I talked on Sunday about friends - REAL friends - the kind who love you no matter what, tell you the truth about yourself, and point you towards God. (see Prov 17:17, Prov 27:17, Ecc 4:9-12, just to get you started)
The question is: HOW do you find a friend like that?
I find the path towards this kind of friendship to be a combination of invitation, awareness and intentionality, all spiraling together in a cycle that takes my friendships to deeper levels. It happens like this: I'm aware of who is around me, make intentional investment in someone as a way of investigating (more on that below), invitation to that person to "hold me accountable" "push me on this" "ask me the hard questions" etc. Now, this is a cliff notes version of this process, but it does happen like that.
During the awareness stage, I'll be in some setting with people having more than a casual conversation and I'll think, "I really like hanging out with Bob." (I know this does not sound very macho, but it happens to all of us. We just don't always name it. I'm arguing that you SHOULD name it). Sometimes after being with some other couples, Susan and I will say, "you know, it would be fun to get to know Bob and Kathy a little more." This is an awareness statement. (for more on the kind of people you want to be around, you might check out the little book "How Full Is Your Bucket" by Tom Rath)
Once you are aware, you make an intentional investment. Ask Bob to have lunch. Invite the couple over for dinner. Play a round of golf. This sounds like a no-brainer, but most people do it accidentally. I'm talking about doing it as an intentional part of your search for a friend. If this sounds creepy to you, get over it. How's the friend search been going so far? Try something new and you might get better results. During your time together, talk about Bob's background and yours. Just as a way of getting to know each other. Again, guys especially will think, "yea, this sounds like of girly to me" But I know lots of guys - especially pastors - who are friendless. This matters. Do it.
Finally, you start to make some invitations. As your friendship goes deeper, your invitations get more serious and more intrusive (in a positive way). Recently a friend asked me repeatedly, "Just hold me accountable on this." What he was doing was inviting me to not let him back off of an important thing he needed to do. You can do this, too. Start small. "Bob, you know we've been talking about the fact that I haven't taken Margie out on a date for 3 months. I know it's important to her, but I always have other things to do. I wonder if you'd be willing to just ask me every time we talk, 'have you taken Margie out yet'. Just knowing that I've got someone holding me accountable will help me do what I KNOW I need to do." Bob will probably say yes, because it's a low level commitment on his part. And you'll probably make the date happen next week. So your marriage benefits while your more healthy because of your friendship.
Now, two final notes:
1) You cannot own someone else's problems or be responsible for their life - I don't care how close the friendship is. I tell my friends that I'm with them, that I hurt when they hurt, that I'll do anything I can to help. I mean every one of those things. But at the end of the day, Bob gets to make his own choices. I can't MAKE him do anything.
2) Friends make lousy counselors. We're biased. We want to take someone's head off for hurting our friend. We want to act on their behalf. We're too close. If your friend is messed up (and I have been and some of my friends have been), send them to a good counselor. You will still be their friend. But the'll have a counselor, too.
I think I could talk about this for hours. But I'll stop here. Hope it helps.