My friend was praying for me: “God, please heal Liz so she can be useful again.” I knew the prayer came from a place of concern, but the words tore at me and told me I would never be useful with my chronic illness. It felt as though my friend was saying that I could only be of use to God if I was well. And it made me wonder if I was no use to others around me, too.

Words are powerful. They can build up and tear down, console and wound. All of us carry words said to us over the years, some by those we thought of as friends or loved ones, that have fed into a sense of not being enough, or even of being worthless and without value. Some of us may have been in relationships where we felt our value was only in what we did for that person, and the words they spoke over us only cemented that idea more deeply.

Friendship should be a place of safety, a place where we are known so well that we know our value is intrinsic to who we are, not what we do for that friend. The problem is that all around us there is a productivity lie in our world: we are told that we should always be striving to do more, to be more, to earn more, to make ourselves of more worth by what we do. It is implicit when the first question we ask someone is What do you do?’ It seems that we are defined by what we can offer, by what our job role is, rather than who we actually are. This can be especially difficult for those who, through illness, disability, mental ill health or grief, cannot do’ as much or at all – and when these narratives come into play within friendships, it can be especially hurtful and even crushing.

In the best of friendships, we do not have to prove ourselves or make ourselves of worth only by what we do for the other person – just as with our relationship with God, our value does not lie in what we do for God, but simply in how we are loved by God. Of course, friendships come with give and take, and they are only built when we are willing to serve one another, but that is very different to the idea that being a friend is only conditional on what we do for that friend. Friendships become stale and unhealthy if they are only about keeping score of what the friend can do for us.

"Friendship should be a place of safety, a place where we are known so well that we know our value is intrinsic to who we are, not what we do for that friend."

As we look to celebrate International Friendship Day, let’s celebrate the friendships where value is both honoured and upheld. Where friends are loved through all seasons, even when they cannot give of themselves, simply because they are our friends. Sometimes we can bring more to our relationships, and other times we might be unable to due to circumstances in our lives that leave us weary and flattened. But this is when true friends are there for us, to build us up, and to care for us.

I’ve often felt unworthy of things due to my life-long illness, unworthy of relationships, of friendships, even of God’s love. Somewhere along the line I came to believe in the narrative that I needed to earn these things and had to try harder to be better. But it’s been in the very times I’ve felt at rock bottom – in hospital, in great pain, when friends have rallied around, showing their love for me in practical ways. And the great thing is that the best of friends do not expect us to even things out on the score sheet. Friends give to one another without expectation and without condition.

When friendship is modelled on Jesus’ friendship with His disciples, we see the joy of what it means to connect with people at a deeper level through serving one another and loving one another with a sacrificial kind of love. Jesus did not expect His friends to earn His love; they were already of great value to Him. He forgave them when they messed up, He honoured them when they were people who society would not see as being very valuable at all. His model of friendship was nothing to do with proving worth and everything to do with pure love. And we can celebrate this kind of friendship when we see it in action, as well as encourage one another to build friendships where these things are the basis from the start. Where our joy in one another overcomes all our weaknesses, and our worth is without measure.