Qualities of a Good Friendship

Forming new, meaningful adult friendships or maintaining friendships throughout different seasons of life can be challenging. Can you really be friends with coworkers or the other parents at your kids’ soccer games? And how do you tell if someone’s just an acquaintance or a true friend?

What makes a friendship strong? How can you tell if you’re a good friend and if someone’s a good friend to you? Dan and Rachael take a look at the joy, depth, and sometimes messy beauty of genuine connections between people. From shared purposes to meaningful conversations and navigating conflicts with grace, they explore the essential ingredients of true friendship.

Related Episodes:

Episode Transcript:

Rachael: Well, today on the Allender Center Podcast, we want to take an opportunity to celebrate love. And I know what you’re thinking. We’re just past Valentine’s Day and we do love talking a lot about marriage. But today we want to celebrate a special kind of love, and that is friendship-love. And we’re not going to break down the different types of love like I grew up, although I do love talking about agape and eros and all those things. But we want to take an opportunity to talk more about friendship because all of us, no matter what our status in life is, no matter what demographic we find ourselves in, what age group we find ourselves in, we are well acquainted with friendship and we’re made for friendship. And there is a beauty and brokenness to the intimacy of friendships. So Dan, thank you for joining us and joining me to talk more about friendships. And part of the reason why I’m so grateful, you’re my conversation partner here, and I think people do know this about you because you talk about your friendships, but you and Becky are some of the only people I know in my life who have maintained friendships with people you knew when you were in junior high and middle school and high school. Basically a drastically different person than you are today. And still somewhat the same person who you still are in robust, joy-filled conflict, engaging, real, true in the dirt friendship with. So not that I would ever put on you like friendship expert, but I think you have a lot of stories around that.

Dan: I’m grateful for that and we can meander about that. But Becky has friendships; she just went last fall on a 10 day excursion in to Nova Scotia with friends she was with in third and fourth grade. So yeah, I have friends, obviously, my best friend Trumper Longman III from age 13, and then a number of other friendships that are just precious that are 20, 30, 40, 50 years in, shall we say, in running. Yet, this is a complex arena. It’s one that when we start with the reality that loneliness has been named as a national health issue, and it’s not just national, it’s international. So we’re looking at the reality that loneliness has a profound physical effect, not just relational, emotional, but physical effect in terms of on two sides. One, actually immunologically friendships protect you from certain kinds of disease. And the other side to that is that the absence of friendships makes you more susceptible to disease. So this is a really serious, and in some ways difficult and heartbreaking, but also I think sweet heartwarming conversations. So let me ask you a question before we begin. So do you see me as a friend?

Rachael: Yes, of course. Most certainly.

Dan: Why? What constitutes…

Rachael: …that’s a great question.

Dan: People could say, well, your primary interactions are podcasts and other conferences we’ve done. So aren’t you just work buddies? But I think you would say, I would say no, there’s a deep true friendship and it also overlaps with a lot of other realms. But why would you consider me a friend?

Rachael: Well, I just want to say I think that’s part of what makes friendships so hard for us is that our friendships often do overlap with other realms. And when there’s, especially in a world where institutions are breaking down, we’ve already had this podcast, you can go back and listen to it, but when institutions are breaking down and your friendships are layered like that, it does start to make things really complex when it feels like there’s loyalty demands, and I mean, it’s human mess, but I consider you a friend because you actually know something of my life and the people of my life and are in relationship with the people of my life and acquainted with my life in more intimate ways than a work relationship or an acquaintance would be. And I think some of those tenets of there’s a, we’ve been in conflict that’s required repair and growth and maturity and honesty. There’s mutual care and delight and just all those basic realities of attachment that have to be developed over long seasons and with a lot of intentionality.

Dan: Oh, well said. To me, what you’ve just described is the reality that it’s hard to actually define who or what a friend is or how a friend becomes a friend. But I think there are certain things that I’d almost begin, let me talk about my own sense of loneliness. When I’m with a group of people, even people that I know probably more likely in the realm of acquaintances, and there’s sort of this, I don’t know, noise called talk, and it is just, I don’t know a better word than chitchat over whatever, and it meanders and it’s interrupted by somebody else’s opinion about, and then it goes to another, and then it’s fast food conversation. And what I know to be true about friendships is you have the capacity to eat like Doritos together, but it’s not your primary food. You have good food together, which means in some sense what we’re talking about, what we’re saying to one another has something of substance. You already put words to it, knowledge of one another in ways in which we are lovely and not so lovely. And yet being able to hold that with a regard of when you are not as, I would wish our relationship does not end. So continuity, clarity, but depth of conversation to me is deeply important, which when I’m with people doing things which are primarily distract oriented, entertainment, again, I’ve had what I would call some very dear acquaintances that I go do X with or Y with. But just doing things like going to a movie or whatever, I just think there has to be some labor of meaning. So I feel lonely when I’m languishing in some sense of what are we doing? Why are we together? And when there is some clarity that our lives are pushing against the same plow, engaging something of the same call calling, that’s to me where I would begin to name friendship. So when there’s too much noise or just languishing in some sense of what are we doing? I think another category is where I feel let down or disappointed in someone, but there is no prospect of repair. So I’m really just repeating many of the core elements that you are putting words to. That to me is what holds friendship, significant conversation, some sense of what we’re doing that has a larger purpose than mere distraction. And there is a prospect of repair because there will always be the need for repair in any intimate friendship. Anything you’d add?

Rachael: No, I mean, I feel like, well, it’s interesting. I found myself almost being like, does it have to be like, can you have friends if mostly on your languishing and meaning? But I think it’s because I’m in a season of life where I live in a city where I don’t have core friendships, and I have a few good friends that are like, but I’m in a season of life too where I have teenagers, a small child, toddler, and so a lot of the relational connections are with other parents of kids who have similar activities. And I do feel like I’m developing good friends through that. But it may take a long season before any of these other things exist because in many ways, the ways in which we connect are centered around other human beings. But those are still really valuable friendships to me. So I think I found myself thinking about the spectrum of friendship and how today we’re focusing more on intimate friendships, like friendships that do fit all those categories that you talked about to really push against this plague of loneliness because we’re made for connection. But I want to just make some space for those of us who find ourselves in seasons of life where maybe in proximity, in the places where we see people the most, they might be more, I don’t want to say shallow friendships, but they might be friendships that are centered around other things, and there can still be rich meaning there and a lot of life that’s given there.

Dan: Slight pushback. If you’re with friends, parents of other children, and your primary connection is you sit together at a little league baseball game, I think that’s fabulous because you’re there because of your children, you share a purpose. And in that sense, the shared purpose of rooting on and suffering your child’s not just performance, but behavior and all sorts of things,

Rachael: Heartbreak.

Dan: Yes. Now the question is in that context, are you having at least somewhat meaningful conversations? And if so, you will with those two factors, shared purpose, meaningful conversations, there will be a growth of relationship setting you up for a need for being able to handle the growing disappointment of one another. So the first two sets up the third and the third is what in many ways will determine whether or not the friendship grows over a season. So back to that whole point though, I have neighbors, and I wouldn’t call them good friends, I’d call them friends because we’re still in a community where even things like shared lawnmowers or just a conversation about what happened at the HOA meeting, blah, blah, blah, opens the door to something potentially more meaningful. Therefore, as friendships grow, we’re going to have to deal with desire and disappointment. Do we want more? And in the midst of wanting more, are we aware that we will disappoint ourselves and others in the ongoing engagement? So all that boils down. I am thinking about a proverb, Proverb 12:26. Again, we probably should spend time talking that proverbs are essentially a way of offering you a kind of aphorism, a way of looking at life. It doesn’t say everything. It doesn’t try to say everything, but it gives you something to reflect on with a kind of like, oh, well, let me think about that. So Proverbs 12:26 begins with this, “Choose your friends carefully”. And I think that is some of the strong wisdom with regard to friendships. Don’t be quick. Don’t just let acquaintances drift into friendships. You can have great acquaintances that, indeed, you’re fine, call them friends, but they’re not going to be the kind of friend we’re talking about who will truly dispel loneliness because of that shared conversation, shared meaning. But again, that framework of being able to engage and grow to deal with the ruptures and relationships. So as you hear me use the word carefully, I want to hear what comes to your thoughts.

Rachael: Oh, so much Dan. So many stories. I mean, what’s interesting is I probably am more, in a season of looking at the log in my own eye of some of my patterns of friendship. I mean, we moved a lot when I was a kid. I was in the same town, same church, same school till I was 11. And then we lived somewhere while I was in middle school, a different town, and then we moved to a different town while I was in high school. And then you go to college for four years and you’re in that place. And then I moved to Seattle. And so my time in Seattle was where I was really as an adult, the longest place to even be able to really foster and develop longer term friendships. So when I think about my trajectory in history of being a friend, I’m like, well, I really ghosted on some people who I would consider core friends in that sense of I moved, our relationship didn’t last, a little bit, not so much out of sight out of mind, just like I don’t quite know how to stay connected and stay in touch, and I might even have some tendencies that make me split off easily when I feel hurt. And some of my own healing work around growing a capacity to, well, having a lot of experiences of not being able to address my disappointment in others without fear of rupture growing. So that being a muscle that I’ve had to grow because I think what I’ve done in the past is either one, stay in relationships that weren’t mutual and kind of demanding that demanded my loyalty where I can’t really exist too long or just be like, I’m out. I don’t know how to talk with you about your failure, so I’m just going to ghost and disappear. So it’s kind of funny because I’m actually like, Ooh, I think I’m a great friend and I think I’m a very loyal and fierce friend, and when we get into these places of how to deal with loneliness and how to deal with desire and how to deal with betrayal and heartache, it’s like I feel the messy waters and the longing for friendships. So I do think that sense of choose your friends carefully, it makes a lot of sense to me because these are people that hold so much of our life. And I was just talking with my sister and just different people in the generation that I’m in right now. I’m in my early forties. So just that people in their thirties and forties and how much turmoil and heartbreak there is in your primary friendships in those decades of life because life is happening. People are losing parents and spouses either to sickness or illness or tragedy or divorce. And so you start to get into these waters where not that life was ever simple, but just a lot more complexity comes into play. And also the longer you’re friends with someone, the greater intimacy grows the more room there is for all of your humanity and mess to come out as well.

Dan: Yeah. Absolutely. So again, there isn’t a, here’s the four things you need to be careful about. Nonetheless, there is something about… Proverbs says very clearly, don’t develop a friendship with a gossip.

Rachael: Oh yeah,

Dan: Baby. If you are going to let something of your heart with regard to not just your own life and struggles, but you’re just thoughts about who you planned to vote for, the 2024 election, blah, blah, blah, and that gets carried to others and then becomes a source of delight for others to be able to eat the flesh of, it is a form of… I mean, gossip is a form of cannibalism. So when you step back and go, do I want my soul, let alone my body eaten by others? No thank you. But knowing that relationships often in a community where there are communal friends, where you’re not just a friend with one person, but you’re a friend with three or four other people, that it is very likely that there will be conversations about others when they’re not present. How does that get engaged? Is there at least an awareness we’re walking on thin ice? Would this conversation occur in the way it is if that person were here? Or is it preparatory for a conversation to occur soon? Then indeed, we’re trying to at least paint the parameters that sometimes we do need to talk about each other when the other isn’t there, but for what end. And so I would just say of all my friends, the deepest and dearest to my friends hold my heartache, my desires, my dreams as really precious, something that is held with a kind of holiness. And I would not call anyone a good friend who did not have that disposing attitude of what you share with me. It is ours and no one else’s. Not in a kind of possessiveness, but in a honoring protectiveness. So at least that would be one of the categories of choose your friends carefully. Now get to a second issue. And that is friends who are hot headed. Now I find myself a little humbled wondering what my friends do with the fact…

Rachael: I was thinking about myself so that on my face and whatever you see on my face was more like, can you define hotheaded?

Dan: Well, I’m going to define it probably exegetically and more defensively. I can be intense as you may have known. And so are you, dear friend. So again, some of our interactions have volatility to them, but what I would say is there’s containment. We know when we’re probably not capable of being able to address it well in the moment, but we come back later. So there’s contingencies that allow us to engage with intensity and at times unrighteous anger. I’ll just name that on my part. So I think the issue of hothead always has the idea of a stance of intimidation through anger, threat of violence, or through the prospect of dissolution of a relationship. So when you feel kowtowed, when you feel like I can’t talk, I can’t say what I want to say again, there are certain moments where it’s wise not to say what you want to say, but I mean in the breadth and depth of a relationship, if you can’t speak, then you’re probably in the presence of somebody who, even if they’re not angry, their form of fragility or desperation make them such that there is an intimidation, a threat. So I think that becomes a very important category of if you’re under a threat in some form, likely that is not a relationship. So what else would you bring?

Rachael: I mean, this kind of feels similar to gossiping, but I think about, not people who are two-faced to you. What’s out of their mouth, say one thing, but their heart actually feels another way. I think of ways that you’ve articulated this is the kisses of an enemy or falsely encouraging, say to your face things that would make you feel like you could trust them or that they enjoy you and delight in you, but behind your back or even in the moment, there’s an undercurrent of do you really feel that way? But I think of that as being two-faced and really probably someone who just doesn’t have a lot of integrity. The parts of them are not cohesive. So maybe part of them really does want to be trustworthy and hold you as sacred and be a good friend, but other parts of them may not have that capacity. So I don’t always think of this as a category of people who even wittingly want to be two-faced, but that just might be where they’re at in their own journey.

Dan: And perhaps again, a lack of cohesion to a history of their own heartache or trauma that has not been addressed. But the bottom line comes, you can’t trust them and maybe without the issue of gossip or hot headedness, but you have that beautiful, beautiful proverb of trustworthy, good are the wounds of a friend. But in contrast, it’s that the kisses, the kisses of, in one sense, an enemy is nothing to be enjoyed. So if you can’t indeed speak well of one another, but also to be able to name what brings heartache and harm, it is the ability to hold both. Do you delight and do you have courage? And can the relationship sustain the intersection between delight and courage in operation? So to me, one of the things that we’re messing with is friendship is really a reflection of God and important to have categories to be able to say, yeah, be careful, but let’s be clear, you were made for relationship, you were made for friendships. And the absence of friendships, a whole host of acquaintances, again, like fast food will keep you full for a season, but it will not nourish you in the way that you were meant to be nourished. So step back a little bit to say, what’s your sense of the theological framework for thinking not just the proverbic framework, but the theological framework for talking about friendship?

Rachael: Well, I’ll let you bring some of the scripture that I see here in our notes that is your good labor. But I would say for me, this comes back to the Imago Dei and what it means to be made in the image of God. And we often think of that as like we are solely made in the image of God. My face is made in the image of God, and there is a truth to that. But the reality is we have a trinitarian God who exists in relationship and not just relationship within God’s self, but the very act of creation is God existing in relationship with God’s creation in a kind of mutual flourishing. And I think even because of other stories in Genesis like Adam and Eve, we can start to reduce Imago Dei to a marriage relationship. And it’s just like, no, our God-image-barer-ness is reflected in our capacity to be in communion with other human beings with creation, and we need a whole robust village of people. And so yeah, I think about the Trinity and I think about how we reflect something of, and I think that that lines up with what you said, right? There’s something of that toward a common calling that’s such a co-creative reality and building something together and delight and honor and all those things, which I’m sure you could summarize a little more clearly for the people.

Dan: This is where I walk with temerity as I walk into talking about the trinity and friendship, but it’s Jesus who sets us up for this conversation from John 15:15 when he says, “You are no longer servants. You are friends because I have made known to you everything the Father has taught me.” So already right there, there’s something about friendship and truth. We are the ones Jesus calls friends and he needed to initiate that for me to say, Jesus is my friend, is a level of, shall we just say connectedness and honor that I couldn’t just choose without him acknowledging first you’re my friend. So even there, I mean to think about how many times in relationship with others do you talk about your relationship? That to me is… go ahead.

Rachael: Well I mean.. I was just going to say, so many of my friends are therapists,

Dan: Alright, well, and again, I can say I thank the living God, I do have friends who are therapists, but mostly not. That has been a great gift, nonetheless, that ability to talk about our friendship, not just like it is great to be your friend. Oh, it’s great to be yours, but to be able to say something along the lines of when you bring this into play, there are things I learned from you that I don’t learn from almost anyone else. How is it that you have this kind of perspective? So it isn’t just the relationship, it’s the curiosity. It’s the honor, delight, and curiosity and to be able to say that is the relationship the Son of God offers us. Truth, but in a context of an invitation to grow together. Now, again, I’m not going to say that the father is radically different, but as the creator, I think there is something of we need friends who are also calling us into the realm of, for lack of a better word, mentoring, learning, a kind of creative grasp of how to bring goodness to this earth that we want to participate in and want to learn from. So in that sense, I begin with Jesus, but Jesus takes me to the Father. And in that there is a difference between the Father and the Son. And then if we bring the Spirit in, the Spirit as our paraclete, I always thought that was a bird, but it really isn’t. The paraclete is our advocate, our comforter, the the one who brings remembrance but also enervates us to move into the future. So friends who are sustaining who even if we use a word that just doesn’t feel adequate enough, encouraging, and I think just that simple experience of being with somebody who likes being with you, oh my gosh, I just don’t think there’s anything quite comparable to the notion of – You know me, and you have chosen me and you bring something of the presence of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit in your own unique way. I mean, nobody is the same in doing this, but in the way you bring life, you have brought me a taste of God. How would you move into the Trinity as you think about friendships?

Rachael: I mean, I don’t think much differently than what you’re talking about. I just think about joining the feast and joining the banquet table and acknowledging that when we get to experience love, because our friendships are relationships of love. And I think that’s why I like that this conversation is happening so close to Valentine’s Day because I don’t think we are given permission as much to celebrate our friendships and relationships that bring life and joy. And we’re not encouraged to bring those words of honor and delight with particularity to our friends unless it’s their birthday or something. So not as much about our friendship as about their life and what they bring as we are with spouses or significant others or our romantic relationships. And so I do think about in some ways the mutuality and the delight and honor and the feasting and the difference, the trinity is in communion, but also with different parts that contribute to one another. And so I love being able to look at the friends I’ve been gifted with and how different we are. And yes, have a lot of similarities just like all humans do, but also what makes us unique. And I remember once early in my first therapeutic relationship with a therapist, my first endeavor into therapy, I was really wrestling with my codependency. And that ultimately I had surrounded myself with a lot of people I would have called friends who were people that needed me, that I was resenting a lot and didn’t necessarily delight in me, but needed me and maybe delighted in me, but needed me more than they delighted in me and was encouraged to fast from helping relationships. And it felt so terrifying. And obviously I was playing into this, I was contributing to these dynamics. And so much of the work was like, how did this come to be? And I remember my therapist saying something, well, she called me weird, but she said something like, what I long for you is to know what it is for someone.. she’s like, you’re kind of a weirdo, and you have a lot of idiosyncrasies that are so delightful. And I don’t know how many people have the opportunity to see them because you lead with what you can offer to help, but you don’t let people get close enough to see some of your idiosyncrasies. And I look forward to the day when you’ll keep developing friends. And I had some friends who did. I just didn’t have the discernment to see the difference. It wasn’t like I was devoid of that. And that to me is also what I think is a part of treasure, of celebrating and being celebrated within our dear friendships that meet these categories you’re talking about that are just, they’re real. And I think worth celebrating because it’s such a priceless treasure, and it’s not actually something that everybody gets to taste. And so I’m feeling that on behalf of listeners who might be going, I don’t even know what you’re talking about, or maybe I did at one time know what you’re talking about, but it didn’t get to last. Some fracture came and I didn’t get to keep it. So these are, as you name, so well, these are such fraught waters, and so therefore, so worth celebrating when we are in the presence of goodness.

Dan: Well, I can’t help but ask, how did it taste to you to be called a weirdo?

Rachael: I didn’t like it at first, and I think I might’ve said something like, I’m actually paying you money to call me a weirdo. And then she elaborated on what she meant by that. And something in my heart actually was aroused to desire for someone to see me in these parts of myself that I was like, yeah, I’m an interesting person. I’ve got some unique idiosyncrasies. And I would actually love for someone to notice those things on me and enjoy them and join me in them. Not just be a voyeur and be like, oh, that’s fun about you, but actually invite me into a kind of play that my love of sports was one of those things she was naming like, you’re a sports fanatic. How many people actually know you’re a sports fanatic and would go watch sports with you and would enjoy doing that with you? And so it was actually became a term of endearment for me once it became expanded

Dan: Well. But again, on the part of that therapist, there was a huge risk. There was something destabilizing but also revelatory. And I think that’s a good description of good friendships. I can’t help. But it was a moment with my friend John fishing, and at one point I caught a fish and kind of dropped my rod, rather than, not dropped it, but if you understand, I wasn’t keeping the rod tip up, and I lost the fish, and he watched the whole process and 20 minutes later we’re sitting on a bank. And at one point he looked at me, he goes, you were thinking about other things than being present to the gift of that fish. And I’m like, what do you mean? And he said, well, just tell me if I’m accurate. Were you not thinking about something else? And I was like, yeah. There was this section I was reading out of a writer by the name of Sizoo that I could not quite get a sense of what she was trying to describe. He said, I don’t have a clue what you were thinking about, but I could tell by your face that you were not present to the gift of God in giving you this fish. And he said, I’m so intrigued by your capacity for distraction. On the other hand, it keeps you from being able to receive. So he’s naming something really beautiful, but also something that is not one of my greater gifts. So I think holding the exigencies of our frailty and yet also our unique glory, I think that’s a dimension of friendship, that when you are but doing things together, it is not enough. So that growing capacity, I’ll go back to what we began with, to have meaningful conversations with a greater purpose than just spending time. It’s going to open up conflict and how we grow together in being able to engage conflict blessed are the wounds of a friend. And I’m grateful, my friend, that you are my friend.

Rachael: Likewise, my friend.