“I’ll be there for you.”
Friendship is the greatest gamble of the heart. Unlike marriage, there is no covenant binding the two together, there is no vow that you need to uphold, and there are no legal procedures for when you wish to disband. Friendships are even riskier than relationships. When you are dating, there is a mutual understanding that the purpose of your journey is to test compatibility. To some degree your heart prepares to be broken, with the full knowledge that not every date will be your spouse. But a friendship that’s pure, has every intention of lasting. You plan weddings, baby showers and play dates in your banter. If adulthood has taught us anything, it’s that we cannot predict who will be there for a lifetime. The very person we trust will be there forever, becomes nothing but a memory Facebook won’t let us forget.
In friendship, there is a reason for everything. People do not grow apart without making a decision to. The fact is, as life becomes fuller and priorities shift, we choose to include or exclude certain people in our lives. This may not necessarily be a malicious act, but every minute is accounted for, and we select who and what is qualified to have that particular minute in our day. For most of us, 480 minutes go to our places of employment, and a similar amount goes towards rest. This leaves us with almost 500 minutes to do everything else. This may include traveling, eating, spending time with our significant others, taking care of children, cooking, cleaning, studying, passion projects, catching up with family, and much more. The season you’re in informs how you navigate your friendships. The heart may be willing, but one or both of the parties may not have the capacity.
Over the last 15 years, there has been an influx of what I like to call the “let go” doctrine. Between preachers, podcasts, and Oprah, we have all been encouraged to let go of friends who are “haters”, “distant” or “enemies of progress”. When you’re in the situation, it’s an easy notion to subscribe to. But how are we extending grace in these moments? How are we truly serving the other?
Although it’s often framed as self-care, we have to be careful that it is not self-interest and pride that is causing us to release friendships casually. We want friendship to serve us, but we must be prepared to serve others, and sometimes that means stepping outside of our emotions to gage what is really going on. What if your friend is depressed and is finding it hard to communicate? What if they are struggling to balance the various facets of their life? What if your friend is having marriage problems that consume their mind? What if they are still grieving a loss and don’t know how to open up? What if their finances don’t allow for them to hang out all the time? Sometimes asking more questions, will give you the answers as to why your friendship is disintegrating. And instead of letting go of people, we should be asking better questions.
“When is it appropriate to let go?”
Losing friendship is a form of heartbreak, and the deeper you’ve journeyed with a friend, the more painful it can be. When you’re at risk of losing a friendship, here are some questions you should ask yourself:
a) What role did I have to play in this?
Truth is – you could be a terrible friend and just don’t know it. Do you keep on canceling plans at the last minute? Have you forgotten a birthday? How often do you initiate communication? Does the topic of conversation always center around you? Do you give unsolicited advice? Do you spend your time gossiping about others? Perhaps you are too busy doing some of these things to realize that you are part of the problem. I myself have been guilty of all at some point, and have lost some great friends because of it. Before we assume the worst of others, let us reflect on whether we need to change our own behavior. Sometimes our expectation and execution of friendship do not align. Friendship goes both ways and it’s important to start assessing what we bring, what we have the capacity for, and what we need.
b) What does this person bring to your life?
Friends are supposed to bring out the better version of each other. They should make you want to be kinder, more creative, grow in knowledge and spirituality. If a friend brings out the worst in you, it could be a warning sign that the relationship is shifting in the wrong direction. If this person brings negativity, ask yourself whether it is due to a character flaw or if they are going through a difficult season. Has something life-changing or traumatic happened to them recently that may be causing them to manifest in a negative way? New jobs, new relationships, births, deaths and marriages can all have the potential to spillover in unassuming ways. If that is the case, are you doing your due diligence in supporting or praying for them? However, if this person has a sustained character flaw, it is then you should assess whether they are someone you want as a constant in your life.
If this person indeed brings positivity, you need to pinpoint what changed. Too many friendships end because of the words left unspoken. Your willingness to tackle pride and have that difficult conversation is a direct reflection of how you value the friendship. If the person is unwilling to talk, you cannot force them. However, everyone deserves closure, the chance to self-improve and the peace to move on.
c) What is God trying to show you in this season?
Sometimes the disintegration of a friendship has nothing to do with the people involved, and everything to do with what God is trying to show you. Perhaps you need to work on your character, focus on your home, or draw closer to Him. In some cases, unexplainable events occur because the friends can’t go where He’s taking you. We struggle to find a reason for the season ending, but we have to trust that God knows what He is doing, and who He’s making room for. In order to have deep and meaningful relationships, you cannot be friends with everybody. Turning this area over to Him could see a transformation in your life.
d) How do you move on after it’s over?
The end is difficult. Often the best we can do, is pour into the people who are willingly in our lives. Shift your focus to those around you. There is no point in mourning a friendship you’ve lost, at the expense of the relationships you do have. In a recent conversation with my mother, she shared, “Make it your goal to love people, even when they don’t show love back”. I could not agree more. You cannot control how someone feels about you, but you can control how you treat them. When you bump into them at a mutual friend’s wedding, be kind. Kindness is the most disarming weapon, and is not as self-harming as bitterness. When you hear of their successes, find it in yourself to be happy for them. Know that someone will celebrate you someday for what God is about to do. When you see them having fun without you, be confident in what God has blessed you with.
You attract who you are, and you become who you’re surrounded by. If a relationship is not salvageable, take this as an opportunity to reflect on who you have been as a friend, and reinvent how you show up in future. As hard as the end of friendship can be, it’s also the beginning of something new.