In 1985 the average American had three people in whom to confide matters of importance. According to a 2006 study, that number as dropped to two (and presumably does not include radio talk show hosts!). Additionally more than 25% of Americans admit they have no confidant at all.

While many Americans do enlist the help of professionals as a safe place to entrust their problems, this is not what I understand to be meant by a confidant, and certainly not what it means to have a friend.

A friend is someone who has your back, who takes your needs seriously, who rejoices in your joys and mourns in your sorrows. And this type of friendship is actually quite rare.

Someone recently invited my husband out to lunch. “I like what you said at that meeting and I look forward to getting to know you and your ideas better.” This seemed like an auspicious beginning to a new relationship. But relationship turned out to be the wrong word. As soon as they sat down to eat, his host began to speak and didn’t stop until my husband finally excused himself -- two hours later! This is actually not such a unique experience.

Many people briefly feign interest in others as a way to get an ear to listen to them. That’s okay. It’s wonderful to be a good listener. It is kind and caring. It just doesn’t create a real friendship; there is no mutual interest and concern.

It’s not easy to find others who care about you as much as you care about them, who take your ideas, your challenges, your concerns (almost) as seriously as they do their own. It’s not easy but when it happens it can be so rewarding.

We are taught that a good friend carries the burden with you; he or she empathizes. I think it’s even more. The caring and compassion of a good friend eases the burden, takes a weight off our shoulders. They lift the pain away from us through the power of their love and concern. Because they identify so strongly with us, the pain becomes their own, it is shared and thereby diminished.

If we are lucky enough to have this type of friend, we should be grateful; it’s rare indeed. True friendship is life-changing. It helps us find the power and will to cope -- and sometimes steers us away from negative choices or destructive behaviors. A good friend reminds us of our inner strength and encourages us to make full use of it.

Studies even document that those of us with good friends remain physically healthy longer. I think it’s because they help carry the aforementioned “burden,” because we know we’re not alone.

Of course, if we stop and realize it, we’re never alone; we never have to carry that burden by ourselves. The Almighty is always there for us, He’s not distracted by His own needs or concerns, He carries not just our burden; He carries us as well. We just have to make Him our friend.