At church with the high schoolers, we’re focusing this week on the importance of friends. Specifically, the conversation is shaped around building friendships that encourage us, hold us accountable and inspire positive growth within us. It’s an important topic for high schoolers especially, and one that comes up a lot in many of our weekly small group discussions anyway. “You’re the average of your five closest friends,” we’ll tell our girls. “Surround yourselves with people who bring up your average,” we say, and we're sure to regularly remind them of how lucky they are to have this community of like-minded young women to pour into each week. The small group model is something many of us grew up lacking (i.e. yours truly, despite getting a gold star for regular church attendance, ahem) and now seek out in adulthood.
Friends are important. They are the ones who get you, who support you, who love you. They are also a choice - a privilege, even. Every friend is different, but I do think we have inner circle friends and outer circle friends who fulfill various purposes in our lives. I’ve learned that the choice of who my inner circle friends are - with whom I spend the most time and where I look for advice on life decisions - matters.
The majority of my life, my friends were all inner circle friends, chosen based on two main characteristics: a) does this person make me laugh and b) do we mostly get along. As I grow up (I’m not there yet, right?), I’ve found it helps to be a bit more selective with my inner circle. Here are two characteristics I think I overlooked:
First, do we share the same morals, values and goals? This isn’t to say our hopes and dreams and lives need to be identical, but are we headed in a similar direction? Where this has mattered most for me is when I mess up. Though I can be really sensitive, I definitely need tough love from a friend who can recognize an action that isn’t in line with the woman I want to be and in turn isn’t afraid to call me out and talk about ways for me to improve and not make the same mistake again (and again and again, probably).
Secondly, does this person inspire me to be my best self? Am I kinder when this person is around? Do I gossip or talk about other less? What does our time spent together look like? It helps to evaluate the content of our conversations (complaining? gossip?), the language we use and the main emotions we focus on together (anger, resentment, frustration or peace, joy, gratitude?). Just like we tell our girls, you are the average of the five people closest to you. If those five people are constantly negative or have bad habits or vices, then guess what? You’ll get sucked into it, too.
Recently, a friend stopped me mid-sentence (i.e. mid-text) when I was talking major smack about someone I barely know. The things I was saying were unwarranted considering the lack of basis for which I had to say them (and also because they were mean, and that's never warranted), but I recklessly spoke them anyway. Being called out - convicted, even - really stopped me in my tracks and I was embarrassed, remorseful and eager to dig into what made me say those hurtful things about someone I didn't even know. Ultimately, I appreciate my friend so much for this. I'm sure it wasn't the easy thing to say to me, but it made all the difference. That’s an inner circle friend move. Those are the friends you want to keep around if you can.
Inner circle friends are for more than a good time. They are for a good life. These are the friends who make a profound impact on us when they're around. And as an added bonus, what I’ve found is that if I seek out those who point me in the right direction, the laughs, the joy, the fun - it will all follow anyway.