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Choosing the right friends can add years to your life

I remember what my 89 year-old grandmother said the day her last friend died. She said, "All my friends are gone." I was just a child then, maybe no more than eight or nine years old, but I somehow sensed the significance of her comment as well as the deep sadness it created within her. Instinctively, I took hold of her hand, looked up and said, "Don't worry grandma, you'll always have me." My grandmother died later that same year.

Gayle King and Oprah were friends before either was famous.
Gayle King and Oprah were friends before either was famous.Photo by John Sciulli

Years later, when my own mother died at age 83, her longtime friend, Ms Alma, came to the funeral. I will never forget the simple, heartfelt tribute she paid to her friend of over 60 years. She said, "When they told me that Florence had died, I had to come. She and I were the best of friends. I really will miss her."

Friends serve an important purpose in our lives. The popular song, "That's What Friends Are For," celebrates a friendship that endures in good times and bad with a kind of through thick and thin attitude that makes it both durable and dependable. Would it surprise you to know that friends are not only good for the social benefits, but also good for your health. An Australian research study found that people with a network of friends, who exert a positive influence on their lives, live longer than those with fewer or no friends.

Having someone who is a positive influence in your life is key. Most people tend to choose friends with qualities that mesh well with their own. For example, someone who's quiet, peaceable, and law abiding would not pair well with someone who's raucous, hard-drinking, and a social misfit. Not unless he wants to go down that same road. It's a proven fact that the company you keep has a huge influence on you:

Do not be fooled. Bad companions ruin good character. 1 Corinthians 15:33

How many parents have preached that same sermon to a wayward child, only to have that child later admit with regret, "If only I'd listened to my parents, I wouldn't be in this trouble."

If you were to conduct an audit of your friends, what would it reveal about the nature and quality of your friendships or the lack thereof? Are your current friendships providing what you need to be the best person you can be? Do your friends exert a positive and stable influence on your life? Are your friendships mutually satisfying and rewarding? Are you able to be honest, open and vulnerable with your friends and still be accepted? These qualities should to be reciprocal, of course.

The philosopher Aristotle had this to say about the importance of friendship:

In poverty and other misfortunes of life, true friends are a sure refuge. They keep the young out of mischief; they comfort and aid the old in their weakness, and they incite those in the prime of life to noble deeds.

In his book, Vital Friends: The People You Can’t Afford To Live Without, author Tom Rath says:

If you ask people why they became homeless, why their marriage failed or why they overeat, they often say it is because of the poor quality, or nonexistence, of friendships. They feel outcast or unloved.

Makes one wonder if this world wouldn't be a better place, a safer place, a more socially responsible place, a more contented place, if the practice of nurturing quality friendships was given more of a priority in our lives. Actually, the concept of friendship originated with God. God looked out over the great expanse of the earth he created, and saw that something was missing ---that something was human companionship. So God said:

Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness... Genesis 1:26 NIV

The first recorded friendship in human history was between God and the first man, Adam. It's mind-blowing to think that Adam and God were friends. Not only did Adam have God's ear, he also had his trust. Unfortunately, according to the Biblical account, this special friendship was broken when Adam sinned.

When a valued friendship goes awry, most people are willing to do whatever it takes to restore it. Well, God is no different when it comes to friendship. From the moment Adam sinned, God already had a plan in place to restore the friendship. The plan involved God coming down to earth in the person of Jesus Christ to die on a cross as full payment for the sins of all mankind.

Jesus made friendship with God possible again for all of us. Personally, I can think of no better friend to have in life. God is an even better friend than Oprah.

Friends come and friends go, but a true friend sticks by you like family. Proverbs 18:24 MSG