If you live on this planet long enough, hopefully you'll come to realize (and then accept) that one of the hardest lessons life will teach you is what it means to have friends and what it means to be a true friend. I promise you that it wasn't until, shoot, probably my mid-30s when I came to the conclusion that, "Ohh…so this is what a real friendship is supposed to be like. Who knew?!" A part of the reason why I struggled so much was because the way we are introduced to things can set the tone for what we expect in the future and my first so-called friend? Lord, can you say "she-devil"? I ain't playin' either. She was all kinds of evil. But we were children and, a lot of times, parents will push kids together, just so they can be left alone to talk about grown folks stuff while they are hanging out with their own friends and whatnot. So, no matter how much she teased me, taunted me, was straight-up mean to me, I thought that was what friendship was supposed to be like. This meant that anyone who was even one-tenth nicer, I thought they were the best person ever. Hmph. One day, sooner than later, I'll write about why you should not just "allow friendships to happen"—why it is oh so important to be super intentional about actually selecting your friendships (in the meantime, see "Allow These Things To Happen Before Calling Someone 'Friend'").
But today, what I want to get into, is something else that I've discovered about friendship. It's something that can help you to feel safe in your relationships. It's also something that will prevent you from being disillusioned, disappointed or flat-out mind blown as much as we can sometimes be in our friendships. You know, last summer, I penned a piece about how the Greek philosopher Aristotle once said that all of us should have three kinds of friends—utility (work), pleasure (fun) and good (basically friends who "grow us up") ones. I totally agree. Well, as someone who applies Scripture, quite a bit, to my life, because the Bible refers to our bodies as temples (I Corinthians 6:19) and also because, back in the Old Testament, the actual temples/tabernacles were broken up into three parts (which I'll break down in just a moment), I'm going to share why I also think it's important to consider that all friendships should not be treated equal.
Coming to the place of embracing that friendships have actual "levels" has been one of the best things that has ever happened to me—and my relationships with other people.
Outer Court: Good Acquaintances
Let me start all of this off by saying that if we first see ourselves as temples—as sacred beings—that can automatically alter our dynamics with folks. To be sacred is to be divine and divine things deserve to be treated with extreme reverence. Keeping that in mind, back in biblical times, the temples/tabernacles that people would go into were broken down into three different spaces: the outer court, the inner court and the most holy place.
As far as the outer court is concerned, one of the things that made it stand out are the many pillars that the temples/tabernacles had. Pillars provide strength and support to a building; to a certain extent, pillars also serve as barriers. If I were to parallel this to actual relationship with people, to me, this would be like having a close acquaintance. By definition, an acquaintance is someone who knows you (not because they say so but because you say so) but they aren't the closest to you. You and your acquaintances might have lunch together sometimes at work or meet up for drinks after because you enjoy each other's company or you have a few things in common. They might even be someone who you confide in when it comes to certain areas of your life, perhaps because you respect their level of expertise, you see them as a mentor or you don't want particular details of your life "hitting too close to home" via your family members and friends.
Acquaintances are cool because you enjoy them, you really do, but there still need to be certain boundaries and barriers up where they are concerned. It's not that they aren't good people; it's simply that before someone can even be considered a friend, other things have to transpire first.
Inner Court: Close Friends
When it came to the inner court, some biblical scholars say that the outer court was a designated space for praise while the inner court was a designated space for worship. As it relates to God, specifically, a good definition of worship is "to render religious reverence and homage, as to a deity". However, did you know that another definition of the word is "to feel an adoring reverence or regard for (any person or thing)"? While I don't recommend that anyone "worship" someone else (that can set you up to make them an idol in your life), I am a strong advocate for you being in relationships where you are highly regarded.
When someone regards you, they pay close attention to you. When someone regards you, they are concerned about you, your needs and your overall well-being. When someone regards you, they are careful with your feelings, they are truly interested in your world and they take special note of what they can do to make the quality of your life better.
Articles that I've written like "Life Taught Me That True Friendships Are 'Inconvenient'", "10 Things You Should Absolutely Expect From Your Friendships", "10 Questions To Ask Your Close Friends Before The New Year Begins" and even "10 Signs You've Got A Close (TOXIC) Friend" are all the result of the blood, sweat and tears that I went through in order to figure out who truly regarded me and who didn't. Not only that but who I truly regarded and who I didn't. This "level" of friendship is for the folks who are truly invested and committed in your life. No one deserves access to your inner court until they have shown—in word and in deed—that they can be trusted, that they are loyal and that they are interested in giving just as much as they want to receive. No one should see your inner court "just because". They definitely need to earn this type of access.
Most Holy: Best Friend/Spouse
While recently reading an article on the most holy space of biblical temples and tabernacles, I liked it when the author said, "To understand these places, it will help if we first understand the concept of 'holy.' At its most basic meaning, holy simply means 'set apart' or even 'different.' God is holy because He is absolutely different, completely set apart from everything else." Amen. Your most holy space is also "set apart" and "different"; it's highly-privileged information. It's kind of another message for another time, but that's why I'm not big on casual sex. Just because the dynamics of the situation may be different, that doesn't change the fact that a man has been able to literally enter into "the holiest of holies". Not just anyone should know you in that way. You're far too special, precious and yes, sacred for that.
As far as friendship goes, I liken the most holy place to a best friend or spouse. One day, I'll write about why I'm a huge fan of that being one in the same once you're married (the word "best" in best friend can give you a clue in the meantime).
For now, I'll just say that your best friend and/or your spouse should definitely have a different kind of access to you than anyone else does; they are the top tier level in your life.
You know, back in the Old Testament of the Bible, when a person entered into the most holy place of a place of worship without God's permission, the consequence was super extreme; it was death (Leviticus 16:2). That's how special that space was. So many times in my life, when a friend would hurt me, I'd be absolutely devastated. Looking back, it wasn't really because they were all that great as people or good to me. It was because I allowed them into my "most holy place"—my intimate secrets, my most fragile vulnerabilities, my most valuable of resources—when they absolutely and most definitely did not deserve it. How did I heal? What changed? I learned to stop giving outer court, inner court or folks who didn't deserve my temple space at all the permission to come into those spaces and places. It's as simple as that. At this stage and season in my life, I've got a couple of "most holy friends" and they don't even have the kind of accessibility that I am reserving for my future husband. Knowing that I control my "levels" and no one else is both empowering and healing at the same time.
It can't be said enough. Sis, you are a divine temple. You don't have to—nor should you—allow just anyone to be in your outer or inner court, let alone your most holy space. Each level requires a certain type of character, commitment and reciprocity from an individual. Don't let folks in who aren't worthy. You are far too sacred for that. Make sure that they level up first, OK? It'll totally change your life—and quality of friendships—if/when you do.
Want more stories like this? Sign up for our newsletter here and check out the related reads below:
Is It Time To Initiate A 'Friend Divorce'?
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Pettiness, Moodiness & Other "Friendship Irritants" To Work Through
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