”
This does not mean that you have to be a hand-pumping extrovert. Jesus was “lowly in heart,” not flamboyant or showy. (Matthew 11:28, 29) It is sincere interest in others that attracts them. Often the simplest things, such as sharing a meal together or assisting someone with a task, can serve to deepen a friendship.
“How You Listen”
“Pay attention to how you listen,” recommended Jesus. (Luke 8:18) Though he had in mind the value of listening to God’s sayings, the principle applies well in developing relationships. Being a good listener is vital in building a friendship.
If we are genuinely interested in what others are saying, they are usually drawn to us. But this requires your “keeping an eye, not in personal interest upon just your own matters [perhaps on just what you want to say], but also in personal interest upon those of the others.”—Philippians 2:4.
Jesus stuck with his friends. He “loved them to the end.” (John 13:1) A young man named Gordon treats his friends similarly: “The main quality of a friend is his loyalty. Will he really stick with you when times get rough? My friend and I would defend each other when others would say some belittling remarks. We really stuck up for each other—but only if we were in the right.”
Counterfeit friends, though, think nothing of hypocritically stabbing one another in the back. “There exist companions disposed to break one another to pieces,” says Proverbs 18:24. Would you “break” a friend’s reputation by joining in vicious gossip, or would you loyally stand up for him?
Share Your Feelings
Jesus further endeared himself to others by revealing his deepest feelings. At times he let it be known that he “felt pity,” “felt love,” or was “deeply grieved.” On at least one occasion he even “gave way to tears.” Jesus was not embarrassed to lay bare his heart to those whom he trusted.—Matthew 9:36; 26:38; Mark 10:21; John 11:35.
This, of course, does not mean that you should pour out your emotions to everyone that you meet! But you can be honest with everyone. And as you get to know and trust someone, you can gradually reveal more of your deepest feelings. At the same time, learning to have empathy and “fellow feeling” for others is essential for meaningful friendships.—1 Peter 3:8.
Do Not Expect Perfection
Even when a friendship is off to a good start, don’t expect perfection. “We all make mistakes in all kinds of ways, but the man who can claim that he never says the wrong thing can consider himself perfect.” (James 3:2, Phillips) Furthermore, friendship costs—time and emotion. “You have to be willing to give,” says a young man named Presley. “That’s a large part of friendship. You have your own feelings about things but you’re willing to give in to make room for your friend’s feelings and opinions.”
The cost of friendship, however, is nothing compared to the cost of not loving—a life of empty loneliness. So make friends for yourself. (Compare Luke 16:9.) Give of yourself. Listen to and show a genuine interest in others. Like Jesus, you may then have numerous ones to whom you can say, “You are my friends.”—John 15:14.
Questions for Discussion
◻ How can you recognize a real friend? What kind of friends are counterfeit?
◻ Where can you look for friends? Must they always be your age?
◻ What should you do if a friend is in serious trouble?
◻ What are four ways to make friends?
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“I learned many things from my new ‘friends’—stealing stereos, cashing bad checks, smoking marijuana and, finally, how to support a $200-a-day drug habit”
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Should I Tell On My Friend?
If you became aware that a friend was dabbling in drugs, experimenting with sex, cheating, or stealing—would you tell someone responsible about it? Most would not, adhering to a peculiar code of silence that often prevails among youths.
Some fear being labeled a “squealer.” Others have a misguided sense of loyalty. Viewing discipline as something harmful, they imagine they do their friend a favor by covering up his problems. Further, breaking that code of silence could expose one to the ridicule of peers and the possible loss of their friendship.
Nevertheless, when a youth named Lee learned that his best friend, Chris, was smoking, he decided to act. Says Lee: “My conscience was eating me up because I knew I had to tell someone!” A youth in Bible times was faced with a similar situation. “Joseph, when seventeen years old, happened to be tending sheep with his brothers . . . So Joseph brought a bad report about them to their father.” (Genesis 37:2) Joseph knew that if he remained silent, the spiritual welfare of his brothers would be endangered.
Sin is a decaying, corrupting force. Unless an erring friend receives help—perhaps in the form of firm Scriptural discipline—he or she may plunge yet deeper into wickedness. (Ecclesiastes 8:11) Consequently, covering up a friend’s wrongdoing not only does little good but also may do irreparable harm.
The Bible therefore exhorts: “Brothers, even though a man takes some false step before he is aware of it, you who have spiritual qualifications try to readjust such a man in a spirit of mildness.” (Galatians 6:1) You may not feel you have the spiritual qualifications to readjust an erring friend. But would it not make sense to see to it that the matter is reported to someone who is qualified to help?
It is thus imperative that you approach your friend and lay bare his fault. (Compare Matthew 18:15.) This will take courage and boldness on your part. Be firm, giving convincing evidence regarding his sin, specifically telling what you know and how you came to know it. (Compare John 16:8.) Do not promise you won’t tell anyone, for such a promise would be invalid in the eyes of God, who condemns covering up wrongdoing.—Proverbs 28:13.
Perhaps some misunderstanding has occurred. (Proverbs 18:13) If not, and wrongdoing is really involved, it may be that your friend is relieved to have his problem out in the open. Be a good listener. (James 1:19) Do not stifle the free flow of his feelings by using judgmental expressions, such as, “You shouldn’t have!” or expressions of shock, such as, “How could you!” Show empathy and feel what your friend feels.—1 Peter 3:8.
Often the situation requires more help than you are in a position to give. Insist, then, that your friend reveal the wrong to his parents or other responsible adults. And if your friend refuses to do so? Let him know that if he does not clear up the matter within a reasonable period of time, you, as his true friend, will be obliged to go to someone in his behalf.—Proverbs 17:17.
At first your friend may not understand why you took such action. He may even become upset and rashly terminate your friendship. But says Lee: “I know I did the right thing by telling somebody. My conscience felt so much better because Chris was getting the help he needed. Later he came and told me that he was not upset with me for doing what I did and that also put me at ease.”
If your acquaintance continues to resent your courageous actions, obviously he or she never was a true friend in the first place. But you will have the satisfaction of knowing that you proved your loyalty to God and showed yourself to be a true friend.
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Do you have trouble making friends?
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Taking an interest in others is the key to starting friendships