I’ve known my best friend Kristen since I was 3. (Or so I’ve been told; I can’t actually remember meeting her.) Throughout the past two decades, Kristen has reminded me of the truth when I forget it on my own, challenged me to see life as an adventure and a gift, and made me a better, truer version of myself. Her example has encouraged me to demonstrate that same level of intentionality and devotion in my other friendships, as well.

Although our generation has access to more people than any other generation in history, somehow we can still end up feeling alone. A 2006 study published in the American Sociological Review found that 25 percent of participants said they had no one to confide in about important matters. Increasingly, we have people we can hang out with but no one we can truly rely on.

We all crave community and connection. We want people who are going to have our backs no matter what. But since life-enriching friendships will never fall magically into our laps, we have to exert the time and energy necessary to enable these relationships to grow. After all, the old adage, “To have a friend, be a friend,” certainly holds true. True friendship isn’t about having a group of people we can hang out with occasionally; it’s about being surrounded by a community of people who know us deeply and love us unconditionally.

Here are some things to think about as you strive to find true friendships, but even more, to be a good friend yourself:

Do You Give Life to Your Friends?

My friend Haley is one of my favorite people to spend time with because she’s one of the most genuine and caring people I know. Whenever I get done spending time with her, I walk away feeling refreshed and encouraged.

We all love to spend time with people who make us feel loved and listened to. In order to be better friends, we should seek to build up those around us and make them better. We should invest in their lives through asking questions, listening to both their troubles and triumphs, and spending quality time together. We should show them empathy and offer forgiveness freely.

Jamie Tworkowski—the founder of To Write Love on Her Arms—once wrote, “You’ll need coffee shops and sunsets and road trips. Airplanes and passports and new songs and old songs, but people more than anything else. You will need other people and you will need to be that other person to someone else, a living, breathing screaming invitation to believe better things.”

Do you encourage others to believe the very best about themselves and God, or do you make them feel like they’re never quite enough? Do you celebrate their achievements because you are truly happy for them, or do you secretly resent their success? Do you provide a safe place for them to land amidst the ups and downs of life, or are you a fair weather friend?

Do You Show Grace to Your Friends?

Author Shauna Niequist once wrote, “We sometimes choose the most locked up, dark versions of the story, but what a good friend does is turn on the lights, open the window, and remind us that there are a whole lot of ways to tell the same story.”

In order to be a better friend, we must show grace when our loved ones need it most. We must see the very best in them when they can’t see it in themselves.

Being a good friend means loving and supporting our friends, even if we disagree with their actions or decisions. It means giving them the space to be transparent, vulnerable and honest. It means never holding their faults and failures against them. Building community means giving others the freedom to take off their masks and be truly known and loved for who they are.

True friendships shows others the heart of God by demonstrating His unconditional love in human form. Genuine friendships enable us to have a deeper understanding of God’s unfailing love and steadfastness.

1 John 4:12 says, “No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and His love is brought to full expression is us.”
Do you show God’s love and grace to those around you in tangible ways? Does the way you love your friends reveal God’s love to those around you?

Are You Intentionally Seeking to Become a Better Friend?

Entrepreneur and motivational speaker Jim Rohn famously said that each person is an average of the five people they spend the most time with. How do you think your closest friends would categorize your influence on their life? Would they say you teach them more about what it means to live with purpose and love well, or would they say you get easily caught up in petty and unimportant matters?

Being a good friend takes time, energy and effort. It means committing to the long haul when we could have hit the highway long ago. It means seeking to love imperfect people in the best way that we can. It means going through the ins and outs and ups and downs of life with our friends.

There’s something life-giving and soul-shaping about being with the people who know us the best and love us the most. There are few gifts in life more precious than flesh-and-blood people who help put us back together when we fall apart. Being surrounded by people who give us life and show us grace is one of the most sacred, special gifts in the world. And it’s a gift we should seek to extend to those around us, as well.