When Iron Sharpens Iron
In her book, The 10 Habits of Happy Mothers, pediatrician Meg Meeker stresses the importance of finding your tribe. “Force yourself to pick a few good women who will go the distance with you,” she writes. “Talk with them, write them a note here or there (not an email, but a handwritten note), and tell them what they mean to you. Pick up the phone and chat, even if you can touch base for only five minutes a week. But hang on to those you select for your tribe because you will need them more as you age. And they will need you.”¹
I agree heartily with her words. But then want to add: easier said than done. Friendship might come relatively easily on the elementary school playground, but when we get older, it’s decidedly more difficult to navigate. Many of us have been burned in friendship and have concluded that women don’t feel very safe. They might be fine for superficial chat on the sidelines at our kids’ games, or for some banter at a wine and cheese gathering, but trusting another woman with your heart? That’s another matter altogether.
I think it’s helpful to take a moment to look at what we are looking for in a friend. What are the qualities that we’d like to find? A well-respected Bible teacher once shared the loneliness of leadership and the fact that she had only a few truly trusted friends. She described the three circles of friendship that matter most to her. The first circle is the women who help her to love God better. The next circle is those who help her to love her husband better. The third circle is those who help her to love her children better.
What might your three circles be? In other words, what are three areas in your life where you want to love well? Do the people you surround yourself with encourage you to grow by speaking the truth to you in love?
When a woman falls into all three of your circles, you’ve discovered a treasure worth investing in. It’s a red flag when a friend doesn’t encourage you in any of these areas because we tend to become like the people who we spend time with. As it says in Proverbs 13:20 (RSV), “He who walks with wise men becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm.” No matter how strong our personality or how well we know ourselves, we are always influenced by our friends.
Even Jesus gave careful thought to choosing his friends. He spent all night in prayer before selecting his twelve disciples, asking God to help him to discern whom he should surround himself with. He then chose three of the twelve (Peter, James, and John) to be the closest of all. We’d be wise to follow his example. It’s hard to maintain a deep level of vulnerability, faithfulness, and support with more than three or four women. When we try to experience this level of friendship with too many women, we often feel that we aren’t loving anyone well.
Proverbs 27:17 (NAB) says, “Iron is sharpened by iron; one person sharpens another.” This is an important quality to find in friendship. Friends who just tell us what we want to hear do us a disservice. But in order to sharpen one another, we need to give one another permission to speak truth into each other’s lives. We all have blind spots—it’s a part of being human. But a good friend can help us look in the mirror honestly. She does this most effectively if she can see who we are at our best and then call that goodness out of us. This is different from criticizing us. It’s saying, “This is who I know you are at the core, and how well you want to love. I don’t think you are acting like your truest self right now. What is hurting? How is your heart? Is there any way I can help you?”
Many of us want to have a deep friend and want to be that friend to someone else, but don’t know where to begin. Maybe you have moved to a new city, or have always found friendship hard to navigate, or need to hit reboot with your current friendship situation. Here are four ways to get started cultivating meaningful friendship:
- Set aside time in your week that will not be filled with productivity, and instead will be reserved for a face-to-face get together with someone. Don’t be picky about who that person is. Just be available, and see what develops when you invest some time. The truest friends don’t always seem to be “our type” at first, but once we build some memories together, we discover there is more in common than we’d previously thought. Commit to this time and guard it on your calendar.
- Ask good questions in order to go deeper. Most of us like to talk about ourselves. Take advantage of this and ask questions like, “What are you dreaming about right now? What is something that you’ve always said you’d love to do but haven’t started? If you could pursue any career, what would it be? If you could eradicate one problem on earth, what would it be?” Yes, these questions are more invasive than “what’s your favorite movie,” but it’ll move you forward quickly in understanding the person sitting across from you.
- Do small acts of kindness. Bring a new friend a coffee. Drop her a handwritten note in the mail. Put a small bouquet of flowers on her doorstep to brighten her day. Let her know that you are praying for her, and then do it.
- Be open-minded about age. Your closest friends don’t have to be from your decade. A mix of generations can bring much needed wisdom and perspective from the one, and fun and lightness from the other.
Lastly, remember that there is no one who will satisfy our hearts the way that Jesus does. There is no friend more loyal or steadfast than Him.
Grateful for the One who never leaves our side and always speaks truth & love,
¹ Meg Meeker, M.D., The 10 Habits of Happy Mothers (New York: Ballantine Books, 2010), 28.