A few years ago, our youth pastor asked if I would be willing to teach 5th and 6th grade girls on Wednesday nights during our kids’ church. I work with teenaged girls every day, so I was convinced that these little girls couldn’t bring the drama like the young ladies I have the privilege to counsel every day do. Turns out I was wrong. I have a little boy, so my interaction with middle school girls had been pretty minimal. But I do think I learn so much more from them every week than they do from me. I have seen several of them blossom into these beautiful young ladies who care for one another more than they care about the clothes they’re wearing, or who has the best phone (again, shocker for me, because I had no idea they would have phones!). I still laugh a little at their prayer requests every week, which have also changed, the longer we have been together. They started out praying for specific things, vacations, humble brags (the typical funny Baptist lady prayer requests “please be with my neighbor friend, because she is jealous of my brand new gorgeous car”, you know, things we are all guilty of). I consider the task an honor to be trusted to pour into them every week, and pray often about the words I say to them and with them.
When the new school year started, we began a new bible study, along with our regular KWOW lessons, entitled “Just Us Girls, Finding Your Confidence in Middle School”. We do so much of a lesson per week, and they are all lessons 10-13 year old girls need to hear, lessons about how appearance is not the most important thing about a person, to dealing with if a boy does not like you back. A couple of weeks ago we started a lesson on finding and being a good friend. They are always respectful and attentive, but this lesson really made them stop moving and listen. Everyone I know can talk about at least one painful experience with friends, either as a child or as an adult, that painful moment when you realized that someone you thought was your friend, really did not consider you as much as you considered them. The lesson talks specifically about qualities we should look for in our best friends, and also even addresses those people who might take more than they give from us. Jesus teaches us to be kind and compassionate, and I think sometimes I even make the mistake, as a pleaser and a giver, of trying to be all things to all people, and being their sole caregiver. Quite honestly, the only person I need to be the sole caregiver for is my child and fur children. I read a devotional this morning in my bible (I have bought myself the most gorgeous devotional bible from Dayspring with devotionals specifically for women, I will share a picture!) about how you can give and give, and try to encourage your friends, and while God wants us to be His hands and feet, sometimes you can just pray steadfastly for people, and allow God to do the work.
The section of the lesson where we started talking about what qualities we should seek in close friends begins with the scripture from Proverbs, “The righteous should choose his friends carefully. For the way of the wicked leads them astray” -Proverbs 12:26. Wow. Last week, I prepped this lesson by talking specifically about how they have the power to change the climate of any conversation they are in. If their circle is talking poorly about a teacher or a friend, they hold the power to stand up and say “you know? I really like that teacher. She is so funny, and always so helpful”. I tasked them with trying this out in conversation, and was so excited when they did (and it worked!!).
Our writer, Hannah Duggan, lists three qualities that should be on everyone’s friendship list.
- Someone who encourages. YES YES YES. This does not have to be someone who follows you around and tells you your face is pretty, and they love everything about you, but rather someone who encourages those around them, and you, on the daily. I have had many friends through the years, and sadly, sometimes it’s negative things that tie you to one another. In college, it might have been friends I met in a class I didn’t care for (you can imagine that our conversations were usually not so positive about the class and the professor, yikes, Lord forgive me). Or perhaps they were parents from that precious school Cole attended, and the strife our kids and teachers all endured when it closed so suddenly last year. I try to see everything in a positive light if I can, but we all had such a time trying to see the positive in that situation. Our conversations were filled with anger and sadness most days. Look around your life and think of the people you seek out to lift you up when you’re having a crummy day. And then think about the people you avoid when you’re not. That might be your answer.
- Someone who likes the real you. I am super dorky, and messy, and I love to sing and dance, and I am a single mama on a budget. Cole and I don’t go on shopping sprees to buy whatever our hearts desire. But my goodness we laugh and carry on. Everyone has things in their life they care about and love to do. If you just read the best book about single mama life, and the struggle with unworthiness, and wanted to share that with someone, if you have someone you definitely would not share that with, because you know they would low-key make fun of you, that person is not your friend. They can be your acquaintance, and someone you wave at, at the soccer fields, and even your Facebook friend, but they are not your friend.
- Someone who is low drama. Oh my goodness, let’s say that one again…this even made my little girls nod their heads, someone who is LOW DRAMA. You know those people who are always unhappy, and no matter what happens, they made a huge deal out of it (and post about it on social media :/), even though it has nothing to do with you? They are not your people. Does this mean you cannot sit with your favorite people and talk about your favorite contestant on the Bachelor this season (GUILTY)? Absolutely not. But if the same people keep pulling you in to their drama, drama that does not concern you, you need to cut them loose. I see this often in my office. A pack of young ladies will come in, and the situation is just truly about one of them, but the others are there “for support”. Um. I will usually dismiss the others, because I need the real story, and we need to figure out how to muddle through the solution. Should you be there for your friends? Yes! But support usually looks totally different from the ugly drama I see every day unfolding on snapchat.
Now think of the three closest friends in your life, and apply that criteria to them. You should not, by any means, have a friend group break up (as a counselor, I have seen quite a few of those ugly things) but I do remind big kids that you are allowed to Bless and Release people. I have to do that in my own life. You should save the closest place in your heart for people who encourage you to be a better version of yourself, who encourage you to love the things you love (if you love horses or guinea pigs or robots, that is OK!), and for those who encourage your walk with Jesus. Take a step back from anyone who does love you like that. These sweeties are learning hard lessons that I wish someone would have told me long ago about friendship. I have had so many well meaning souls quote scripture to me and tell me that Jesus means for us to do 80 if they do 20. There is a big difference between discipleship and friendship. They can be the same, but if you are reaching out and encouraging, and the only one doing the work, you are discipling, that is not really your friend. I am getting way too old for that. I love to encourage others, but I also have a small circle of ladies who know the days when I am down, and the days I cry through church, and the days when Cole is with his dad and I am sad sad sad. These are also the same friends who encourage my walk with Jesus, who pray for me and Cole, and who make me laugh so hard that I snort on a regular basis. Find those people in your life and don’t let them go.