They say to be careful who you spend your time with.
I was sitting in a crowded auditorium listening to a motivational speaker. All the athletes at my college were required to go—most of us begrudgingly—and listen to this guy talk about overcoming the challenges of being a professional football player. I dig sappy motivational stuff most of the time so I sat near the back and gave the guy a chance.
Halfway through his speech, he started talking about how through the course of his life, it has been the people he has spent his time with and called his friends that have steered him straight or off track. His friendships made him better or caused him to crash and burn.
I have heard it again and again. Your friends influence you. Who you hang out with is who you will become. Nothing all that new, right? Then, right after he told a bit of his story, he said this—
“When life gets rough and you end up stuck on the side of the road, friendships are exposed for what they really are. In those moments, fake friends will look for the next bandwagon to hop on to. Real friends will get out and push.”
Initially, I started thinking about my friends. Do they do that for me? Do they bail when things get hard? Do I have good friends? But then, after some more thought, I turned the questions back on myself. Am I a good friend? Do I bail when things get hard?
There are few things in life as critical as our friends. I’m sure that is why my parents, teachers, and advisors always pounded into my head again and again how I should choose them wisely. As much as it seems repetitive to say it, there are few things as accurate—we do become who we spend our time with. They do make or break us.
Friends are who we invest in. Friends are who we call when we are stuck on the side of the road. Friends are what make life worth living most of the time. And for me, there is nothing more precious than good friends and there is nothing more important than being a good friend.
Three weeks into May, I sat in a parking lot with a friend talking him through a bitter identity crisis. It came out of the blue, and after hours of hard conversation and angry tears, we seemed to be back where we started. A few weeks later, a new friend poured out to me the struggles of trying to start her life over. And once these difficult and painful conversations and late night hang outs started happening, they haven’t stopped.
Two of my friends have been recently diagnosed with mental disorders. One is getting kicked out of the house. Another has gone back and forth deciding if life is even worth living, if anyone would even miss them if they were gone. These are perilous choices and impossible roads.
I love these people and they are my world, so when they are stuck in the mud or in a ditch, I get out and start pushing. And today, I am up to my knees in muck and my face is red, exhausted trying to get them back on the straight road again.
Except that most days, it seems like I am doing nothing. Most days, I walk away knowing their pain but feeling like I am getting them nowhere at all. I am powerless and it seems like I am a really lousy friend.
Good friends are loyal, right? They are honest, they cheer you up and make you smile. They go out of their way, they stick by you. I have always known and understood these characteristics. But when my friends are in pain, when they are struggling or stuck in the throes of life, my own chest aches and their problems become my own. And somewhere along the way, I have been feeding myself a nasty lie—that to be a good friend, I have to fix my friends. To have good friends, they have to fix me.
We don’t have the answers. We are so incredibly unprepared to handle the issues we are facing and that our friends are facing.
I’m so depressed I can’t breathe.
I can’t handle one more fight and feeling so guilty afterwards.
I can’t sleep or eat.
I don’t know who I am anymore.
Their hands shake, they choke out the words. And I feel lower than the floor because I have to look in their eyes and the only thing I can say is, “I’m so sorry. But I don’t know what to do. Life is hard.”
We would rather be in pain than see the ones we love in pain, I think. It can be excruciating in those moments to not be able to make things better, to put the pieces back together. It isn’t enough to even help them sometimes. We want to fix them. If our friends or family members are making a terrible mistake, we want to fix that. If they are in a bad or abusive relationship, we want to fix that. If they are in a bad job, can’t find a good direction, or are floundering, we want to figure it out for them. If they are sad, depressed, confused, or angry at the world, we think that we ourselves can change how they feel.
But guess what? Even if we are the best friends in the world, that isn’t our job. Our job is not to solve their problems, fight their battles, heal their pain. Our shoulders will never be broad enough to take on our own burdens and the burdens of everyone who matters to us.
Messy people can’t fix other messy people. God designed us to want each other, to build each other up and to commune together. But no one is mightier than the other and we are all being dealt the curve balls of life. It is only God who can truly sow up our broken places and heal us from the inside out. If we expect to find fulfillment from other people or to fulfill other people, we are going to be sadly disappointed.
The people who matter to us need one thing from us, and one thing only—they need a friend. They don’t need a savior, a superhero, or a mechanic. They don’t even need us to be their tow-truck. And being a good friend is pretty simple, really.[clickToTweet tweet=”The people who matter to us need one thing from us, and one thing only—they need a friend.” quote=”The people who matter to us need one thing from us, and one thing only—they need a friend.”]
Be present. Even if you have nothing useful or helpful to say, be there. Drive two hours just to sit in a parking lot or eat crappy Chinese food.
Be real. Don’t say everything is alright if it’s not. Acknowledge pain and feel it with a friend, even if you don’t have the antidote.
Be available. Move your friend out, move your friend in. Watch hours of cheesy B-rated slasher flicks or rom coms. Drive them when they are too upset to get behind a wheel.
Be considerate. Make your friend some cookies or some dinner. Leave them notes. Sometimes we just want to know, more than anything, that someone cares.
Be a little powerless. Let your friends make mistakes, but give them advice if they ask for it. Pray for them and pray with them. Give them space when they are making big decisions or when they aren’t sure what to do. They need to live their lives, and you need to live yours.
But most of all? Be thankful. Be thankful you have people in your life. Enjoy every minute you get with them, the good times and the bad.
And instead of straining so hard to push them out of the ditch, sit next to them in the mud and let them know that they aren’t alone.
“Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, art…It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which gives value to survival.”