#1 Encourage, encourage, encourage. I so wish I was better at encouraging! As women, we can do a pretty good job of tearing each other down but our love for our friends should be verbally evident. Sincerely complimenting a friend and telling her how much she means to you, goes a long way. Be spontaneous and unexpected-- not just complimenting a new outfit but also your friend's personality and the things that mean a lot to her (her ability to be a level-headed mother, her knack for organization).
#2 Know what "language" your friend speaks. Does she like to talk over coffee? Receive special gifts? Give you lots of hugs? You can often tell what someone loves by what they do for you. We may think we're really loving on someone at a given moment yet we find out they aren't catching our drift because we weren't speaking the same language. If your friend loves words of affirmation but you always vacuum her house-- it's not gonna go far. Learn more about this sort of thing in The Five Love Languages-- a must read book!
#3 Listen! One of the best ways you can love your friends is to listen to their hearts. Ask them what's going on in their lives and really pay attention to what they are saying. When a friend brings up something going on with her, thoroughly engage in the conversation and don't just switch the topic over to you. Follow-up at a later date by asking her about the things she was sharing with you previously. Active listening is a lot of work but it's well worth it!
#4 Go out of your way to serve. Some of the most meaningful things my friends have ever done for me were things I knew they did out of their love for me and not because they were gaining something in return. I've had good friends help me unpack, do my laundry, help with projects around our home, make a meal for my family... and those things go a looong way. Philippians 2:3 says, "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves". That verse does not mean we shouldn't think about our own needs or our family's, we need to be healthy enough in the relationships with our children and spouses, that we have time and love to give freely to our friends.
# 5 Take care of yourself. It's very true that if you don't take care of yourself, it's pretty darn hard to be a good friend. I am the best at being a friend on days I have set aside time with the Lord, had some moments to regroup, styled my hair, played with my son or had a little order to my day. (Mind you-- this is hardly ever done all in the same day!)
#6 Pray for her. There is nothing more beautiful you can do than go to the Heavenly Father on behalf of your friend. Make it a point to pray for your friends through the highs and lows of their lives. If time is short for you, pray in the shower, on the road, during commercials, when you're going number 2 :) Whatever you have to do to make it happen, do it, because nothing will help your friend or friendship more.
#7 Quit saying you're too busy. When all is said and done in this life, the most important thing we can leave behind is a loving legacy. There will always be things in our lives that take up our time but people should never be treated as burdens. It's hard to be good friends with someone if you aren't available. Return phone calls, do your best to email back when you are emailed, make a regular girls night out with the special women in your life. It doesn't have to take hours a day to be a good friend...
#8 In fact, it just takes 5 minutes. ;) Sometimes we don't have an hour to give to a relationship but we can usually take 1-5 minutes to let a friend know we are thinking of them. Send a quick note or email. If you find something at the store you just know your friend would love-- get it for her. Have takeout delivered to her house for her family's dinner or when you're preparing dinner for your family, double the recipe and give her half. Make a list of spontaneous and easy things you can do for your special friends and make a commitment to do one thing off the list per week.
#9 Be transparent and humble. No one wants a friend that acts like they are perfect. Share your flaws with your friends and before you know it, she will be sharing hers with you. And don't always feel like you have to have an answer when problems strike your friends' lives. Sometimes we just need a hug and a, "I know life stinks sometimes" and not some Hallmark quote or off-handed advice. (My friends know this is hard for me!)
#10 Don't be so insecure. Insecurity breeds company and it doesn't do any good for your friendships when you talk bad about yourself or wallow in your own pitfalls constantly. Breath life into your friends' lives by confidently loving yourself and others. When you love yourself, you love others deeper and will talk about/to them with kinder and gentler words.
#11 Prepare yourself for the worst. If you are someone's go-to-gal, you may be on the receiving end of some pretty difficult times if and when stress strikes in her family. Know how to be a good friend when someone is grieving, just had a new baby, lost a job or whatever BIG things may come her way. My very good friend Jessica has been through some pretty hard times in the past year and has written some really poignant blog posts about her loss and how to help a grieving friend. It was amazingly eye-opening for me!
#12 Remember friendships are never perfect. There is no such thing as a perfect friend so stop looking for her. Look at the people God has placed around you right now and pour into them. I'm not saying to never make new friends but it can be easy to feel like we just haven't met that perfect friend yet. Be gracious to your friends and don't expect them to hang the moon for you (I need to work on this!). Don't expect yourself to be the perfect friend either-- it takes a lifetime to master being a good friend. Our Heavenly Father loves us and came to Earth to free us from the chains of imperfection. Ultimately, quit looking at what you can get out of a friendship and start looking at what you can give.
Being a friend is a lot of work. It's not possible to be best friends with every person you meet. There are certain people who come our way that we really connect on a soul level with and those are the people we should invest the most amount of time in.
I just read in my MOPS Momsense magazine this month about a Home Team. It's a fabulous concept I have never heard of before. Pretty much you look at who your Home Team is (the people you call in the middle of the night, don't feel like you have to wear makeup around etc) and keep in mind that they are the people you need to love on the most. They need you as much as you need them. They are the people that will be there for you through thick and thin. It's all too easy to feel like we have to meet every person's needs that come our way but that isn't possible and in the end our deep friendships suffer. (Don't take this too literally and only stick with the Home Team, acquaintances and strangers need love too!)
I know this is SUPER long and probably confusing at times but I was on a roll and felt like I couldn't leave anything out:) I could post it in two parts but if I forget to post the 2nd half you will only know how to be half of a friend ;) Ha! Anyway, I hope it helped you in at least one area of your friendships. I know I definitely have some things I need to work on!
P.S. What did I leave out? What do you do to be a good friend?