How to Be a Friend
What being a true friend really means.

One wedding tradition is to select a posse of friends who dress alike and stand alongside you and your soon-to-be mate while everyone else, except the minister, is seated. I am not sure how this originated or what its purpose is, though I have been invited to be in several wedding parties. When I was married, I invited five friends to join me. (I know they were friends because they paid for their own tux rental.)

Five fellows stood up with me on that special day some 31 plus years ago. I thought those fellows and I would be friends for life. But two of them I never saw nor heard from after that year. The last time I saw anyone from that group in person was 21 years ago, and the last I heard from any one of them was 16 years ago. I don’t think we could call each other friends anymore—and I know that my experience is more the norm than the rarity. My groomsmen and I are not enemies. We simply moved on to different stages, different locations, different interests and experiences—and the ties that made friendship were broken.

Perhaps you think your friendships are set for life, that you do not need to be concerned with expanding your circle of friends. Perhaps you do desire more friends, but the people you come in contact with seem to already have developed their friendships, and you assume they don’t want or need any more.

The point we need to understand is this: No one is ever done making friends. Friendships are not necessarily permanent and unchangeable. Understanding this affects how much you allow peer pressure to influence you. I have repeatedly encouraged young people to give very little concern about attempting to please their peers from school, even the ones they might have spent all of their school years with, because, once they share that graduation ceremony with those peers, they will never lay eyes on the vast majority of them again. Why give people who will shortly become strangers any say over how you live, how you act, or what your interests and values are? After graduation, they will not have one iota of impact on your life.

Life has so many different phases, and with those phases comes the loss of old acquaintances and friends along with the subsequent need to make new friends and acquaintances. Everyone has to do it. You need to accept that making friends is something you will need to do all of your life. No one can afford to simply stop making friends.

However old you are when you read this, your little group of “bestest” friends will change. A handful—literally counted on one hand—likely will not. Since you will have to make friends on a regular basis throughout your life, here are a few tips on how to be the best friend you can.

The first, most often-mentioned step in making friends was written by Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, excluding Jesus: “A man that has friends must show himself friendly” (Proverbs 18:24).

Herbert W. Armstrong stated it so simply, “There are two ways of life: give and get.” If your motivation is to get a friend for what that friend can do for you, then you will most likely meet with limited or no success. Because your interest is in yourself, this new friend will eventually annoy you or disappoint you because they won’t always be able to fill your wants and needs. Basing friendships and marriages on what the self can get out of them results in neither lasting friendships nor marriages.

Your motivation should be to give your friendship to another individual.

An old poem goes like this:

I went out to find a friend,
And could not find one there;
I went out to be a friend,
And friends were everywhere!

The fears, the anxieties, the doubts, the needs, the emotions you have are in all people. Some may have a better grasp on things than others, and others may only appear to have a better grasp. We all have very similar needs and desires, and if you are willing to sow the seeds of friendship, you will reap good results. God said so! He had those words canonized in the book of life.

It may require an abrupt change in your approach to people; you might have to be a bit bolder than you are used to. The reason we don’t introduce ourselves most of the time is that we are afraid we will get rejected. We approach it that way because we are trying to get a friend. So if we initiate a conversation and we get rebuffed, then we did not get what we wanted—we consider it a personal rejection. But if our approach is to offer our friendship, knowing people desire friendship, we are less likely to be rejected. And if we are rebuffed, we do not have to take it personally.

Be quick to greet others, be quick to meet others and be quick to help others. Look at it as offering friendship. Show yourself friendly.

One way to show yourself friendly is through empathy. Empathy is the ability to understand another’s feelings or ideas. It is the ability to recognize, perceive and directly feel the emotions of another person. Notice, though, that empathy does not necessarily mean agreement. It is unlikely that you will agree with someone on every issue.

Though we humans are relatively the same in our basic desires and needs and emotions, how we think, act and react to certain stimuli can vary greatly. People enjoy broad spectrums of entertainment, culture, hobbies, reading, philosophy, travel, etc. Where we come from and what we have experienced prompts how we speak, act, feel and respond.

To be a friend we must be empathetic, so we can see why someone might have said something the way he or she did. We can see why they might enjoy that type of music; we can understand why they might get so upset when they lose a game or when they don’t get an A on every test. We might understand why they are impatient or curt with some people or laconic in their manner, etc.

Here is God’s empathy scripture: “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15).

Perhaps your friend has a fault; perhaps they have overt shortcomings along with some sterling positive attributes. An empathetic friend will see beyond those faults. That doesn’t mean condoning sin, agreeing with their behavior, or participating in wrong actions—but understanding that there is a reason they have developed that characteristic.

We realize that we have our faults, that we have our own quirky ideas and actions sometimes. And we also know we don’t want to be dismissed by others just because we mess up on occasion. As Elbert Hubbard said, “ A true friend is the person who knows all about you and still likes you.” The reason a person would still like you is because they have developed an empathetic nature. They realize you have a reason for having those thoughts and ideas and actions. But they should also see in you a friend who is trying to overcome.

God wants His people to enjoy an abundant life, in this life as well as the Kingdom. To really enjoy life, you must have friends. Remember making friends is an ongoing condition. It is accomplished by showing oneself friendly and approaching friendship with an outgoing, away from self, attitude. That kind of attitude doesn’t just stop when one has made one good friend or two, but continues to share oneself with as many others as possible. To make those sincere friends one has to, in that attitude of give, be empathetic with others, realizing their imperfections and shortcomings and not dismissing them because of them.

If you sow properly the seeds of friendship, you will reap abundantly.