For a friend who is struggling with the possible loss of a friend.
Good friends are blessings from God. And yet, in the tragedy of a sin-sick world, good friendships can come to an end. Probably everyone who reads this post knows what it’s like to lose a friend. It’s painful and, quite often, not even desired.
Failing friendships have a sense of helplessness to them. Either one side or the other or both change, sometimes gradually, sometimes suddenly, and the foundations of the original friendship shift and start to crumble. It feels often like the earth is moving under the feet of the two friends and the friendship often ends because it is reckoned that two people can’t fall together into that abyss. Better to hold on for yourself than to perish together.
It’s painful to lose a friend and, I must say, it’s almost as painful to watch other friendships fail. (From my vantage point, I see this happen every now and again). Even among Christians it happens. The love of God in Christ Jesus doesn’t automatically mean we will always be best of buddies, but so often I wish it did.
God didn’t make us to work well alone and while most people have entire networks of friends, much of which don’t endure a lot of change, each and every friend in the network brings something to us that makes us better than if they had never become our friend. Even when friends have spouses, it’s often true that the friend still provides something to us that even our spouses may not provide. The pain of a lost friendship is often not dulled by the number of friends we retain. It’s still painful, because that friend fulfilled a specific role in our circle. The hole left behind is hard to ignore. The bridge has collapsed and all it feels like anyone can really do is stare at the wreckage.
Of course, when this happens among Christians friends, it is particularly poignant. Paul reminds us that we do not wrestle against flesh and blood (Eph. 6:12), but the devil is always trying to get us to wrestle against one another. It’s his number one weapon in getting us to deny that he even exists. Adam blamed Eve and God. He never blamed the devil who was really at fault. When Christian friends start to become enemies, they have already lost a fundamental tenet of their Biblically-based faith: they now have the wrong enemy. And if we get the enemy wrong, we will get Christ wrong. And if we get Christ wrong, we will get each other wrong again and again.
Thus, I have always felt that the end of a friendship is a satanic activity, particularly the end of a Christian one. What can be done, particularly when there is no outward sin that is tearing two friends apart?
Keeping the Enemy the Enemy. Our friends may frustrate and hurt as much as they encourage and help. But that doesn’t make them different from us. It only demonstrates the same simul justus et peccator (same time saint/sinner) reality we share. Christians friends should be uniquely poised to recognize this fact. The friend may frustrate, hurt, or anger us, but they are never the enemy. Indeed, a Christian should only have one enemy, the devil Himself.
Staying humble. We often obsess about the behavior of others without giving any thought to our own behavior. People may hate change, but it’s a fact of life in a fallen world. It’s quite possible that your former friend is not the only one who has changed. Reconciliation may be possible if both parties can find their way to the humility to ask the question, “How have I changed?” and “What does my reaction to the other’s behavior say about me?”
From humility to repentance to confession to absolution. Jesus’ instructions in Matt. 18:15ff. are often misconstrued as a power play, but the goal is “to regain the brother.” Commenting on the same activity, Paul reminds us in Gal. 6 to restore the brother “in a spirit of humility.” It is better to come to the friend confessing one’s own sin than demanding an explanation for their sin. Perhaps the walls will come down and the two will confess mutually. Perhaps not. But if not, then what I wrote above about Satan’s activity still stands. God’s love covers a multitude of sins. If He can forgive us our many sins, then we surely can reconcile and forgive one another as well.
These are just a few thoughts and they are not offered as a failsafe method for saving a friendship. At the end, God’s love and grace can be rejected and the gracious attempt at reconciliation can be rejected. But even if one says the friendship is over, the other does not have to accept that fact. The command to love one another is as constant as the love with which Christ has loved both of you.
In the meantime, I’ll let Paul finish this thought:
9 Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. 10 Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not be slothful in zeal,be fervent in spirit,[g] serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.
14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly.[h] Never be wise in your own sight. 17 Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it[i] to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. [Rom. 12:9-21]
Praying with you for solid, healthy, friendships established in Christ’s love,