No matter what phase of life I’ve been in, no matter where I’ve lived, God has provided me with a community of Christian sisters who have loved me well. Some people collect vinyl records, some collect coins ... I collect friends.
God uses these friendships to speak wisdom into my life. He allows my friends to coach me, to infuse courage into the fearful places of my heart and to correct me when I’m being a jerk. They pray for me, challenge me, hold me when I’m crying and send me texts that make me snort-laugh.
Female friendships aren’t always easy to navigate, especially when we’re younger and trying to figure out exactly how mature friendships work. One of our roles as mentors to preteen girls is to model and teach them how to be a friend and what Godly friendship looks like.
When I was a sixth grader, a group of girls invited me into their circle. I was new at church, and these girls immediately invited me to their Mary Kay birthday parties, to sit with them and write notes on offering envelopes during church. We grew up together, our hearts intertwining around our love for Christ and a desire to live for Him. Through the years we navigated giant life moments together, such as moves across the country, marriages, infertility, cancer and miracle babies.
I’m eternally grateful to the older women in my life who modeled friendship for us. Our mothers, youth pastors and youth workers helped to create environments for our friendships to grow and taught us how to love one another well.
Now it’s our turn.
How can we as adults help facilitate friendships in the lives of the preteens we disciple? How can we teach them the value and importance of being a good friend, in the name of Jesus?
CIY SuperStart serves as a kick-starter to many preteen friendships. This age-intentional program purposefully includes time not just to play, but to go deeper with peers. Leaders guide conversations and show students how to speak authentically about what is going on in their lives.
This year’s SuperStart stop in Tulsa, Oklahoma, gave us a glimpse into the next generation of forever friendships. In her small groups, Kynli Sky was sharing with her best friends – Lindee Wake and Avery Skelton – about her uncle’s suicide.
“God helped me to lift my head up, be strong and keep going,” she said. “This is something way out of my comfort zone to talk about, but I feel like I can tell my friends anything and they’ll love me just the same.”
The three friends engaged in meaningful conversations – each sharing their personal struggles and encouraging one another.
What a beautiful beginning to authentic community!
“We rely on God together,” Wake said. “There’s times when we want to pull each other’s hair out, but we’re sisters in Christ. We trust Him. I learned this weekend that He can be trusted with whatever we’re facing.”
These young woman are inspiring in their resplendent love for one another. After just a peek into the window of their friendship, here are four practices that we can teach and model to preteens about friendships:
1. Safety – True friends create an environment where it is safe to share feelings and can speak honestly about struggles. Authenticity is a value that is absolutely necessary in any friendship. 1 John 1:8
2. Speaking encouragement – In healthy friendships, we infuse each other’s hearts with the courage we need to follow wherever Christ is taking us. Much more than compliments and words of kindness, true friends take the time to build one another up. 1 Thessalonians 5:11
3. Forgiveness – Our friends are bound to let us down, bug us and hurt us; but our response can be one of grace and compassion, choosing to love instead of pulling our hair (or theirs) out. Ephesians 4:32
4. Growing together – Each of these sweet friends chose to attend SuperStart, giving the Holy Spirit the opportunity to teach them and grow them together. We’ve got to carve out space in our lives for our friendships to remain a priority. Acts 2:42-47
Amber, Amy, Annē, Aryn and Faith have been faithful friends for almost 30 years. The fingerprints of their influence can be seen in nearly every part of my life. I know Jesus more personally because of the things He has done for me, through them.
My prayer for your ministry is that you can creatively teach your students what real love in friendships looks like. May each of your students be enveloped into a community where they can know Christ more clearly because they were loved so dearly. May the influence you have in this specific developmental stage of their lives, equip them to know how to truly be a friend.
Cindy Branton and her husband, Mike, are the parents of Brielle, Braelyn and Briarly. Her email is email@example.com.