We are relational being, created to form relationships with one another. Intimacy with others is a need hard-wired into us. Because friendship is a beautiful and unique form of love, it truly provides a genuine opportunity for our need for intimacy to be met apart from family and romance. One protection against isolation and loneliness is to create and sustain solid friendships. Their benefits range from emotional encouragement to spiritual support and stability.

Granted, we are quick to call some people friends. We’ll call casual acquaintances (from work associates to people whose faces we recognize at a party to people we interact with on messageboards – people we see during the normal course of our lives) friends. Which makes it tough to distinguish who we are talking about when we talk about our closer circle of people that we call friends. We even distinguish that circle of friends from those we call our “best”/closest friends, those people we trust intimately. Then, in the final circle, is our spousal friends (certainly leading to an interesting Dante-esque image regarding final circles). Regardless, we need friends at each of these levels for an emotionally healthy life (though I wouldn’t suggest having more that one friend at the spousal level).

We must live in the midst of a caring community. Love must be shared. Life must be shared. There’s no such thing as instant intimacy. Friendships are a blessing from God, opportunities to both share and receive His love through another. Like any relationship, you have to be willing to risk being vulnerable to establish a friendship. All relationships have a measure of inherent risk to them. Sometimes it can be tough to maintain friendships with the opposite sex. Difficult but not impossible, you just have to be clear because, like any relationship, friendship affords the chance to develop intimacy.

Good friendships have several characteristics:
Loyalty. Relationships are built on trust. Defending your friend. Supporting your friend in good times and in bad.
Communication. Listening. Speaking. Accepting. Understanding. Forbearing.
Challenging and stimulating. You ever hear the phrase “iron sharpens iron” (actually, it’s a proverb: “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” Proverbs 27:17)?
Fun. What’s the point of spending time with people whose company you don’t enjoy?
Self-sacrificing. Putting your needs above their own.
Loving. All of our relationships should be characterized by love.

Lastly, we want to be careful about who we choose to be our friends and which voices we let speak into our lives. They should be formed around the right kind of things, with us choosing our friends because of their character. I can’t emphasize character-based friendships enough. Not because of what they can do for us, or what kind of status they bring to us, or just because they are cute. Like any relationship, we can’t be too needy, draining the friendship. Just like you can’t rush intimacy, you can’t be desperate about forming a relationship.

We need to be present in the lives of those closest to us. Touching their lives, pouring ourselves into each other’s lives. People aren’t an interruption of our lives, they are the reason for our living. While you can’t be everyone’s best friend, you can significantly impact one person. Good friends are worth their weight in gold. Treasure them when you have them and don’t take them for granted. Let them know how much you appreciate them.

*Once again, owing a debt of gratitude to Rich Vincent.