Book Review: The Friends We Keep

Title: The Friends We Keep:  A Woman’s Quest for the Soul of Friendship

Author: Sarah Zacharias Davis

Publisher’s Synopsis:

Why are women’s friendships so tricky?

During a particularly painful time in her life, Sarah Zacharias Davis learned how delightful–and wounding–women can be in friendship. She saw how some friendships end badly, others die slow deaths, and how a chance acquaintance can become that enduring friend you need.

The Friends We Keep is Sarah’s thoughtful account of her own story and the stories of other women about navigating friendship. Her revealing discoveries tackle the questions every woman asks:

• Why do we long so for women friends?
• Do we need friends like we need air or food or water?
• What causes cattiness, competition, and co-dependency in too many friendships?
• Why do some friendships last forever and others only a season?
• How do I foster friendship?
• When is it time to let a friend go, and how do I do so?

With heartfelt, intelligent writing, Sarah explores these questions and more with personal stories, cultural references and history, faith, and grace. In the process, she delivers wisdom for navigating the challenges, mysteries, and delights of friendship: why we need friendships with other women, what it means to be safe in relationship, and how to embrace what a friend has to offer, whether meager or generous.

I was eager to read this book when it arrived.  Aside from the absolutely stunning cover (and like most people I do judge a book by its cover), the topic was one that fascinates me.  I read a lot about friends in my on-line communities and I watch friendships around me in my day-to-day life.  I’ve reflected on my friendships, those of my parents, my other friends and their friendships, and I’ve always marveled at how very different we all truly are.  So, when I got the invite to review this book, I jumped at it eagerly.  It was almost like a mini-course in sociology.

Ms. Davis wrote a compelling book full of real-life anecdotes both from her own experience and the experiences of others.  Her observations about what makes and breaks female friendships was hard-hitting and with no holds barred.  I put the book down with a renewed repugnance for gossip, searching my heart for any sign of jealousy, and with a new understanding of what so many women talk of that I have never understood.

We’ve all heard it, and I bet most of us have said it.  “What is this, Jr. High?”  Female relationships have often irritated me, even as a small child.  The cattiness, pettiness, and drama is naturally abhorrent to me.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve gotten in the middle of that kind of garbage myself.  I’m not immune, but the degree to which so many women seem to live in that kind of world… even crave it… has never made sense to me.  When I’ve found myself on the other side of the curtain after the drama has ceased and the ‘play’ is over, I’ve been disgusted with myself– ashamed.  It makes me want to stick to the few friends that I know don’t play those games so I don’t let myself get sucked into them.  I never understood how or why some women are willing to go through that kind of ordeal repeatedly.  What I consider a nuisance, they consider the worthwhile price of friendship.  After reading this book, I understand it.  My personality is such that I still don’t seek it, but  I do understand it.

The author did an amazing job of illustrating the deep need that most women have for friendships through television and movie examples.  The odd thing is, I’ve seen two or three out of about twenty possible examples.  One, I barely remember, one I did enjoy and appreciated, and one was a brief reference to Little Women and while not the typical story of female friendships, it is a fine example of female relationships which of course, female friendships are.

She touched on best friends, circles of friends, life-long friends, losing friends, unlikely friendships, being betrayed by friends, cultural friendships (her story about ancient Chinese culture and friendships was amazing), and the changes that friendships endure.   I love how transparent she was (funny choice of words considering she’s written a book by that name) about her own failings and successes as a friend.

To be honest, I only had one objection to the book and I think I’m probably in agreement with her at the heart of things.  She wrote about confronting friends, playing the Holy Spirit, and seemed to imply that it’s really not our place to confront friends when they’re making mistakes.  I might agree with that for the most part.  Seriously, I really think too often we take it upon ourselves to meddle in the lives of others.  It makes me think of that poem I’m always quoting and I’m sure people are sick to death of reading, The Fool’s Prayer.  Those lines (yeah, the ones I usually quote… they’re the ones I need to read/hear the most)

“These clumsy feet, still in the mire,
Go crushing blossoms without end;
These hard, well-meaning hands we thrust
Among the heart-strings of a friend.
“The ill-timed truth we might have kept–
Who knows how sharp it pierced and stung?
The word we had not sense to say–
Who knows how grandly it had rung!

I think she’s right.  We’re often quick to meddle in the heart-strings of our friends.  We have truth that we should speak… but our timing is off.  We have things we should say and don’t… I wholeheartedly agree with her on that… with one caveat.  Scripture is plain.  If our brother is in sin, it is not a loving or appropriate thing to ignore sin.  We don’t try to convict, we don’t try to be judge and jury, but we do, because we love our sisters, point them to the Word and provide that “faithful wound” proving ourselves true friends rather than enemies.  I’m afraid, however, that too often we’re much to eager to prove our faithfulness rather than grieved to be forced to do so– something else she touches on in the book.

So, you see, I do agree with her.  I am just a little cautious about how she worded it, because I am excessively fond of commas and caveats  (only Cathe will understand why I added commas in there, but I did it for my friend.  See, I’m not entirely without heart!).

I cannot stop thinking about her section on gossip.  It’s truly one of the best things I’ve ever read on the topic.  No, she isn’t exhaustive or original.  Nothing she says was new information that overwhelmed me with its brilliance (no offense Ms. Davis).  However, somehow the way she arranged her thoughts into words managed to resonate with me in a way that nothing on the topic ever has.  I see the ugliness of gossip in my own heart and life in areas I’d never seen it before tonight.  It’s amazing how something you truly despise as I do gossip can still be rooted in your own heart.  She showed me the weed and where it was growing in her book.  I’ll always be grateful.

I want to give this book away.  It’s such a great book that I want someone else to be blessed by it.  I just can’t.  I need to read it again.  I need to read it with my Bible open and my heart laid bare before the Lord.  I also need it for reference.  As I said, I don’t understand the deep seated need for so many women to connect on the level that Sarah Davis discusses.  This book helps me understand.  That understanding helps me be a more well-rounded and compassionate person.  Anyone who knows me knows that I could use all the compassion I can get.  So, I’ll have to keep it here, share around the town with my friends here, and swallow the “guilt” I feel for not offering it to one you.  Forgive me?

Oh yeah, buy the book.  I can’t guarantee she won’t say things that don’t rattle your cage a bit, and I did have that one objection, but honestly, I think we need our cages rattled some and as I said, I think we actually agree… I just think she’s not quite as fond of caveats as I am.


4 thoughts on “Book Review: The Friends We Keep

  1. Sounds good! I’ll keep my eye open for it. I’ve got one friend I’d call a lifetime friend (we met in high school, rarely see or talk to each other but when we do it’s like no time has passed). I’ve got another one that until about 4 or 5 years ago I’d have said was working on being another lifetime friend. Unfortunately, because of someone else we drifted apart no matter how many times I reached out.

  2. I have been following your blog on and off for a while now and I am so grateful to find your review of this book here today. I have been struggling with this issue of friendships as my weekly Bible study group, the “Mom’s Spiritual Spa”, will not be meeting this fall for the first time in 5yrs. I have been having a hard time processing what has brought us to this point and I’m really looking forward to hearing what Ms. Davis has to say about this issue. Thank you for your upfront and honest review!

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