My family recently loaded up our mini-van and took a little road trip to visit my mom, my younger sister, and her family. Due to the various COVID-19 restrictions, it had been roughly two years since we last saw them. It was so good to reunite and celebrate our relationship in person after such a lengthy span of phone calls and online conversations.
While we made new memories with plenty of swimming in the pool, games played on the living room floor, and many jokes told at the dinner table, I was especially grateful for the chance to talk 1-on-1 with my eldest niece.
A young lady entering Grade 8 this fall, she has always held a special place in my heart, giving me my first experience as an uncle. But with a family move last winter and intermittent school closures due to the pandemic, this past year has been anything but special for her, understandably.
A Child’s Need for Friendship
At such a crucial stage in her personal development, the challenge of physically adjusting from one home to another is surpassed only by the difficulty of transitioning socially, leaving one group of peers, and now having to create new friendships.
As you can imagine for any kid becoming a teenager, this can be a frightening reality. Despite my sister and brother-in-law assuring their daughter she will make friends quite easily, my niece continues to hold worry and skepticism. After all, in just over a month she will soon return to a school where she spent only parts of last year in the classroom, while many other kids had already established longstanding friendships before her arrival and the introduction of virtual learning filling the school program.
During our visit, my niece and I were able to hang out together and chat about life. It was in our conversation I relayed my experience of moving at the age of 10 and again two years later, sharing my hardship of making new friends in different environments at a similar age as hers.
With my finest uncle’s charm, I aimed to stress how she will thrive in her new surroundings and school, making friends easily and happily. Given her infectious positivity, her core values, inviting smile, and her kind, encouraging willingness to help others, I am sure she will catch the interest of her classmates, teachers, and neighbors as she continues settling into her family’s new community. While faith and family might gain the most attention in the 3-F triad, I have no doubt she will satisfy the desire of so many around her who seek true and meaningful friendship.
The Critical Role of Friendship
Friends certainly do play such a vital part in our lives, don’t they? Always there to talk to, a shoulder to lean on, a buddy to hang out with and someone we can count on in times of need, friends become the family in our lives that we actually get to choose.
As we prepare to recognize International Friendship Day on July 30, we can appreciate the critical role friends hold in our personal growth. Particularly during these pandemic times, people of every age have possibly valued friendships even more, as we have faced both physical and social obstacles that have caused our connections to suffer.
Perhaps young people have suffered the most, however. Dealing with anything from wearing masks to physical distancing, limits on group gathering sizes, or family decisions to reduce social interaction outside the home, youth have seen their friendships impacted despite the many methods of communication available today.
But no matter the hurdles COVID-19 has introduced to such relationships, the blessing of friendship will never lose its vocational duties. (1 Peter 4:8-10)
As reflections of God’s love, we are called to mirror Christ to everyone in friendship. If we are disciples of Jesus, we must fulfill the invitation and expectation to live His teachings clearly through love for our neighbor. Revealing the Gospel through our daily living, we can better help our friends live with God and follow His light, no matter the circumstances or challenges.
So just how do we do this?
The Characteristics of Good Friendship
Well, simply put, displaying virtues is not a bad strategy at all. Patience and peacefulness, honesty, and humility are just some characteristics that can embody Christ to those we encounter and will definitely present a welcoming vibe. St. Paul wrote about these and other qualities centuries ago in his letter to the Colossians. (Colossians 3:12-15)
Living out Jesus’ Beatitudes is also a slam-dunk recipe for strong, healthy friendships. (Matthew 5:1-12) Indeed, promoting justice, peace, and empathy should garner top votes for the “Fantastic Friend Award.”
Offering comfort when needed and providing words of encouragement are important when demonstrating good friendship. Yet, foundational friendship can be shown through steering others in the right direction, guiding them towards God and His holy light by living out His Holy Spirit ourselves.
In today’s times that can include frustration and despair, friends are greatly needed and truly appreciated in helping us remain determined and optimistic. Lifted up by those around us displaying the Golden Rule (Luke 6:31), we can better live friendship to anyone in need.
What ideas do you have for how to live a life of friendship with others? Feel free to share them with us at Minno.