Your College Guide for Finding—and Keeping—the Right Friends

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Quick Facts About Friends

Long ago the Greek philosopher Aristotle said, “Without friends no one would choose to live.” I think he’s right on the money. Jesus is the center of our lives, but good friendships are essential for the mature, Jesus-following adult. We were built for community—that’s why God didn’t leave Adam alone in the garden for long. First there was Adam, then Eve, and humans continued to fulfill God’s command to reproduce. Need I say more?

So what does it mean to be a good friend? Here are five suggestions to help keep your friendships healthy and strong as you follow Jesus:

1. Friends provide a shield. They don’t leave you vulnerable. To be a good friend involves some healthy and godly protection. Friends look out for each other. They keep each other out of danger and hold each other accountable. Friends have each other’s backs.

2. Friends are faithful. A good friend doesn’t run away when times get tough. Friends say things like, “I’m here for you no matter what,” and mean it. If a difficult and stressful event happens in your friendship, you stay in the fight (or discussion). Friends don’t walk away.

3. Friends tell the truth. They don’t lie or fake it. Telling the truth requires wisdom and courage. The truth needs to be told at the right time, in the right way and to the right people. We can’t run from it even if it’s hard. If you love your friend, you’ll be willing to tell the truth even when it’s difficult.

4. Friends dont point fingers. Good friends ask questions; they don’t place blame. If you’re selfless, thinking of your friend as better than yourself, you won’t accuse him of anything. Ask questions of clarity, but don’t point fingers. Friends don’t draw conclusions until they have all the facts.

5. Friends make the extra effort. They’re intentional about making the first move toward reconciliation. They value the other more than themselves. They love with patience and care, as Paul explained to the Corinthian church (1 Corinthians 13).

Types of Friends

All of us intuitively know there are different types of friends. Some people have more friends than others (think Facebook), but not all our friends are on the same level of connection (think Facebook again). Your friends might include both the woman at the grocery-store checkout that you say “hi” to once a week, as well as the person you’ve known all your life and share your deepest secrets with. It’s important to be aware of what stage your various friendships are in so you treat them with the proper amount of intimacy.

There are people you meet at the mall or at the movies. These are people you happen to stumble across who don’t influence your life very much. You might run into one such friend some evening and not see him again for months. But the funny thing about God is that he’ll sometimes take a casual friend like this and, over time, turn him or her into a person you would die for. Just pay attention and stay alert to God’s movement.

There are also friends you hang with. As you move from high school to college or a career, your friendships will change. The people you hung out with in high school might feel more distant when you no longer see them every day. But you’ll develop new connections with people you feel safe with. Give these friends permission to speak into your life when you’re high and low.

Then there’s a smaller group of friends you really trust. When you have secrets to tell, this is the group you express them to. The closer you get to one another, the more vulnerable you are with them. The more you care about them, the more potential there is to be hurt by them. This is the group you laugh the hardest with and weep the longest with. There is deep trust.

Finally, over the course of your life you might have a few special friends with whom you feel closest. You’d do anything for these people. These friends believe in you, and you believe in them. Nothing can get in the way of your love for these people. They’re like food and air to your soul. Go further with them. Pray longer with and for them. Keep confidential things between you and these friends. These friends are precious—so love, foster trust with and believe in them.

Friendship was God’s design. If it’s true that we all have a hole in our hearts that only God can fill, there are also human-sized holes that need to be filled. We only have so much time, energy and room for friendships. Choose your friends wisely and you’ll reap huge rewards.

Handling Conflict

Sometimes you’ll experience conflict (or drama!) in your friendships. If you don’t ever have conflict, you don’t have friends. Friends care enough to confront one another, and they care enough to be hurt by one another.

Learning how to handle conflict is essential. If not handled properly, conflict can deeply damage a person or relationship. Some people actually enjoy conflict (at least initially), while others run from it like they’d flee a burning home. Which way do you respond to conflict? Do you fight or take flight? Do you become aggressive or retreat? Do you demand it be resolved right now or hide your feelings like nothing happened? Understanding your own reactions in the first step to facing conflict.

Next, you need to understand the person you’re in conflict with. Find a time to address the conflict with them face-to-face. Be willing to give each other time and space to cool down, collect your thoughts and pray. Then, with mutual love and respect, pray and talk it out. Use “I felt” statements to talk about your own experience of the situation, not accusing “you” statements that criticize or place blame. Once you’ve discussed the problem and worked it out, decide (out loud) to forgive one another and put it behind you. This is hard, but keep practicing. Over time, this will help you grow closer to one another and God.

There’s no single, universal formula for conflict resolution. Matthew 18 suggests some principles to follow when sin is clearly involved, but often the question of whether someone has sinned is part of the conflict. Of course, much conflict comes from pride, jealousy, envy, selfishness and desire for control—and God is not honored by these motivations.

Always ask yourself, “What am I learning about myself in this conflict?” Stay humble and teachable. This will get you well on your way to developing deeper friendships and growing in your relationship with Jesus.

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Jeff Baxter has a doctorate in Youth and Family Ministry from Fuller Theological Seminary and more than twenty years of experience on staff in local churches. He’s written The Ultimate Guide to Being Christian in College and Together: Adults and Teenagers Transforming the Church, and he’s a frequent speaker and consultant with Ministry Architects. He is currently the Lead Pastor at Light & Life Church in Lakewood, CO.