In a generation where commitment is undervalued, I’ve come to realize with myself in the last five years that I want to be a good friend who is surrounded with people who are good friends. I don’t think anyone wants to die alone. I think we all long for relationship, and desire to know and be known by the ones we love.
The question becomes, how do we gain those friendships that are life long?!
I have to be honest, it wasn’t until a few years ago that I realized that about every 3 years or so, I would have a
new set of friends. I realized that I couldn’t point back to any friends that I had walked closely with for more than 5 years. That was a problem for me. I took this to the Lord in prayer and began to investigate in my own heart why I couldn’t keep lasting friends.
As the Lord searched me, I came to two answers. Firstly, I was not a good friend, and secondly, I could not manage to survive conflicts with friends.
A Bad Friend…
It was a few years ago that I asked my friends something that I still ask from time to time. I texted my closest friends and said, “Can you tell me five things that I need to do to be a better friend.” I have to be honest. I didn’t think they would have much to say. But to my surprise they all let me have it, and some even gave me more things to work on than the five that I had asked for. There seemed to be a running thread through all of their comments to me:
“Del, you have to learn to care about other people and not be so selfish…”
Man, I thought, they have got to have the wrong Del. I’m the guy who spends Christmas in the dumps of the Philippines ministering to the poor. I’m the guy donating thousands of dollars to help end poverty around the world. No way could they think that I’m selfish. As I quietly wrestled with their criticisms of our friendship, I came to realize that I was a bad friend. Here’s a list of just a few things that I identified in my flawed friendship.
- I didn’t ask questions, I only gave answers
- I never did anything outside of my comfort zone to show love
- I never received criticism
- I wasn’t open to my friends being right, and I being wrong
- I spoke more than I listened
- I did not serve my friends
…and the list goes on. Luckily I have friends that loved me through my flaws, and saw my heart that desired to change. Part of the reason it was so hard for me to be a friend that cared was that I understood that it would take some level of vulnerability and humility. I think I was afraid to even be vulnerable with my friends because, what if they leave me AND hurt me. I had to come to grips with the fact that if I did not become vulnerable with my friends, then I would never be able to develop a deep relationship with them that lasts.
My fear in becoming vulnerable was, “What if they exit our friendship? I don’t want them to know my secret self if they are going to leave.” It was that fear that made me feel like I needed to get everything out of this relationship without giving anything, because I can handle abandonment, but I can’t handle being abandoned by people who really know me.
The more I dived into this thought, the more I realized that my relationships with people were shaped by my relationship with God. I had even become afraid of being vulnerable with the Lord. This was rooted in an orphan spirit. I was afraid of being left all alone. So I began to pray and ask God to heal me of “orphan wounds.” That orphan spirit led me to be really needy in my relationships and only take and never give. Once God began to heal that area, I was able to make a clear decision to give; give my time, my heart, my service, and my vulnerability.
Now I’m nowhere close to being perfect at this, but the first step was to recognize that I was a bad friend who was so needy of so much that I didn’t have the capacity to give. If I wanted to have lasting friendships, I needed to learn to be the friend that I desired others to be to me.
Can I be honest with you without you judging me for a minute? hahah. So I’m really bad at forgiving. I teach it, I preach it, and even pray about it, but I like holding on to grudges. Grudges make me feel like I have power over someone that I feel has wronged me. I’m naturally so good at holding grudges, that there are times where I can’t even remember why someone has offended me, but I still choose not to forgive them because I can remember that they did something to hurt me and holding onto my grudge makes me feel like I still have the power. THAT’S CRAZY.
I have found that the closest friends I have now are ones that have survived offense and conflict.
One of my best friends and I went to Reno a few years back. I kind of hopped on his vacation that he was planning on having alone hahah (I’m selfish). Long story short we had a bit of a blow up over such a small thing that happened. He said some words to me that were extremely unkind and caused pain deep in my heart. I remained pretty quiet as I stewed in my offense. Looking back on the situation, I still think he was wrong and should’ve never said what he said. But, I remember after we had gotten back to his house, I went home and I thought about what happened. After being overwhelmed with offense, I remember this thought came into my head, “I should stop talking to him forever and just be done with him.”
A few days later, after I had calmed down, I came to the realization that this was the reason that I had not developed life long friendships. When conflict and offense arose I was always so slow to forgive and so quick to run away. I literally remember sitting at my dining room table at home and thinking, “I’m not running. I’m going to confront this offense and choose to forgive. We’re going to be friends. This is a friend that I’m going to have for a long time.” It’s such a weird thought to have, but I realized that I was making the conscious decision to be committed to this friendship.
I think we make excuses as to why we have the right to leave friendships. I’ve heard people tell me about certain friends only being in their life for a season, because that’s all God wanted them there for. Though there might be some truth in that, I think the majority of the time, these are christian cop outs for our inability to survive relational conflict. As Christians, I think we live too much in the place of worrying about God’s perfect will. Whether it’s about destiny, ministry, or even relationships, I’ve heard people say, “If it’s God’s will then it will happen.” Are you kidding me?! That’s horrible theology. That’s not always true. It’s God’s will that no man should perish, but still people are perishing. I think a lot of times, not all the time, but a lot of times God leaves our friendships up to our level of maturity. We shouldn’t try to negate our responsibility in developing relationships and use ‘God’s will’ as an excuse. What do I mean? I can only develop and sustain a relationship to the level that I’m willing to be mature enough to make it work. It takes a mature person to be able to communicate, forgive, and move on. I’m not saying that it’s easy at all. But I am saying once you have found a healthy individual, you have to make the choice to develop that friendship and allow it to blossom into a lasting brotherhood or sisterhood.
I believe in order to maintain any relationship or friendship, there are going to be times where you have to make a conscious decision that you are not going to retreat. Without that decision you will either have very short termed relationships, or very shallow relationships. Either way you will continue to be unhealthy and recycle the same relational issues.
All this to say, as believers we need to do better at communicating, forgiving, and taking responsibility for our friendships. I believe it’s God’s will that we walk with our brothers and sisters in Christ for a long time. No, I’m not saying everyone in your life will be that life long friend. I am saying that too often we throw away potential life long friendships because of our own relational immaturity and inability to rightly handle our personal offenses and fear.
This is an area that I am constantly working on. I challenge you to take inventory of your relationships and see where you need to improve. Maybe there’s a need to forgive or even ask for forgiveness. Don’t be afraid to be humble and vulnerabile. Don’t be afraid to forgive someone who didn’t even ask for forgiveness.
I promise you that on the other side of vulnerability is a beautiful friendship!