The theme of friendship has popped up everywhere I look over the last couple of weeks: A Woman’s Hour interview highlighting the absence of close friendships for men; an author discussing her new book about a friendship break-up, a Sunday magazine article about lifetime friends; a TV phone-in about falling out with a friend; a Christian press article about mentoring and inter-generational friendships, and an Instagram post from Dr Julie Smith, Clinical Psychologist, offering four ways to tell if a friendship is coming to an end.
Most advice suggests that if you can no longer be yourself around a friend (you feel the need to act a certain way, revert to how you once were, feel judged, feel depleted by the time you spend with them, or just don’t feel drawn to each other) you should move on. This all seems sensible advice (and vital if you’re in an abusive, coercive or damaging relationship).
Do not make friends with a hot tempered man, do not associate with one easily angered, or you may learn his ways and get yourself ensnared.
However, as with much of the self-help advice I take in from different sources, in this area of navigating friendships, I’ve been getting a niggling sense that ‘self’ help seems a bit too comfortable. If we comply with what seems to be a culture of entitled friendship (in it for what we can get), yes, we may have a neater and more stable life experience, but is this the life Jesus calls us to live?
Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way, you will fulfil the law of Christ.
Yes, some people drain me; some people make me feel awkward or shy, or edgy. Surely we are never fully ourselves with more than one or two of our closest friends… so does that mean we should only have one or two friends?
And what about when we haven’t seen someone for a while, and our internal monologue tells us something about the person or our friendship that isn’t actually based on truth? What does Jesus teach? Are our friends there to serve us, or are we there to serve our friends? And who should we be spending time with anyway?
Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace.
1 Peter 4:8-10
There are many reasons we need to put the other person first and have grace when the meet-ups are not particularly comfortable or enjoyable. In these situations, our Christian values hopefully teach us to honour those who are not easy to be with.
Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honour.
I’m sure I’ve drained the life out of my friends at some points, settled on topics of conversation that should have been out-of-bounds, or offended them by a thoughtless comment, forgotten thank-you text, or period of silence. Then (I hope) there are other times when I’ve been stronger, optimistic, thoughtful, encouraging and fun to be with. It would be a sad thing if every time we met a friend we weighed up and judged the meeting according to how well it met our needs, yet the ‘putting yourself first’ culture seems to be advocating this.
Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. Matt 7:3-5
I have found that the best way to navigate all this has not been to cut friendships off completely, or keep tabs on who is currently in my ‘inner circle’. I’ve made a conscious effort to hold people lightly. Once we start, as some people do, keeping a list of ‘top five friends’, they will disappoint us by failing to live up to the criteria we have set for someone ‘honoured’ to be categorized in that way. I’ve always shied away from being or having a ‘best friend’ – the pressure is too much!
Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.
As we go through life, we will fail to meet every friendship need. After five failed attempts at IVF and one miscarriage, Emma Barnett, presenter of Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour, shared this heartbreaking snapshot*:
“My old friends can’t be expected to get it fully. Fertile people cannot comfort infertile people, not really.”
I didn’t want to believe this at first but reading this reminded me of our limitations as friends. It made me feel more compassionate towards people who no longer seem to want to be part of my life and prompted me to make a renewed effort in every situation to direct the conversation away from things we do not have in common. We cannot rely on a friend, a parent, a husband, or a child to be everything we need. Maybe, in acknowledging our limitations as friends, we can point people to the one who meets our every need.
And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.
Maybe you are moving into a new season of life – starting something new, changing churches, jobs, roles, or routines. With this comes the excitement of new relationships. New friendships are an opportunity to be 100% as you are in the present. There’s no history, no pressure to conform to old behaviour patterns. If it doesn’t particularly take off, you don’t lose anything. But if it does, you have a new person to grow with. And if you’ve met through your current job, volunteer role, kids, or hobby, then you have an effortless way to meet regularly (without the need to trawl through your calendar to discover that your next available meet-up is in 2023).
I prefer to join my ‘new people’ in activities they’re already doing and get to know each other that way. Face-to-face coffee dates still sort of freak me out and feel a bit too much to ask of people!
“We need old friends to help us grow old and new friends to help us stay young.” Letty Cotton Pogrebin
That quote resonated with me! Whilst we carefully do every stage of our makeup and try to pull off a fun and trendy look when we meet a new friend, we’ll arrive in a fluffy onesie when we indulge in a catch-up with an old friend! Here’s to the ‘hot chocolate for the soul’ person – the ‘old’ friend you can slob about with…
Looking back, I can see how changes in circumstances or seasons of life have led to friendships naturally ebbing and flowing. However, these friendships take off effortlessly when we finally meet again, six weeks, six months or six years later. Nothing bad or hurtful caused the drift, so there is nothing to repair other than a mutual feeling of sadness that we couldn’t maintain a closeness because of circumstances largely outside our control. The old friend will be the one to tell me to stop analysing all this and ‘just get on with it’, and we will be cheering each other on in the new friendships we are developing.
Oil and perfume make the heart glad, and the sweetness of a friend comes from his earnest counsel.
Open up the friendship files…
Friendship is the fuel that feeds our passion for sharing God’s love in natural ways. Local friendships deepen our love for our local communities and groups and motivate us to take people with us on our faith journeys. For more inspiration, come to our Activate Your Life weekend away in March 2023! This year’s theme is Undivided Heart – click here to find out more.
If you have a story or comment to share in our Friendship Files, we’d love to hear from you! Contact us here.
*The Times Magazine, 14.05.22