Back in the day, as they say, I ran cross-country at the first of three high schools I would attend during my tender teen years. My dad’s career was in rocketry and we followed the Space Shuttle program from a dry lake bed in California to the halls of Congress in Washington, D.C., to another dry lake bed in Utah, all during those short years I was in high school, a fantastic recipe for the expansion of adolescent angst. It was during my brief tenure at my first high school in Cali that I met and ran with my buddy Tara. Her dad was our track coach and Tara was a ton of fun.
And God bless Facebook, I still get to stay in touch with Tara today.
Tara read my previous post about the six “friendships” you can do without. And she posited an important question; what about the friendships we should have?
So here you go, my Cali gal.
1. The Encourager
I didn’t know that having someone consistently encourage me could be the healing for many heart ills. But as it turns out, my best friend, my husband Michael, has an extraordinary gift of encouragement and that gift’s active presence in my life has allowed me to dream bigger, aim higher, take the risk. Michael’s encouragement is sincere, specific, and intentional. And it inspires me to be a better encourager in my friendships as well.
2. The Exhorter
To exhort means to advise, to caution earnestly, to admonish. We need those friends in our lives who will say the hard thing well, to help open our eyes to potential blind spots in our worlds. The Exhorter friendships in my life are essential voices to approach things with wisdom and insight. Proverbs 15:22 says, “Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.” When I’ve got some situations in my life that would benefit from another set of truthful eyes, I’ve got a short list of friends that I circle up and ask. And then most importantly, I listen.
3. The Enthusiast
This is the friend who in many ways is your opposite. If you’re an introvert, this is your extrovert friend who talks you into going to a jazz festival past your bedtime. If you’re an extrovert, this is the friend who enthusiastically talks you into a weekend retreat in which you both exercise silence. The friend who signs you both up for a punishing half-marathon, the friend who gets you reading for fun again, the friend who drags you to an adult contemporary dance class~~this is the friendship that in a supportive way kicks you out of your comfort zone.
This friendship is so important because it keeps you growing, keeps you from stagnating, keeps you from ignoring the need for quiet and rest or for zeal and excitement, depending on your default. It’s not a controlling vibe, it’s simple a wavelength of friendship that appropriately pushes you to new experiences. I find some of my greatest personal growth in my relationships with friends who introduce me to new vistas, new goals, new ideas, all because of their contagious enthusiasm.
4. The Empathizer
We all sometimes need a soft place to fall. A place where we are safe to say whatever is on our heart and to be received without judgment. This is the kind of friend who Paul wrote about as an example of powerful community in the letter to Rome. “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another”, Paul penned in the twelfth chapter, verses fifteen and sixteen. The Empathizer is that rare person gifted to listen, to cry, to comfort, and is able to leave judgment at the door.
5. The Evangelizer
Oh, how I love my Evangelizer friendships. These are the people in my life who have a vibrant, glowing love for God and they just can’t shut up about it. These are the relationships that make me seek more deeply, make me awaken afresh to faith, to looking for God’s hand in my life, to experience Him more fully. Some of my Evangelizer friendships are people who have walked a long time with the Lord. Some of them are toddlers in faith. But they all have a dynamic connection to Christ that inspires me to keep asking, seeking, and knocking.
6. The Experienced
My spiritual mamas. How I love them. They mentor me. They pray for me. They lift my tired arms. They have lived some life, they’ve done some things well, they’ve blown it at times. And they are willing to share all of that, walking with a transparency and openness that is treasure in my today. Too often, we can tend to seek out friendships only with people who are in the same life season or age range, those we consider our contemporaries. But my friends who are a few paces ahead of me in the race of life have a wealth of wisdom and insight which they are willing to share with me. It makes for a rich banquet indeed. And they are modeling for me how to be the Experienced friend to women who are in earlier seasons of life.
And this bonus category:
Okay, I made up that word. Well, the ‘er’ of it. To exult. To laugh. To be jubilant. To be happy. This friendship may not have the same benefit for everyone. But for me, it’s critical. I need and adore those I laugh with. Those people who are just flat funny. Those people who think I’m funny. Humor is one of my essentials for survival, in good seasons, busy seasons, and particularly in seasons that are difficult and challenging. Water, air, food, and laughter. It’s part of my personal Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. And so, for me, in addition to the six types of friendship unpacked above, the Exulters in my life hold a special place of affection. Just like the Psalmist pens, “may the righteous be glad and rejoice before God; may they be happy and joyful” (Psalm 68:3).
When I look over these types of friends, it inspires me to love and serve my friends in more ways. There are areas that are more natural for me and areas where I can be more intentional. It also helps me to take stock, to make sure that I’m balancing, for example, the Empathizer friendships in my life with Exhorter friendships, keeping a healthy perspective. And this: friendships should have reciprocity. It’s not all about me having my needs met through friendships, it’s also about sowing into the lives of others. It’s how community is built. It’s how bonds are forged to a powerful strength. We were created to need and connect with others, and the gifts brought to the dinner table of friendship make for fine dining and nurturing indeed.