Guidelines for Friendships

Continuing on the subject of marriage, my sister once commented to me quite casually, “Well, you know, the kind of person you are friends with is the kind of person you will marry!” This, at the time, while so obvious, was extremely profound to me!

I still remember exactly where we were when she said this: sitting on our respective beds in our shared bedroom. I had thought, at the time, that I could associate with one kind of person while I was still young, and then when I got older and wanted to “get serious,” I would suddenly attract a person of much higher and more excellent character to marry me. I was around 14 or 15, while she was the wise old age of 19 or 20! I was obviously not only young, but naíve (and much more importantly, not saved yet).

Today I read from a wonderful old book on our bookshelf called “How to be a Lady, Useful Hints on the Formation of Womanly Character,*” and chanced upon some valuable “nuggets of wisdom” that seem to my mind to apply. (I love this book for its wisdom and practicality! An easy read, though written in the style of the 1850’s–the time in which it was originally written, it’s made up of many short chapters.)

Chapter 21 deals with the influence of friendships on our character. Summarizing: Every association and event in our life affects our character in some small way. The author speaks of two kinds of society: “general” society and “particular” society.

“General society” is that which we have no choice in–people we cannot escape being with on a day-to-day basis. “Particular society” refers to the close friends we choose for ourselves. Though we cannot avoid some influence from bad associations (in “general society,”) we can and must choose our closest friends (our “particular society”) wisely.

This is in perfect agreement with Scripture, as it says in Proverbs 13:20, “He that walketh with wise men shall be wise: but a companion of fools shall be destroyed.” The word “companion” in the Bible refers to someone you keep company with: a good friend, not just an acquaintance.

Now, I am an outgoing person. When I was young, I would become “best friends” instantly with every new person I met. I wasn’t very discerning of character, I’m afraid. (and I wasn’t in possession of greatness in it myself!) But my mother tried to help me.

You see, I come from a long line of “outgoing” people. My mother told me stories from her past of bad experiences she’d had because of “becoming too thick too fast” and not choosing friendships wisely–the same undiscerning behaviour I displayed. She warned me (from her own experience), “It’s easier to warm up than to cool down. You can always become better friends, but it’s hard to back off in a relationship without someone getting hurt. Take your time and get to know the person.”

Newcomb sounds just like my mother:

“But everyone needs intimate friends; and it is necessary that these should be well chosen. A bad friend may prove your ruin. You should therefore be slow and cautious in the formation of intimacies and friendships. Do not be suddenly taken with anyone, and so enter into a hasty friendship; for you may be mistaken, and soon repent of it. There is much force in the old adage, ‘All is not gold that shines.'”

He doesn’t stop there, though. He adds this instruction on how to accomplish this, “You may be courteous and polite to all, wherever and whenever you meet them, and yet maintain such a prudent reserve, and cautious deportment as not to be much exposed to contamination, if they should not prove suitable companions.” (p. 173)

In wisdom, the author warns not to pick up any friend who disregards the Lord’s commandments, but even if they seem a good choice for a friend, find out what your parents think of them before you let your guard down and become really close. You can still be polite in the meantime. Also, give them a chance to decide if they want you for a friend. They may have valid objections to something in your character, so don’t force your friendship on them, but take it slow, (as my mother used to tell me). But don’t be snobbish or cliquish. When groups gather, be kind and polite, but be careful not to open yourself up to bad influences.

Quoting again: “Character is formed under a great variety of influences. Sometimes a very trifling circumstance gives direction to the whole course of one’s life. (ed.: Such as resulting in a marriage!) And every incident that occurs, from day to day, is exerting a silent, gradual influence, in the formation of your character. Among these influences, none are more direct and powerful than that exerted upon us by the companions with whom we associate; for we insensibly fall into their habits.”

And so I would propose that who one spends much time with will become their close friend, and who is one’s close friend, they will become like. And who one becomes like, they will be attracted to, and they will attract, and who they attract, they will marry! So, the kind of person we choose to be a close friend is serious business. I believe my sister was right: the kind of person you are friends with is the kind of person you will marry.

(* How to Be a Lady, Written by Harvey Newcomb, originally written in 1850, Boston, Gould, Kendall and Lincoln and reprinted in 2005 by Crown Rights Book Company: for a catalogue listing of other available titles, go here http://www.crownrights.com/)
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