I celebrated my 40th birthday on a cruise ship with eighteen of my closest friends. Every time I share this with other women, without fail, their response is “you have EIGHTEEN girlfriends?!?” Many go on to talk about how they only have a couple close friends because “women can’t be trusted,” “girls are competitive and unsupportive,” or “I’ve been stabbed in the back too many times.” It makes me so sad and, at the same time, grateful for the amazing female friendships in my life.
In the interest of full disclosure, I must admit that I’ve always been a girl’s girl, even when it was catty, backstabbing, and drama-filled. I have never understood girls who only have male best friends. I always thought guys were for dating and girls were for friendship (until I met my husband, of course). My girlfriends are a lifeline and a constant source of joy, encouragement, and support. Over 40 years of female friendships, which started the day I was born with my 4 ½ year older sister, I have learned a whole lot about what tears them down and what makes them strong, deep, and long lasting. I am incredibly thankful for amazing ladies who have taught me so much about true friendship. The more we practice these six things, the healthier and richer our friendships become.
#1 GET REAL
This is number one on my list and number one in importance, as far as I’m concerned. There is nothing that sets up barriers and competition in friendship more than pretending to be something we are not. As trust builds between friends, so should the level of disclosure. C.S. Lewis says,
“Friendship is born at the moment when one person says to another,
‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one.’”
One cold winter weekend several years ago, some girlfriends and I spent two days in a mountain cabin taking turns sharing our hearts. To be honest, it was brutal. It was terrifying and painful to share our shameful struggles, temptations and heartbreaks. Until that weekend, I had never experienced such unfiltered, raw and complete confessions of the dark places of the heart. It took years of friendship to foster that kind of vulnerability and safety. It was a life changing experience that bonded us together at a depth I didn’t know was possible. The ugly tension of jealousy and competition that often characterizes female friendships disappears the moment we realize that every single one of us is utterly broken beyond repair apart from Christ.
Not only did we share the struggles and failures of our pasts, but we continue to be real and vulnerable about our weaknesses on a daily basis! There seems to be an unwritten rule in Christian circles that failure and struggle is fine, as long as it’s in the past. Everyone nods their heads and offers words of grace and forgiveness when a believer confesses a past sin. But when someone blurts out, “I am struggling, doubting, sinning right now, in this very moment,” people tend to get real uncomfortable. My girlfriends and I have learned to reach out to each other in those desperate moments of anger, fear, anxiety, doubt and despair. We are learning to be okay with the discomfort and unresolved issues in each other’s lives. We can be gut-level honest because we know we will still be loved, accepted and cared for right where we are, in the messy moments of life.
Many of us have since moved to faraway places and I don’t know that I’ll ever have friendships as close as these. But, I recognize that my future friendships will only be as deep as the level at which I am willing to be real about who I am; the good, the bad and the ugly.
#2 GROW TOGETHER
I love rich theological conversations with my husband and the daily communication we share about walking out our faith in Christ. However, there are many things my husband just can’t relate to because he’s a man. It is like a feast for my soul to dig into the Word of God with a group of ladies. I have found that studying the Bible alongside other mothers, sisters, daughters, wives, girlfriends, to be one of the most profitable uses of my time. Our sisterhood as daughters of the King unifies, encourages and sanctifies us. Nothing brings a more singular focus and positive influence to a group of women than discovering the treasures of the Lord together. All of a sudden, it doesn’t matter who is the smartest or the prettiest or the funniest or the skinniest. The ante’s just been upped big time. Now we compete to out-love, out-forgive, out-encourage, and out-serve one another. And it’s a beautiful thing.
#3 GRIEVE TOGETHER
When I experienced a life-altering tragedy over a decade ago, one of my dearest friends shared the most comforting words I can imagine being spoken to a grieving, broken heart. She said, “I don’t know what this is going to look like or how long it will take, but I’m going to walk beside you.” She and many other friends were in it for the long haul as we grieved such a tremendous loss in our family. They listened and called and cried and prayed and served and loved me day in and day out, month after month, year after year.
Walking alongside one another as the inevitable trials arrive is the surest sign and test of true friendship. It can be a really hard task to stick around when marriages end, loved ones die, and life gets messy. Having friends that walk beside you when you’re wrong, weak, irritating, depressed and needy is a gift beyond measure.
To be continued…
Held by Him,