When I experience a challenging time with a friend my first response is that I want to RUN. Run far away from the danger of being hurt. From the pain of being left out. From the wound of being gossiped about. When I sense tension in a friendship, my fleshly response is to hide--to crawl under my covers, hole up in my house, and have a nice pity party. It takes everything in me to not do this. Everything.
Sarah Zacharias Davis writes in her book, The Friends We Keep, "Forgiveness is something we learn by doing, and perhaps it often eludes understanding until we are called undeniably to act upon it."
Is forgiveness something we can offer a friend even when she doesn't ask for it? When she doesn't realize what she's done (or admit what she's done)?
God does not want you to carry on your shoulders the baggage of a broken friendship--of a wound so deep you avoid other members of His Body or grumble in your spirit against someone also fearfully and wonderfully made. It's a heavy load to bear, and it corrupts your soul. Forgiveness is the tool that releases you from bitterness, envy, fear, and anger.
"Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, 'Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?' Jesus answered, 'I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times." Matthew 18:21-22
"For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins." Matthew 6:14-15
With forgiveness is the humble reminder that we are sometimes not the friends we wish to be either. At least that's true for me. I've blown it with some friends--said things I shouldn't or acted in ways that hurt. We are all failed and flawed human beings.
"We forgive because, if all relationships bear a betrayal of some kind, then eventually we, too, will be in need of forgiveness." (The Friends We Keep, 72)
We are also challenged to keep friends when we move, change communities, or have a significant life change. These interruptions to our friendships can allow insecurity and fear to creep into the lifeblood of the relationship. Your friends might be worried: Will I stay friends with her now that she attends a different church? Will she stop inviting me to events? Am I going to fall off her radar? And you might be worried about the same.
When my friend Susan told me her family was moving to South Africa, I got a pit in my stomach. Another friend leaving me--another friend living abroad--another goodbye. I also felt envy. Because I wished I could be doing what she was doing. Holding back my cry I told her (and I meant it): "I am a great pen pal. I will email you and write and we can skype and I KNOW we will stay friends." She later told me how much that meant to her, because secretly she was worried when she moved she would lose friendships--friendships she's built over the last decade--because its inconvenient to stay friends living 10,000 miles apart.
When we changed churches my friend Jenn told me, "We'll just have to get together on the weekends and for coffee and playdates after school. We'll just have to find time on the calendar to keep getting together." And she meant it. It brought me great comfort because I was afraid I would lose her--that I'd be replaced--that she'd move on to more convenient, everyday friends.
Deep down within us the risk of rejection resurfaces over and over. Sometimes it helps to restate your commitment to a friend--to remind them how much you love them. To remind them they are special. And to fight through inconvenience, different life stages, different interests. To hire a babysitter so you can have a night out, and to call them even though you haven't talked in 8 months. Sometimes it means staying up late on email, driving an hour to see them, initiating via text, meeting up when you are in the same city (even if you haven't talked for a year), or mailing a nice card. What is good is worthy of a valiant fight.
Do you have anything to add to this conversation from your personal experience? I do love when you comment so I know where you're coming from.
Tomorrow I'll share Part 3 of my talk: Know Who You Are, which discusses having an identity in Christ and not in friendships.