I sat up in bed last night, thinking over the breadth of my friendships. Because I’ve moved around a lot, I’ve had a few friends in different locations. Some of those friendships have remained, and as it often goes in this mobile life, some of those friendships have died away. I’ve seen just how important a grace-oriented friend can be.
In retrospect, I’ve come to see that some of those friendships were not based on grace. A small minority were toxic, where I realized later I was either trying too hard and not measuring up, or I constantly felt less than. I don’t mean to condemn those friends, because, if I’m honest, I have to realistically view myself. Sometimes I wasn’t a good friend. Sometimes I was the toxic one.
As I get older, I want to invest in the kinds of friendships that build me up, where friends have permission to help me see myself (and my faults), but do so in an encouraging, life-giving way. I simply don’t have space right now for gracelessness.
In light of this, here are ten traits of grace-based friends. Maybe this will become a benchmark for you, a way to analyze the kindness of your current friendships. Maybe God is asking you to bravely move away from a toxic friend, or maybe God is asking you to give your friends more grace. Either way, I pray this list blesses you.
One. They give you space.
Good friends full of grace understand that sometimes you need to be alone, to find yourself, to seek God. They don’t see this as an affront or rejection. Instead they step back and pray with you from afar, asking God to reveal Himself to you. They don’t chastise you for needing alone time.
Two. They have your back.
Gracing friends will defend you to others. They jump in when you need help, but without shaming or shunning or making you feel small. They don’t despise your needs, nor do they expose your deep vulnerabilities to others. They speak well of you in public.
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Three. They believe the best.
Love, as we know from 1 Corinthians 13, believes all things. Love assumes positive intent. A grace-based friend doesn’t jump to catastrophic conclusions. They ask questions, sure, but they choose to believe your intent is positive.
Four. A grace-filled friend lets you be you.
They are not intimidated by you and your way of doing things. They are not jealous of your space in the world. They rejoice in how creative or weird or quirky you are. They don’t try to force you into a friendship mold, but they let your friendship be wholly unique. (And think about this: when two friends are together, they create an entirely new, creative entity!). A grace-based friend applauds when you succeed–without snippy comments or outright jealousy.
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Five. They aren’t afraid to lovingly confront.
Just because a friend is grace-based doesn’t mean they never confront. A good friend wants you to be your best. She wants you to succeed in life and love. If you’re walking down a destructive path, she loves you enough to bring gentle correction, not in an “I told you so” manner, but with deep humility, first looking at her own waywardness. In this way, she is a companion traveling along a road with you. When you deviate from the path, she reaches out and grabs your hand to steady you back on the road.
Six. They refuse to gossip about you.
These friends don’t gossip about other friends in your presence, which gives you deep reassurance that they don’t gossip about you behind your back.
Seven. A gracious friend doesn’t demand allegiance.
A grace-based friend understands that you have certain allegiances–first to Jesus, then to your family. Although she cherishes her friendship with you, she doesn’t demand time, gifts, attention. She accepts what happens in the friendship, and often seeks to bless the other.
Eight. A good friend welcomes growth.
Some friendships only exist in a vacuum of zero growth. When one friend moves on or grows and the other can’t handle it, the friendship crumbles. Longstanding, grace-based friendships weather change and they welcome personal growth.
Nine. They are not your clone.
Friends are different. They can’t be twins. They’re amazing because two different people have chosen to be friends. This diversity brings great joy to a grace-based friend. A liberal and a conservative can be friends. A chef and a junk food junkie can be friends. An extrovert and introvert can be friends. In fact, it makes for more excitement when you’re different.
Ten. They don’t shame.
When I think back to one of my friendships that ended, the one word the shuffles through my head is shame. Like when I was around this friend, I felt small, not enough, broken, and messy. While I absolutely recognize that I am all these things, there’s something painful about being in a relationship that constantly reminds you of your faults. If you feel you’ll never measure up, if you leave an interaction with a burning face and that awful feeling in your gut, if you keep trying to make the other person approve of or like you (to no avail), it may be time to say goodbye. A healthy friendship cannot exist in an atmosphere of shame.
What about you? Who is your grace-based friend? And when have you had to say goodbye to a shaming friend?