How Our Friends Bring Us to Life

The word “friend” is a derivative of the verb “freon,” which means, “To love.” A friend is a person. And a friend is a verb. When our friends are a verb, they have the power to bring us to life. This is how…


Photo Credit: gem fountain via Compfight cc

My three-year-old daughter is growing quickly. Recently, while helping her put on a pair of jeans, her waistband strained mightily. I asked her if she would like me to loosen it.

She looked at me with puzzlement and asked, “Why?”

So I found the adjustable-stretchy strap inside the waistband and loosened it several notches.  I looked at her and asked, “Better?”

This time, she looked at me with awe. And she sighed, “Oh my, that’s a lot of better.”

My daughter didn’t know how comfortable her pants were supposed to feel. Because when dis-ease sets in like a slowly dripping faucet, we don’t notice it. We unconsciously adapt to it.

And I think many of us have had our hearts steadily, quietly flooded by the almost imperceptible drip-drip of disinterest.

The Power of Disinterest

Parents, teachers, and other authority figures serve many functions in the lives of children. But perhaps the most important function is to be engaged—to show a deep and abiding interest in the children they have been given to lead.

When engagement is replaced by actual or apparent disinterest, it has the power to cheapen anything in the heart of a child.

When an elementary school boy meets his father at the door to share the exciting fact he learned at that day’s science fair, only to be brushed off with a grumble about a long day at work,

a drip of disinterest has cheapened his little heart,

and he doesn’t even know it.

When the pre-school boy clamors for a parent to look at his Lego fortress and the parent absently says, “Just a minute,” while tapping out a message on a smart phone,

a drip of disinterest has cheapened his little heart,

and he doesn’t even know it.

When the toddler girl asks her father to look at the tiara she is wearing and instead of beholding her like a princess he says, “That’s nice, Cutie,” and then returns his attention to the morning paper,

a drip of disinterest has cheapened her little heart,

and she doesn’t even know it.

So, how do I know it?

Because I’m that father. And at some point, most of us have been those kids.

As children, the big people we loved were like gods to us. But the cracked, tender reality is, they weren’t gods.

They were human.

Even the most attentive of parents succumbs to disinterest. And to be honest, let’s thank God they do: a generation raised with perfect attentiveness would probably be a generation of little dictators—it’s good to be reminded we aren’t the center of the universe every once in a while.

But when moments of disinterest are not adequately balanced by something else, we more quickly and deeply decide our little hearts are unworthy of love and belonging. And we don’t even know it.

But what does all of this have to do with friendship?

Friends have the power to make us feel worthy again.

What Jack Frost Knows About Friendship

The film, Rise of the Guardians, is the coming of age story of Jack Frost. The cast of characters includes Santa, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, and Mr. Sandman. They represent the guardians of childhood. But here’s the catch: they only remain real, tangible, embodied beings if children believe in them.

And the kids of the world don’t believe in Jack Frost. He walks amongst them invisible, disembodied, searching for a meaningful existence.

With one exception—one child who stubbornly believes in the Guardians. While Jack struggles to believe in himself, the child stubbornly believes in Jack, and the child’s belief literally brings Jack into material existence.

One person believed in him, and it brought him to life.

We’re all big kids now, and I think many of us still walk through this world feeling a little invisible. A little intangible. Many of us are desperate for just one person to believe in us.

Because the opposite of disinterest is not interest. It’s belief.

Friendship is a Verb

A reader recently lamented her hopelessness about the kind of “drive-through” friendships she experiences in her world. I think she was lamenting the disinterest and disengagement that characterizes much of what we call friendship in a world of social media.

I think she was saying, “It’s time to reclaim the word friend.

I think she was saying, “I have friends who are people, but I need friends who are verbs.”

I think she was saying, “I have friends who drive through me, but I need friends who drive love into me.”

I think we all need friends like that. And I think we have to be careful about settling for anything less. Because every one of us is worthy of a friend who can look us in the eye and say to us, “I believe in you.”

Because when we say we believe in someone,

We are saying, “I think you matter and I think your story matters. It’s all heading somewhere and I want to be a part of it. I want to be there when you discover your center and your purpose, because it is going to be brilliant.”

We are saying, “Your journey is going to be messy, but I freely choose to get sloppy with you. And then we’ll clean each other off and find a better way. Together.”

We are saying, “I am a friend, but even more, I want to give you friendship.”

The same reader said it would be easier to not hope for this kind of friendship. And I agree. Seeking this kind of friendship—waiting for it patiently, taking risks to nurture it, wondering if it even exists—can be a scary and painful experience.

But it does exist.

It’s out there.

And when you find it, you will know it. Because you will feel visible. You will feel tangible. You will feel worthy.

In the words of a little girl: you will feel…sigh…a lot of better.

I dedicate this post to all of the friends who have believed in me along the way. Your love brings me to life. I hope I bring you to life just a little, as well.

If you have a friend you believe in and you want to let them know, or a friend who has believed in you that you want to thank, share this post with them. Let them know their story matters.


Comments: You can share your thoughts or reactions at the bottom of this post.                

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Preview: Next Wednesday’s post is tentatively entitled, “A Father’s Letter to His 3 Year-Old Daughter (About Her Husband).”

Disclaimer: This post is not professional advice. It should be read as you would read a “self-help” book. For professional and customized advice, you should seek the services of a counselor, who can become more intimately familiar with your specific situation. Counselors can be located through your insurance network or through your state psychological association.

Kelly is a licensed clinical psychologist and co-founder of Artisan Clinical Associates in Naperville, IL. He is also a writer and blogs regularly about the redemption of our personal, relational, and communal lives. Kelly is married, has three children, and enjoys learning from them how to be a kid again. You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

23 thoughts on “How Our Friends Bring Us to Life

  1. A friend is someone whose face lights up when they see you—and they don’t have any immediate plans for your improvement.

    • Bill, I absolutely love that: “they don’t have any immediate plans for your improvement.” I’ll try not to use it, but if I can’t stop myself, I’ll cite you!

  2. Thank you for this writing about friendship. Many years ago, when I was hurt beyond my understanding, my therapist recognized that I had become isolated. All my time, focus, and energy was placed on my husband and children. My therapist put me on ‘The friend patrol.’ I was told I had to pick out a woman and invite her to lunch. It was not easy, but I did, and a special friendship grew out of that. Friendship made all the difference and today friends are the most important part of my life.

    • Friend patrol is a great label for it! Part of this post comes from my own experience of going on my own friend patrol a couple of years ago. There’s a bit of a “seek and ye shall find” quality to it, isn’t there? So glad you found yours!

  3. Wow! You heard me! I’m visible. 😀

    A lady walked up to me at church Sunday and when I looked into her eyes I knew I wanted to get to know her. We’ve been saying, “Hi” on Sundays for over four years now. Monday, we had lunch. When lunch was over, she said, “I’d like to do this again often. I love our church and the friends we have there, but it’s not enough.” This lady speaks my language.

    I am fortunate to have friends in my life who chose to love me when I showed up in their lives broken, bruised, bleeding, non trusting, and angry. They have helped to heal my heart. This is what they do for people and it takes a lot of their time. They don’t have the time that I long for to nurture a relationship. Now other people that have been in the background are coming forward. Maybe I will begin to have the relationships I long for. Maybe there is hope.

    I tried posting a few hours ago, but it seems to have disappeared. Perhaps it will work this time.

    • Hi Carrie, Thanks again for the prompting. You were heard and seen! What beautiful awareness and intentionality you have brought to this new relationship. And grace to let your friends move in and out of life and to embrace the people who are present. Thank you for this.

  4. Belief. So beautifully concise as a definer of friendship – this resonates so deeply with me! Kelly, you’re on it….. I’ve posted this blog on facebook and invited people to contact their friends and tell them they believe in them. I hope it starts a wave.

    • Thank you, Kary! A wave of open belief in each other? That’s a wave I wouldn’t mind riding. : )

  5. Greetings from Hong Kong – I’ve been reading your blog for a couple of months and I just wanna tell you that I love the new feature of your reading along! Thanks, Kelly.

  6. Great post, Kelly. I think a lot of people don’t treat friendship as a verb and later in life find themselves lonely because they’ve let their close friends slip away.

    • I think you’re right, Peter. Meeting a friend for dinner tonight that I haven’t seen in 10 years and wondering where the time went.

  7. i have always tried very conciously to be a friend…over the past 3years 2 of my best friends have left my with no explanation 3years ago and another last year claiming i wasnt ‘spiritual’ enough…the first friend i cried for 6months the second i didnt shed a tear…i ‘man-ed’ up and moved on but i am sooooo hurt by it confused..i was a good friend verb and i have friends yes but am female-rship lonely i dont have women to share my heart with…

    • Shiz, I’m sorry to hear about your losses. I suppose “manning-up” sounds great, but it doesn’t take away the pain, does it? It sounds to me like your friendships are very important to you. I would recommend you to Sue’s comment below. I think the kind of intentionality that a counselor could help you bring to your friendships might surprise you with the fruit it bears. I would definitely encourage you to talk with a counselor about this part of your life. You are worthy of friendship, Shiz!

  8. I have struggled with friendship issues my whole life. I think like marriage and family relationships, we’re raised with ideas of what friendships can and should be. If you’re like me and were raised with some bad relationship lessons, it can have the affect of just not knowing what you deserve, what you owe and how healthy friendships work. Lately I’ve been starting to feel like what I want and need from friendships is more than what others want and that friendships are supposed to be only shallow, surface relationships. Thank you for reminding me that deep and meaningful connection is possible in friendships. I’ll just keep looking and keep being open and hopefully I’ll run into more people like me along the road.

    • Kristen, don’t give up! It sounds like just one or two people in your life who want to relate deeply will be very healing. They are out there!

    • Apologies Im only coming across this article now, 11 months late! Kristen I could’ve written your post myself. I seem to need more from friendships than most others do. I have lots of acquaintances but I can honestly say I dont have one real friend. I had a fairly dysfunctional upbringing and as a consequence I dont have any family to speak of so sometimes I wonder if the reason I need more from friends is because I lack that family foundation? I’ve had to do a lot of soul searching and as a result I’ve trimmed the herd quite a lot, in that I’ve stopped associating with certain people because I felt used by them and not at all valued as a friend. I’ve started to become a better friend to myself and its been a difficult but amazing experience. I dont want to cut people out of my life altogether though, I want to have friends but I’ve come to the realisation that they have to be the right friends, people who will be there for me as much as I am for them.

  9. i have been lucky to find friends who see me, and who “drive love into me”, and being able to give that back to them is a gift. I know that what we share is precious and that I’m lucky to have these three women in my life. It’s not easy for me to let people in, but when it’s the right people, it’s healing, and worth it. And they make me believe that *I* am worth it. I’m going to share this post with them 🙂

  10. Today I read this post and I just remembered the words of my mum when I went to her to voice my hopelessness in ever being married. You see my mum is the most sane person I have ever met but then again all mothers are like that… here I am going on and on about why I cant seem to meet “the one”. Then my mum sagely pulls me to her lap and gives me a hug. I squirm uncomfortably because in my eyes I am all grown up but in her eyes I am still her baby even though I am 5’10 in height but I allow her to do it anyway. Then she tells me in her motherly voice something that makes makes me think that maybe just maybe Dr. Flanagan has been sharing his notes with my mum(pun intended)

    This is what she said…..
    “Every time, a girl dreams of finding a good friend in her husband…
    but I want you to be fortunate to find a husband in your best friend…A friend is someone who gives you total freedom to be yourself while a best friend is someone who not only gives you freedom but wise enough to know how to make it better on your way to your best”

    Just thought I should share….

    • Jaber, I’d like to meet your mum. : ) Wise, beautiful words. You are fortunate to have her as a mother, and she is fortunate to be able to pull you into her lap and call you her daughter. Blessings to you both!

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