I'm not winning any friendship awards for this...
This is not a blog post that is going to give you a positive impression of me. I'm not the heroine of this friendship story. I am the imperfect person who struggled through learning this lesson. Sharing this story is going to be tough, but I'm breaking out the Thin Mints and tissues and inviting you into my trust circle. Here goes...
Six months ago, I "lost" two of my closest friends. They were the two friends I spent the most time with.
Around that time, I started to see that I had too many "friends" (read: casual acquaintances who were friendly but not ride-or-dies). Firstly, because my heart longs for deep, abiding friendships rather than popularity (many shallow "friendships"). And secondly, because of this season of starting a new business and getting my life on course for a new way of living: entrepreneurship, working from home, ministry life. I needed to shrink the amount of people I was letting speak into/over my life, so I decided to make my circle smaller.
I wanted to spend less time pouring into maintaining so many friendships and figure out who was really going to be my long-term friend.
Friendship, to me, is a sacred thing. I take that back. Friendship, to God, is a sacred thing. Something He has revealed to me lately is that we, as a society, bastardize friendship on a regular basis and make excuses as to why. We take and take without any forethought of how we can give. We "love" selflessly and self-servingly.
That's not how He designed friendship.
Especially for the people bearing His name: Christians.
I realize this is very harsh, but please see that I am not putting myself on God's side. I'm lumping myself in with humanity: selfish and self-serving.
We need to change.
Our friendships should glorify God. Not in a shallow "I prayed for you...good luck" way. But like this:
Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.
Lay down my life?? For friends?
That's a sucker-punch to the gut for someone like me. I don't lay down my life for my friends. Sometimes I have faint moments of selflessness where I will offer my friends some act of service they need: helping a friend move on a hot Florida day, being with a friend through a breakup on a Friday night, praying for friends (without letting them know about it). These are things I've done recently. But none of those are "laying down my life for my friends".
Those acts of service were not costly. I had the extra time to give. They didn't cost money. I personally felt better after praying for them.
But laying down my life?
That sounds horrible. That sounds like death. That sounds like there's no returning from that.
Back to My Story
These two friendships that I lost -- about 6 months ago -- seemed to be over. Lifeless. Dead.
But yesterday, I realized that the grief, hurt and pain from those losses was still very much alive in my heart.
That realization came in three distinct waves: Two nights ago, I shared with my women's small group that I was hurt by friendships that seemed to die without warrant. That night, I woke up at 4am, unable to return to sleep, thinking heavily on this hurt that has lived in my heart for the last several months. Then, yesterday, I felt God telling me to refrain from work and instead read a book.
The thing is that I have a dozen books on my shelf waiting to be read, but a couple nights ago, a friend of mine left a book in my kitchen. That book was the one I chose...or God chose for me? Yeah, it was the one I knew I needed to read:
There are a couple of chapters within Fierce Faith that address the fear of rejection and the fear of betrayal.
I felt both.
The two friendships that seemed to die only months before were true, godly friendships, but they died so easily. I felt like they walked away. From our friendship. From me.
I felt rejected by people who knew me on a deep level. I felt betrayed by people who broke the silent contract of loyalty shared by close companions.
I was heart-broken, and the wound didn't heal. I tried to move on, but I recognized another symptom of a wounded heart in another area of my life.
There are a few women I've gotten more and more close to in these last few months. I figured God was replacing those dead friendships. By all accounts, it looked like I was fine. It looked like I was enjoying such great friendships. I assumed that this was the new norm.
But in the last month or so, I've been battling a heavy sense of isolation. I felt like I couldn't rely on anyone. I felt like nobody would really have my back when the times got hard. I felt like I couldn't trust people with deeper, darker parts of me.
After all, if these two Christian friends saw my demons and walked away, how could I trust anyone else?
I felt alone.
There were friends all around me, people who were trustworthy, but I...wouldn't...trust.
As a result, that isolation was heavy on me for a month's time. I shared that with my husband who listened to me word vomit about how lonely I was, tears soaking into his shoulder as he prayed over me.
Unfortunately -- or fortunately -- this wasn't something he could fix.
This problem was within my heart, and all he could do was hold me and pray.
The Woman in the Mirror
I knew the only way to get out of this loneliness would be to face the person who caused this isolation.
I sincerely hope you aren't thinking about those other two people.
I had to face the woman in the mirror.
The one who started all of this. The one who let those friendships slip away. And then put up walls.
After those two friendships fizzled, I unknowingly put up walls. I guarded myself from vulnerability to other friends walking out of my life. I put barriers around my heart.
The isolation I was feeling was of my own doing.
Yesterday, the Spirit revealed areas where I have caused damage. He showed me that it was in fact just as much my fault that these friendships died. I was a silent participant.
I should have fought to retain those relationships with godly, loyal friends. But I didn't. I waited for them to value me.
I made it about me.
The months passed, and these two women that I used to spend time with weekly were moving on in life. I haven't spent time with them in months. I haven't had any deep conversation with them. I have no idea what burdens their hearts and what victories they've had lately.
But it hurts me worse knowing that I could have stopped the bleeding at any point in the last several months. I could have reached out. I could have been a good friend despite my feelings. I could have communicated.
Rather, I sulked. I isolated myself. I poured myself into work and new friendships and my marriage and talking to my dog...not even making that up.
These last few months, whatever unforgiveness I have against these two people, was because of me. The woman in the mirror.
You Are In Control
I truly believe the devil has been doing his evil, happy dance over the death of these friendships the last 6 months. He's happy that I haven't been able to give and receive encouragement from them, to share our deep feelings over life changes, to celebrate and cry with them. He's thrilled that I just let them slip away.
But yesterday, my mindset changed, thanks to Alli Worthington's Fierce Faith. The emotions that have been a hurricane in my heart lately were finally put to words that I could read and relate to. (For the record, even when I'm not feeling lonely, I think authors are my BFFs.) Alli shared her own grief from rejection and betrayal. And she shared a story that shook me -- let me skip to the resolution part:
As she prayed for understanding, she began to see that somewhere along the way she must have hurt her friend (albeit unintentionally) in such a way that it caused her friend to lash out... As she began to imagine her friend's pain, she started to release her own pain and had genuine sympathy for her friend.
I realized through this story of betrayal that the woman in this story could have called for a time-out in the Friend Battle at any point in time. But she got so caught up in defending herself and over time, the wound grew and grew.
Do you know how battles start?
Last year, I watched my very first UFC fight: Connor McGregor versus Floyd Mayweather. For several months before the fight, the inhumane insults between these two were echoed from every major media source on the planet. In the week leading up to the fight, these two contenders went on a global arena tour just to talk trash to each other with millions of people watching. Now, I highly doubt that this fight was naturally occurring. Connor and Floyd didn't physically bump into each other in the grocery store, drop their baskets, and start dueling.
No, there were fight promoters and managers and TV networks pitting them against each other. There were voices all around them echoing the reports that the other guy was his ultimate enemy.
Recognize this truth:
satan = Fight Promoter + Emotions Manager
He is the best taunter in the business. He is the one who pits you against friends to distract you from the real enemy: him.
Let me let you in on a secret: You are in control.
No, you aren't in control of how someone else acts. And you're not in control of satan's manipulation games. But you are in control of your participation in a fight. You can call a time-out, pray and humbly ask the Lord to lead you. You can recognize that fighting against a friend is not fighting for the Lord.
What if we really applied that Bible verse to a fight against friends?
Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.
You and your friend are in the boxing ring, spectators are cheering and booing, the fight is about to begin. 3 - 2 -1 - DING!
You literally lay down. Your friend has every opportunity to kick and punch and TKO you. (That's fighter-talk for total knock out... or so I hear.)
What's going to happen?
Well, frankly, I don't know. But if you reverse the roles and at the start of a heated battle against a dear friend, and she all of a sudden lays down and allows you to defeat her, will you do it? Will you throw a punch to someone in surrender?
I don't know about you, but I sure wouldn't.
And THAT is how God intended friendship. Not that we would never fight, but that out of godly humility and love, we would lay down our lives for our friends.
A couple of people reading this are going to argue, "That's not the biblical context for this verse," and I'll respond with "You're right". But your quickness to jump away from the lesson leads me to think you might need a heart check.
If you pray about this message and feel it is misleading you away from truth, please let me know. I will listen to you.
But I believe if you pray about this message, you will find yourself in tears in the presence of the Holy Spirit bringing to mind a place where you've engaged in battle against your parents, spouse, friend, children, colleagues, neighbors, church members, etc. And as you recall that battle, you will see how you could have laid down and refused to fight.
As I practiced this myself yesterday, I was led to reach out to:
Both of the aforementioned friends
My brother (we've definitely fought a lot in life)
Both of my parents
Just to resolve the story of my two friendships, let me focus on them.
I reached out to these two friends. (This step isn't ground-breaking necessarily. I'm a classic "bottle it up" with my emotions kind of person. On my own merit, I would have eventually reached out and pretended nothing happened.)
The part that is ground-breaking for me is that I opened back up to them and let them know how hurt I was. I apologized for any pain I caused them. I was real and transparent about the pain I felt and my feelings of being dropped without warrant.
And in the most ground-breaking move of all, I welcomed them to re-friend me with healthy boundaries. Mostly, that we would not go months without spending time together.
Now, I'm new to this practice of healthy relationships. So after doing this, I did LITERAL cartwheels of celebration. I'm growing out of a broken child into a whole woman in the name of Jesus. Not just in word, but in reality. I'm allowing God to change my heart, mend my brokenness, correct me, and repair good relationships.
I'm forgiving and asking for forgiveness.
These are not easy things. These are feats of strength...yes, forgiveness is strength. Mental and emotional and spiritual strength. Strength to know that I am strong enough to admit where I've been wrong. To know that I can pick myself up and try again to bond with people without fear of being hurt.
Hurts will come, and the Healer will heal. Repeat. And then repeat again.
Peter asked Jesus, "Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?
Jesus said to him, "I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times."
Life will have lots of hurt, especially involving friends, because people aren't perfect, and last I checked neither am I. I will be hurt, but I will also hurt. And the thing that should distinguish godly friendships from your casual beach & bar friends is forgiveness, loyalty, and laying down your life for them.
(Ooh, I just got this word connection of beach & bar friends...fun in the sun...fair-weather friends...not everyday is sunny... but I'll leave that here, and maybe develop that idea for my future book about friendship.)
Resolution Part 2
As much as it hurts to admit, only time will tell if the resolution I desire of rekindling friendship with these two women will actually happen. But the resolution to the story isn't that we get back together, happily ever after, singing Kumbaya. The resolution is that I laid down my life and my right to be right. I reached out and allowed them to react however they want to react.
Maybe they don't want to re-engage friendship with me.
Maybe they do.
Time will tell.
But I repented for my own actions, asked for forgiveness, shared my real feelings, and allowed them to respond.
It's not easy being vulnerable. That's a sentiment I keep finding myself saying. The Lord keeps asking me to open up, to let down the walls, to allow myself to need people again. To be a good and godly friend.
What about you? Is there someone you need to reach out to, lay down your right to be right, and ask for forgiveness? Maybe you didn't intentionally hurt them. Maybe you did. I've committed my fair share of intentional wounds. Regardless, the call to action is the same.
Today, I woke up so refreshed. I slept like I haven't slept in months...at least since Christmas. There must have been a part of my heart that was actively hurting over all these months, but I made my schedule busy enough to where I could ignore my feelings. Guess what? It didn't work.
There's an old adage that says, "Time heals all wounds." I'm pretty sure you can attribute that lie to the mouth of satan. He wants you to believe you can move on and hopefully never again think about that person who hurt you or whom you hurt.
The truth is: Only God heals all wounds. Only He can restore. Only He can repair. Only He can take a dead relationship and bring it back to life. Will you let Him?