Focus on Friends

“In every friendship hearts grow and entwine themselves together, so that the two hearts seem to make only one heart with only a common thought.”  Fulton J. Sheen

That is a goal of friendship, to find those who will build up in you only the best characteristics and make you a better person as you do the same for them.  Throughout our lives, ourselves and our personalities are shaped by all of our experiences.  Our experiences, in turn, are shaped by the environment in which we live.  The environment in which we live is made up of the people that surround us and those with which we choose to surround ourselves.  For this reason, choosing our friends is extremely important because they help shape us either for better or for worse.

This is a lesson that took me a little bit too long to figure out.  I spent a good amount of my high school years under the impression that my friends did not influence me, that only I had the power to influence myself.  Around the beginning of high school I started hanging out in the local music scene.  I went to local concerts, made friends, and hung out with people whose lives were defined by song lyrics of rebellion and “freedom.”  During this time I began to, as most teenagers do, have problems at home, with friends, with family, and with independence.  My new group of friends encouraged me to blame others for my problems and to live a life focused on myself.  “It’s my family’s fault” and “It’s all about me” seemed to be the mantras of this point in my life.  Looking back, I can see that these friends were not looking out for the important relationships in my life, but were just leading me to the easiest resolutions to all of my problems… blaming other people.

There is no true freedom or wholeness found in blaming others for our problems, but see, that was the environment in which I had placed myself.  I had surrounded myself with friends that were interested not in my issues or problems, but in finding a quick solution so that they could focus on having a good time, going to shows, and ignoring the real hurts in other’s lives.  (On a side note, I also found there was no freedom in my skinny jeans, crazy hair, band t-shirts, and plethora of bracelets… but hey, I think I looked cool!)  During the end of my sophomore year of high school, I attended a talk at a local youth ministry.  The talk was on friendships and examining how our friends can help lead us to true happiness or away from it.  This talk came at just the right time in my life.  The speaker challenged everyone there to participate in an exercise that would help to demonstrate how we choose our friends.

The exercise began by drawing three circles, one circle in the middle, one circle around that one, and a final circle surrounding the previous two.  These circles represented the three levels of friendship that we could observe in our lives.  The speaker told us to fill the outermost circle with the names of friends who more like acquaintances.  Individuals who we saw from time to time and did not share a major part in our life would be placed there.  The speaker told us to fill the second circle with names of people who were our good friends.  Individuals who we saw regularly and shared some insight into our lives would be placed there.  Finally, the innermost circle was to be filled with the names of our best friend or friends.  These friends  were the ones that we shared everything with and spent the most time with daily.  Our besties and bffs, if you will.

The speaker challenged us to look at where all of our friends wound up in our circles.  Then we were challenged to look at how each person builds us up as better human beings in charity, humility, kindness, patience, and other virtuous traits.  We were told that true friends would want what is best for us no matter how it affected them and that we would desire the same for that friend.

If those friends who truly impact our lives in a positive manner are in the outer circles, we should feel called to move them inwards.  Those are the individuals who truly care for us and desire the good for us.  This was a difficult realization to make, but it challenged me to become a better person.  This meant moving some of my closer friends further out on the circle because of the negative impact they had on me regarding responsibility, self-harm, and other vices.  Those were not people with whom I wanted to share my life, my ups, or my downs with.  I was challenged to remove some friendships from my life since they were not true friends desiring the best.

 I have been blessed to have friends in my life through all of this who stuck by me and directed me towards a better life.  Also, my family, instead of being seen as an enemy, became a strong ally who I trusted all the more.  This exercise helped me to visualize the problems in my life.  Most of the issues I was having and the problems I was causing had been influenced by the friends with whom I had surrounded myself.  One reason why organizations like Teens 2 Teens are so important is that they provide a place to meet other people going through life looking for better friendships and real solutions.  Surrounding oneself with others making themselves better people will encourage you to live a better lifestyle and focus on becoming the best you that you can become.  I found my friends through my faith and have never been happier.  Be intentional in choosing friends and examine who you keep close that might not be making you a better person and examine who you keep at a distance that could help strive for virtue with you.  I challenge all who read this blog to complete the friendship circle exercise and examine who you surround yourself with, because in the end, they have a greater influence on your life than you can imagine.

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David is a counselor in training at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. He will graduate with his MA in Counseling and Guidance in May 2016. He likes video games, indie music, spending time with friends, and being married to his beautiful wife. David loves jokes, so if you've got a good one, send it his way!