One of my favorite Bible quotes is Sirach 6:14-16, which explains the qualities of a faithful friend. When I first read it, I was enthralled by the peace and beauty that dominated all verses. Nowhere does the author speak of friends as even slightly burdensome or draining — attributes I unconsciously associated with friendship. On the contrary, a faithful friend is praised as “an elixir of life.” What a title! As I pondered these lines, three in particular impressed me and helped renew my concept of friendship.

“A faithful friend is a sturdy shelter.”

Striking and unusual, I find the image of a sturdy shelter perfect for describing true friendship. A sturdy shelter is secure; it is not shaken by storms or flooded by torrents. We lean on its walls without fear of them giving way. When pursued by enemies, we take refuge within and find peace. Like this sturdy shelter, a true friend helps us withstand and overcome the temptations and trials of life. When we are most vulnerable and weak, a true friend is our refuge, always urging us to right and never to wrong. St. Maximilian Kolbe expressed this perfectly when he wrote, “God sends us friends to be our firm support in the whirlpool of struggle. In the company of friends, we will find strength to attain our sublime ideal.”

Reaching our sublime ideal, heaven, in the company of friends sounds beautiful, but I am far from being like St. Maximilian Kolbe. It’s easy enough to be a sturdy shelter in times of ease, but life’s encounters with death, illness, and peer pressure are a different matter. Human and weak, I know from experience that my sturdy shelter quickly leaks and falls apart. But must I rely on my own strength? What if my friendships are built on the strength of God?

“Those who fear the Lord will find [faithful friends].”

I believe our fallen humanity is responsible for most failed friendships. Speaking for myself, I know that I am easily offended and slow to forgive. I prioritize my own needs and neglect those of others. I run from suffering and judge without understanding. These are sad faults. But the worst fault, and I used to do this often, was to avoid mentioning God to my friends. Why would I do this? Out of fear of offending others and, honestly, laziness. I thought I was making things easier for myself. But in the long run, it was the worst thing I could have done, because I built friendships on passing things instead, like social status, hobbies, and fashions. When these changed, I was left without a common interest and worse, without a friend.

Now I see my faith as the best way to secure friendships. God, who is “gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love,” teaches me to love and forgive in a new way. Even if my friend does not share my faith, simply saying that I am praying for her raises our friendship to a higher level. What might have been a friendship of the world, of passing things, becomes a mutual striving to attain the one, unchanging Truth: God. When God strengthens me, I can strengthen my friends.

“There is nothing so precious as a faithful friend.”

St. Thomas Aquinas affirmed, “There is nothing on this earth to be more prized than true friendship.” And St. John Chrysostom exclaimed, “ [I]t were better for us that the sun should be extinguished, than that we should be deprived of friends, better to live in darkness, than to be without friends.” Obviously, these great saints, along with the writer of the book of Sirach, considered friendship a treasure, to be kept at all costs. This is a beautiful thought. Our world teaches us to treat friendships like fast food, quickly consumed and then discarded. But if our friends are treasures, blessings from God, no sacrifice asked of us will be too great. If we are willing to spend our lives acquiring passing things like wealth, fame, and beauty, how much more should we dare to sacrifice in order to possess true friends, who will help us attain paradise?

Padilla Amador, a homeschooled 18-year-old, belongs to Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish in Cottage Grove. She is a member of the Catholic Sentinel Youth Writers Corps.