The Mark of a True Friend
“A real friend is one who walks in when the rest of the world walks out.” – Walter Winchell
I’ve always been someone who struggled in the friendship department. I’d like to think that this was mostly out of my control, because growing up as an only child had contributed to me being a socially stunted person. Unlike other kids with siblings, I had to learn through trial and error at school (which made it painfully embarrassing) how to get along with others, share, and make and keep friends.
I have made COUNTLESS mistakes over the years in my friendships, which have led to many awkward and sad friendship breakups. Part of it was that I was young, and my immaturity caused me to misjudge others and deal terribly with disappointment and betrayal. But a bigger part of it was that when it came to people I regarded as my close or “best” friends, I held them to an extremely high standard. In a sense, I treated them as family—for better and for worse. Because I didn’t have siblings of my own, I made up for this by treating my friends as my siblings. On one hand, I confided in them for almost everything, lavished gifts on them whenever I could, invited them to hang out with me, and treated their problems as my own. On the other hand, I had unrealistically high expectations for how they would treat me in return. I expected that, like family, these friends would love me unconditionally (even when I made a mistake), would be 100% honest with me, and would always be there for me.
This view of friendship lasted very long in my mind, although my experiences time and time again proved this to be wrong. It wasn’t until very recently that I finally understood that friendship was never meant to substitute family, and how to identify and keep true friends.
In an ideal world, there would be no betrayal, no gossip/slander, no dishonesty, no sins committed against one another. But unfortunately, the world we live in is not ideal. Even Christians, who strive to be Christ-like and unified—unconditionally loving one another as brothers and sisters, often fall short and end up hurting one another. But nevertheless, I do think there are friends worth keeping and friends better left behind.
Let me introduce you to one of my best friends (I don’t use that term lightly), Felicia Lee. I’ve known Felicia since my freshman year of college, after meeting her in Gen Chem lab. At the very beginning of our friendship in 2014, she was already going out of her way to help me (on lab reports, Spanish, you name it). Despite being incredibly busy herself, she took the time out of her schedule to help me on lab reports that she herself had already finished. In the years that followed, we were friends who said hi in passing, but we didn’t really get close until our junior year, when we were in the same Physics lab group. At the time, I was quite lonely on campus because my closest friend had left for study abroad. So naturally I began spending more time Felicia and Maddie (our mutual friend). In our senior year, Felicia and I both began to grow in our spiritual walk—it’s as though we both went through a spiritual growth spurt at the same exact time. As fellow verbal processers, we shared our journeys with each other and encouraged each other in our walks. From a friend, she became my sister in Christ. But little did I know, that was only the beginning of the important role she would play in my life.
This past year has been arguably the hardest of my life. Soon after graduation, I began dealing with debilitating anxiety. At the time, one of the only people I could open up to was Felicia. Despite living on the other side of the country and the time difference, she called me almost every day to check up on me, spending hours on the phone with me—praying for me and encouraging me to trust God. Although she was busy working full-time in ministry, she went out of her way to be a shoulder for me to lean on. As if things couldn’t get worse, I went through betrayal and heartbreak one after the other. People I thought were my true friends broke my heart. I really had no one to turn to. I could count the number of people I trusted on one hand. I knew that in this season, our friendship had become one-sided in the sense that I was always the one needing emotional support. I felt like a burden, but Felicia never made me feel like one. She spoke truth into my life like no one else had before, sat with me in my pain (for long periods of silence), and prayed for me. She was a God-given lifeline for me in the toughest of times.
While I was complaining to God about people who had betrayed my trust, I was blinded to the fact that he had blessed me with one of the truest and most loving friends I could ever ask for. How do you tell a true friend from a fake friend? One way to tell is: when everyone else is jumping ship from your life, a true friend stays behind and holds your hand through it. When you have absolutely nothing to offer them, yet they choose to stay by your side. When they don’t say what you want to hear, but what you need to hear. I could honestly go on and on about the reasons I have to be thankful for Felicia, but you get the gist. And she is hardly the only true friend that I’ve been blessed with—there are many more that would take me too long to name. You know who you are, if you are reading this. But ultimately what I want to emphasize is that, I’m grateful to all of the friends who left me at my lowest, because I can now really appreciate and spot a true friend when I see one.