Recent events with my daughters have caused me to reflect on my experiences with friendships growing up. Every generation seems to suffer from some of the same problems, as if they are playing on loop. They may seem different on the surface because of varying details and degrees, but their roots are almost always the same. For example, when I was a teenager, girls hazed, bullied and slandered one another via notes, rumors, bathroom stall graffiti and other mean-spirited pranks. These days, our teenagers have all of those tools plus the internet and social media with which to wage war on each other.
Twenty years ago, a former friend could destroy your reputation out of spite, but it might have taken her a couple days to spread whatever disgusting rumors she’d designed as a means of tearing you down. These days it can take less than a minute before it’s gone viral. The results can be disastrous. As Christians, we are called to forgive. The truth is, however, when you are on the receiving end of this behavior, it can be extremely difficult to rise above it and turn the other cheek.
“Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.” Ephesians 4:31-32
Even without technology, it would be easier said than done. In my youth I was faced with losing a friend over what I thought was a silly disagreement and I reacted poorly. I was hurt by what felt like my friend’s abandonment and betrayal, and I let that hurt dictate my actions. I don’t even remember who started the name-calling and the threats of violence after school, only that I fully participated. When it was all said and done, I stood there, ALONE, wondering why my friend never called me to say she’d changed her mind and wanted to stay best friends after all.
At the time, it seemed so clear to me that she was the one in the wrong, and I had done nothing to deserve the shunning or the things she’d been saying behind my back. I’d confronted her, and she’d said I had a bad attitude and she just didn’t want to be around that anymore. I shook my head in disbelief. Me? I was the problem? She had to be kidding! All I did was defend people who couldn’t defend themselves. I was noble, and she was wrong. That was that. So I dug in my heels and gave as good as I got. Instead of turning the other cheek, I assumed the classic fighting position, and put up my proverbial dukes.
Looking back now, things weren’t that cut and dry. She may or may not have been wrong to turn her back on me in the first place. But she was absolutely right not to come back. The cold hard truth is that no matter how slighted I felt, or how unfair I thought she was being, my pain did not subtract any responsibility for the things I said and did. We are still supposed to treat others how we wish to be treated.
“A friend loves at ALL times, and a brother is born for adversity.” Proverbs 17:17
There’s no way for me to tell you for certain what might have happened if only I’d been a better friend to her, despite my pain. Perhaps she would have come around and apologized or just let it all be water under the bridge, and we might still be friends to this day. It’s unlikely, but I made it an impossibility with my own behavior. I burned that bridge down to spite her, but hurt only myself in the process. I don’t believe in living with regrets; they only weigh you down. I do, however, believe in allowing God to turn your mistakes into lessons learned. I believe God has used that past hurt of mine to help others, beginning with my own daughters.
When my daughters have a falling out with a friend, I encourage them to first admit that they are hurting and to then see past their own pain, to the outcome they wish to have from it all. Then I ask them, “Do you want your friendship back?” The answer is almost always, ‘yes.’ So I tell them, “There is never a guarantee that you will get what you want, but I can guarantee that if you react out of anger, you will push your friend away, possibly for good. If you continue to honor your friendship and show your friend love, you leave a door open. You can still be their friend, even if they don’t want to be yours. If you leave that door open, and they choose not to come back through it, that’s their choice and you have to respect it. But you will know where you stand and that you have done all you could to show your friend what they were leaving behind. Best of all, you will know you have honored God in showing love, even when it wasn’t easy.”
It all comes down to that age-old advice: If you want a friend, be a friend. You aren’t going to win any hearts or change any minds with bitterness, anger, and harsh words. But with love, patience and kindness, it just might be possible to save a friendship on the brink of destruction. Of course I am talking about real, healthy friendships that are poisoned by pride and anger. I don’t believe in ‘frenemies.’ A friend who constantly bullies you and is only ever interested in their own life is no friend at all. If this has helped even a single person, it has been well worth it. I pray you all find peace in your relationships with friends and with family and that any old wounds be healed. God bless you.