Notice: All forms on this website are temporarily down for maintenance. You will not be able to complete a form to request information or a resource. We apologize for any inconvenience and will reactivate the forms as soon as possible.

The Role of a Friend

Flipping TV channels, I came across a familiar scenario on one show. A woman thought she had a great opportunity (a job); a friend of hers thought he saw red flags and was warning her; she got mad at him for not being “supportive.”

Leaving aside who was right about the job, this is a prime example of how some people see friendship. The role of a friend is to agree with you — on your professional and personal choices, and even more, on your relationships. Above all, it applies to cases where you feel someone else has wronged you: Your friends are supposed to agree that whomever you’re upset with was 100 percent at fault.

This is an extreme description which, sorry to say, isn’t much of a caricature in many people’s cases. Even when it’s an overstatement, it still describes a strong tendency in a lot of us. Which raises the question: Is this really the role of a friend? And after we give the (hopefully) obvious answer “No,” we have to answer the follow-up: What is the role of a friend?

A good guideline to start is that a true friend doesn’t tell you what you want to hear, but what you need to hear. For example, some of my better friendships have involved each of us telling the other that a woman he likes isn’t right for him. Actually, “telling” isn’t always the best word for it. Sometimes it’s more subtle — words of caution or probing questions from whichever of us is in a position to be more objective. Then again, sometimes it does come down, sooner or later, to a straight-up statement and a firm stand: Bad idea, dude. You need to walk away.

Telling friends what they need to hear calls for a healthy dose of humility. After all, you may not know what they need to hear — particularly if you’re hearing about things long-distance or don’t know everyone involved. This is where probing questions may come in. It’s also where taking your time comes in. You don’t need to take a position on everything right away. You need to listen, maybe over multiple conversations, until you have something valuable to contribute. Listen long enough and you might even learn that your initial impressions — and the advice you would have given based on them — were wrong. I’ve had that experience, and when I have, I’ve been grateful that I didn’t push my views too hard, too soon.

Knowing what friends need to hear also means knowing when they need to hear it. When they’re upset or hurting, sometimes they just need someone to listen — to sit with them or walk alongside them for a while. (This especially applies to men listening to women; we need to rein in the impulse to problem-solve first thing out of the box, when they simply need to talk a while.) Maybe they’re processing things at their own pace and eventually will come to conclusions on their own; maybe, at some point, you need to help them do it. Whatever the case, it’s about them, not you. Don’t rush to state your conclusion just because you’re tired of listening to them. Do it because you believe you’ve considered it properly and it’s time to say it.

One more thought before I turn this discussion over to you. Being a true friend means having the courage to risk the friendship if need be. It means being willing to tell friends not just that they’re mistaken, but that they’re in the wrong — that they need to repent and seek forgiveness from God and, maybe, from other people. You shouldn’t be quick to reach that point, because you want them to reach that conclusion and do so genuinely, and (again) that may take some time. But if you have it fixed in your mind that “I’d never say that to them under any circumstances, because I know (or fear) how they’d react” — well, then you’re just not a friend when it counts.

Let’s hear your thoughts and your stories.

Share This Post:

About the Author

Matt Kaufman

Matt Kaufman has been a columnist for Boundless since the site’s founding in 1998, and did a stint as editor in 2002-2003. He’s also a former staffer and current contributing editor for Focus on the Family Citizen magazine. Matt is a freelance writer/editor who spent some years in Colorado, but gave up the mountains for the cornfields: He now lives in his hometown of Urbana, home of the University of Illinois. His house is a five minute drive from the one where he grew up, and he enjoys daily walks around the park where he used to play baseball.

Related Content