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6 Key Qualities of a True Friend

I was probably around 10 or 11 years old when I remember standing on the path near my mother’s garden, my heart aching, and asking God to give me a “Sirach” friend.

I had been reading my Bible and had recently read through the chapter in Sirach on friendship. Add to that watching Anne of Green Gables a handful of times, and I would dream about having a “bosom friend.”

From the age of 6 – 13, I grew up pretty isolated in a small community in Texas called Prayertown. The community comprised a group of Catholic nuns and three families, so I never really had any friends my own age…or any real friends at all up to that point.

I’ve never forgotten that moment, or that little girl’s heartfelt cry to God–the desire for someone she could confide in, have fun with, and love her just as she was.

Looking back, I smile as I think about how God heard that little girl’s heartfelt prayer and answered it in spades. I’ve been blessed with amazing friends who SEE me, and despite my many faults and quirks, love me for who I am. 

I’ve had to learn some hard lessons, though. For years, I struggled with understanding boundaries. My mom told me I was like a bull in a china cabinet, and that pretty much flowed into every aspect of my life. I struggled with understanding how to make a real connection with others, and pretty much never took hints, which made for many hard moments when I finally understood why someone was upset with me. 

I’ve experienced quite a bit of hurt throughout my learning and growth process. I have had multiple friends completely walk out and block me out of their lives. I’ve had to learn when to step back from certain friendships and when to lean in; who to trust, and when to trust my gut feeling when it tells me to proceed with caution.

It’s been a long, hard road. But, with every friendship, every lesson learned, God has slowly surrounded me with women who speak life, speak truth, and bring joy. We love each other, grow together, and just have fun.

Out of this long road, and most likely because I have a strong personality with a deep desire to learn and grow from my mistakes, I’ve learned many lessons. In honor of this beautiful month celebrating friendship, I wish to share some of what I’ve learned… 

Speak Truth

Perhaps one of the reasons I’m blessed with such strong and real friendships over the years is because of the hard lessons I’ve learned from the ones who walked away. 

The first time this hit me was freshman year at university. I remember sitting in my dorm room, a group of friends had just blocked me out, and my friend, Jennifer, was sitting across from me telling me all of the reasons why they didn’t want to be around me anymore– why they were done.

I cried and cried, heartbroken, as I told her I had no clue that I had upset them. They had never said anything to me up to this point. They just decided they didn’t want to be around me anymore, so I was confused. That’s when she said that they told her they had dropped plenty of hints, but I just never listened.

The problem was that I never did (and sometimes still don’t) take hints. So, I was completely clueless.

On the other side of this, I had always been one to speak my mind with hardly any filter. I didn’t understand different personalities back then and had no problem with confrontation. So, mix in my direct nature with not being able to take hints and place it in the wrong environment, and you had the perfect recipe for disaster.

I have lost so many friends over the years. It’s been hard, but the good thing is, as I learned WHY they walked away, I’ve taken it to heart and worked to grow. 

It has been a hard and repeated lesson, but over the years, God has blessed me with friends that aren’t afraid to call me out. They challenge me, push me, and love me in spite of my quirks. The best friends in my life have been direct and honest. Loving…but honest. They call me out on my shiznaz when I cross a line and have no problem letting me know. The loving truths they have spoken have been a huge catalyst for transformation in my life.

On my end, I’ve had to learn how to communicate. To not always be so direct, but to find a way to share what’s on my heart with love.

Communication is a skill. For some people, it comes easily, but for others, especially those who dislike confrontation, it may be really hard to communicate how they feel.

A true friend is willing to be honest and straightforward, even if it means losing that friendship because they love us enough to speak truth in order to help us to grow. On the flip side, we need to be open to hearing the heart of our friend when they are saying something difficult to hear or to receive. When we speak honestly and when we receive the truth spoken to us, there is a deep trusting friendship that can evolve as we lean in and grow together.

If you struggle with speaking that truth because you’re nervous about confrontation, or if you’re very direct and struggle with knowing how to communicate what’s on your mind, then honestly and humbly ask your friend, “How do I communicate this in a better way? How do you receive information like this?”  And then when you go to share your heart, be real, be honest, speak truth–always with a humble and loving heart.

Speak Life

In a world filled with criticism, condemnation, and comparison, it’s easy to be hard on ourselves. We need to know we are accepted, we are loved, and that we are–without a doubt–enough.  

For years, I would find myself crying into my husband’s shoulder, asking the question, “Why am I not enough?” 

I struggled with my self worth and would constantly compare myself to many of the women I saw on social media or at church or even around town. I expected nothing short of perfection from myself, so when I would fail, I would constantly remind myself how ’not enough’ I was.

I know I’m not alone.  As women, we absolutely need friendships that will remind us that we are fearfully and wonderfully made, that we are beautiful as we are and that as much as we struggle with it–we don’t have to be perfect.

It’s important to lift each other up and to remind each other of our value and worth. To take those moments where we articulate gratitude for how they have fulfilled our need to be accepted and loved. 

In a deeper and more meaningful way, we can allow ourselves to be Christ to our friends–to allow His love to shine through.

michelle hillaert

In a deeper and more meaningful way, we can allow ourselves to be Christ to our friends–to allow His love to shine through. I’ve had times when I’ve met someone, and because of being in the same circle of friends, have been around them often. I didn’t feel a connection at first, but the more I sought to understand them and saw their inherent beauty, the more I was reminded to be uplifting and encouraging.

On the receiving end, I can’t articulate the amount of healing my heart has experienced by my friends allowing Christ to speak through them, building me up, telling me I’m lovable, reminding me that I am worthy and that I am enough.

It’s so beautiful to see a woman’s face light up when she receives a specific and intentional compliment. Instead of saying something generic like, “You’re so beautiful,” take the time to notice someone and to say something like, “You have such a beautiful heart. I love how you are constantly thinking about others and reaching out to help people. You inspire me.” Speak honestly and specifically.

I want to encourage you to try it sometime. It might be a little hard at first, especially if you’re not used to complimenting another woman in this way, but as women, we hunger for this affirmation and knowledge that, yes…we are enough. So, I would like to challenge you to be specific in lifting up and speaking life–being Christ–in your friendships.

Be docile to the Holy Spirit, and ask for the grace to allow Him to speak in and through you. As you resist the temptation to fall into gossip and negativity, experience the deeper friendship that grows and develops when you allow Christ to speak in and through you. Speak life and experience a deeper connection with your friends.

Listen

Love to be real must empty us of self.”  

St. Mother Teresa

It’s so easy to fall into the trap of listening to respond. We already know what we’re going to say before someone has finished talking, instead of seeking to understand what’s really inside the heart of our friend.

Listening is not a competitive sport where you only listen in order to find a way to interject or one-up the other person. Listening is soaking in what the other person has to say in order to see deeper into their heart and to come to know them for who they are. To hear when they’re hurting, when they’re happy, to t be in the moment with them, to live what they’re living. 

Sometimes listening requires a lot of patience to just sit back, let the other person talk,  ask them questions, and catch a glimpse of their soul. This is especially the case when we’ve known someone for a long time because we already think we know where they’re going and have the answer already set.

Empty yourself of self. Be in the moment. Hear the person. Hear the heart. Hear your friend. 

Vulnerability/Transparency

In Sirach 6:6, it says, “Let those who are friendly to you be many, but one in a thousand your confidant.” Webster’s dictionary definition of vulnerability is “Capable of being…emotionally wounded.”  When we confide in others, we are, in a sense, baring our soul to another. This can be hard to do if we’re not used to letting down our walls and letting others in because we are opening ourselves up to be wounded.

However, deep and lasting friendships cannot grow without mutual vulnerability and transparency. As Brene Brown defines it, “…to be vulnerable, it means to show up and be seen, to ask for what you need, to talk about how you’re feeling, to have the hard conversations.” This reflects back to honesty and speaking truth–opening up and revealing your true self and being a refuge for your friends to do the same. It’s sharing your hurts, your joys, and being willing to listen, but also being willing to share.

It’s taken some hard lessons and learning to trust my gut to understand who I could open up to and when I should open up. As we build deeper friendships, when the timing is right, we can have those open and honest conversations. We can be in our friendship and truly allow ourselves to be seen.

It’s pretty awesome to be able to sit here and be goofy or be serious, or have moments where I’m crying or upset, and know that I’m safe.  To be vulnerable and transparent, you must be YOU, love your friends for who they are. DECIDE always to love.

Have each other’s back

Stand up for each other. Don’t let them walk alone. True love protects. (1 Corinthians 13:7).

Be Gracious / Forgive

The fact of the matter is, we’re not perfect. I’m not perfect, you’re not perfect, and I can pretty much say with confidence that your close friends and family members aren’t perfect.

It’s so easy to become frustrated with others when they let us down and don’t live up to our expectations. One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned in friendship is to drop the expectations, be gracious, and forgive others for not being perfect. 

This doesn’t mean that when boundaries have been crossed, and we’ve tried to communicate that we always have to stay close friends. Sometimes we need to separate ourselves from others when the relationship is not helping us to grow. But, what it does mean is that we need to drop the expectation that others will be perfect.

Being gracious means that sometimes our friends might have habits and quirks that we find annoying. I’ll be honest with you–there have been times when I’ve first met people who had habits that I found annoying and difficult to understand, but over time they have become some of my closest friends. 

Their quirks didn’t change. What changed was the fact that I saw them and began to understand why they were the way they were and came to love them, quirks and all.

When we let go of our expectations, allow others to be imperfect, and approach our friendships with compassion, we uncover a new depth and level of authenticity in our relationships.

In the End, I’m Grateful

The beauty of it is that we don’t all have to be alike. In fact, it’s often our differences that draw us closer together. I have good friends from all backgrounds and beliefs. We have different political views, different views for how we raise our children, and even different religious views. 

Some share my faith, and some do not. Because faith is such a quintessential part of my life, I thought about adding “shared faith” as a quality of a good friendship, and it is an amazing quality to have, but the truth is, we can have amazing friendships with people from all beliefs and backgrounds. 

In the end, it’s important to pray for our friends and to help each other grow on all levels. I pray for all of my friends, and have a special prayer for those who need deeper healing or conversion–“Wreck her heart, God. Wreck her heart.” 

While I’m praying, I imagine this big wrecking ball smashing through the walls of her heart, infusing it with the love of God, opening her eyes and drawing her in. Then, if I’m with her at the time, I go back to enjoying the moment, being present, and leaving the rest to God.

It’s so clear to me why in Philipians 1:3, St. Paul says, “ I give thanks to my God at every remembrance of you…”

I feel it. I know it. I’m living in it on a daily basis. I can’t describe the privilege it is that certain beautiful hearts have entrusted themselves to me, let me in, and called me friend. When I think of them, I can’t help but smile and say, “Thank you, Jesus.” Thank you for answering that little girl’s heartfelt cry. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to love, serve, listen, and just be.”

My friend, building these friendships that stand the test of time takes a lot of intentionality and willingness to grow, but it’s 100% worth the effort. 

So, today I pray this prayer over you. I pray that God blesses you with friendships that will SEE you, love you, encourage you, and I pray that you have the grace to do the same in return.

true friend

With special thanks for your contribution to this piece, Eileen Kainer.

About Author

Michelle Hillaert is a wife, mother, bestselling author, coach, and a woman of vision. She is passionate about spending time with her family, making memories, and being intentional in cultivating an intimate relationship with Christ. As an entrepreneur, avid blogger, and website design and branding enthusiast, Michelle is a recovering perfectionist who gets a woman’s desire to strive for more. A mom of 6 kids, she is attuned to the needs of busy women striving to stay ahead while still being “good enough.” She lives in Northern Virginia with her husband and best friend, Trent. They have fun creating a close family culture and sharing the lessons they’ve learned in over 19 years of marriage in their new ministry, Catholic Family Uncorked.

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