I don’t have a best friend. The kids I grew up with, including my closest friend from middle school, all live back in Mexico, and I moved to the US two decades ago. There are some grad school classmates who I’ve lost touch with, a few teacher-pals from a brief stint in Texas, and dear friends I call on often from my little community in Oklahoma, but no, not a singular best friend.
With my pockets of friends all over, I’ve been grappling with the topic of friendship. I feel like I’m surrounded by women that talk about their best friends, childhood friendships that have lasted until late adulthood, or marriages to their best friends. Yet, I don’t really understand what it’s like to maintain a friendship for such a long time. Even more, I don’t consider my husband my best friend— though he is the person that knows me best and he plays a very special role in my life.
Christian women recognize the value of friendship, trying to build close, deep, “authentic” friends in a world where we fear social media and isolated lives threaten such relationships. The Bible teaches us about the importance of friendships in teaching us to love, do good works, heal each other’s wounds, and most importantly, mature in our walk with Jesus (1 Cor. 15:33).
And even with our non-Christian friends, we are called to communicate, forgive, and resolve conflict in healthy ways. Jesus gives us the perfect model of how to honor and value each person we encounter; we can see in Scripture how he related to his disciples and his closest friends, Peter, James, and John.
The significance of such relationships in our lives as Christians makes it even more disappointing when our friendships fade or never reach “best friend status” in the first place. Like me, many women lose touch with friends when they move or transition into another life stage. Even once we’ve made the connection, it seems more difficult for us to maintain over years or the distance.
Several years ago, Focus on the Family released a book called Grown-Up Girlfriends: Finding and Keeping Real Friends in the Real World, designed to address this perennial problem made more difficult by an increasingly transitory, digital world.
Different levels of friendship have different purposes, expectations, and boundaries, according to authors Erin Smalley and Carrie Oliver. They designate different types of friends—acquaintances, work friends, besties—as those we share different levels of intimacy with, from our common interests to our deepest fears. But whose friends can fall neatly into categories like that? And what happens if we don’t have a top-level know-it-all friend?
In her recent memoir, Nobody’s Cuter Than You, author Melanie Shankle describes the close circle of friends that have been a constant throughout her life. They're able to drop everything and attend each other’s childbirths, care for the other’s children during an illness, attend the funeral of the other’s loved one, or plainly bring some sense into the other’s life.
Shankle reflects that after a bad relationship, her best friend “knew that it might make me mad, but she loved me as a person more she loved our friendship at that moment. She risked it all to say what she knew I needed to hear, even if I didn’t want to hear it, and I will love her forever for it.” This level of friendship is sweet, bold, and perhaps it requires knowing someone for that long to be able to accept and trust guidance at a difficult moment.
While part of me still desires this type of deep and lasting friendship, I don’t have to long for the best friends I read about in others’ books, blog posts, and Facebook tributes. I can trust my circumstances and the people God has put in my life, even for brief seasons. In these short periods, we met each other’s needs, shared a meal, and listened and prayed for one another.
In some cases, the friendships I made long ago ended. I met many before I became a Christian, was married, or had children, and I realize just how different our lives have become. Other friends fill different roles in my life because sometimes our parenting styles, professional lives, or beliefs make it hard to connect on a more intimate level.
I often wonder if God has allowed this in my life for a specific purpose. Shankle writes, “God often gives us more than we can handle, because he knows we start to believe we can deal with life on our own and our hearts wander further and further from him as we believe we have it all under control.”
While I am perfectly happy and busy with family life, work, and church activities, there are times when I desire a connection beyond the casual “Hi” and “Good to see you” exchanges. During those days, I feel God’s gentle reminder that he is near and that he has placed people around me for a reason. More importantly, I believe, I’ve learned to look for opportunities to express how much people—those near and far away—matter to me, to God, and to his kingdom.
In moments where I might not have a best friend at the ready to drop everything and come over, I am also reminded that Jesus is my true and faithful friend. God honors friendship and brings people along our paths to guide us, but he is also our constant available friend—any time, any day.
Elena Foulis teaches language, literature, and Latino studies at The Ohio State University. She loves to read and write book reviews, is the author of the upcoming iBook, Latin@ Stories Across Ohio, and is a member of Vineyard Christian Fellowship in Columbus, Ohio.