I saw her from across the room and instantly my stomach tightened. She was surrounded by friends and did not notice my arrival. Or did she? Either way, I decided to stay in the back of the room and escape attention. I turned my head and twisted my body away from her to shield me from the unexpected emotions. I cursed myself for being there; a quiet evening at home with Netflix seemed like a safer choice in that moment.
How had we come to this? This friend I once cherished and loved like a sister now seemed at worst, an enemy, and at best, a stranger.
Losing a friend seems to be a common rite of passage among women but few are willing to talk about the pain and heartache that comes with such a loss. I googled countless websites for “How to deal with losing a friend” and found little support and encouragement among the Christian community. There were countless websites giving me marriage, parenting, or self-help advice, but no one, it seemed, knew how to lose a friend.
Those days are long gone, but I still remember the hurt, confusion, and raw emotion which spilled into my days during that time. As I reflect on this difficult season, I realize now how much healing has taken place—healing I never thought would happen. And while I am grateful for it, I do not want to forget the hard-learned lessons I accumulated in my journey from broken-hearted to restored and renewed.
BE SURE TO GRIEVE
Grieving a lost friendship seemed silly to me because my friend was still very much alive. I assumed grief was reserved for death and the grave. But in a very real sense, a death had occurred though it took me a long time to see it.
Grief is the natural response to loss. Though we commonly associate it with the death of a loved one, it is natural to feel grief when a loss of any kind occurs: the death of a dream, the loss of a job, a loss of innocence, or the death of a friendship.
Grieving loss isn’t to be hurried. The natural progression of emotions takes as long as it takes. Though these emotions are painful, they are a sign that we cared deeply about someone or something. Rushing through grief can delay healing and learning to live with the heaviness is part of the process.
Through this, God taught me that it was okay to grieve. My friend was a good friend and worthy of my tears. Our failures were costly and worthy of my lament. Grieving is a way to honor what was and acknowledge a part of our life which may never be the same again.
REFRAIN FROM GOSSIP
It’s tempting to talk to others about the ‘situation’ and find comfort and solidarity among those who are on our side. But doing so will only add fuel to the fire and could permanently damage any chance of reconciliation.
I wish I could say I handled this situation well, but I didn’t. Not only did I damage any chance of restoring the friendship, I drew others into the fray who did not need to be there. God takes gossip seriously and James warns us, “If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless” (James 1:26).
Feeling justified in my anger, I foolishly opened my mouth and vented to others. But those words found their way back to my former friend and the damage became irrevocable. Too late, I remembered the words of Proverbs 26:20 “Without wood a fire goes out; without a gossip a quarrel dies down” (NIV).
There was nothing I could do to prevent the fire once it spread, but I realized I could stop lighting the brush pile. I began by apologizing to those I had gossiped to, as well as to the friend I had gossiped about, and asked their forgiveness. Then I closed my lips and wrote in my journal. Pages and pages of sorrow scribbled on pages no one but God could (or should) hear. Slowly, the fire died.
FIND A MENTOR
Though it may seem that confiding in a mentor contradicts the above point, it does not. One trusted mentor is worth more than 10 untrusted acquaintances. It’s important to find someone who can be objective; not only someone who will listen to you, but also to whom you will listen! Pouring out our troubles day after day without taking in any wisdom in return is not helpful. We need to be prepared for our fault in the issue at hand to be exposed. We need to be prepared to learn with a humble heart.
Whether it is a sister, an older woman, spouse, pastor, or counselor, finding a trusted voice to lean on can be immensely helpful when our emotions are everywhere. In our small town, I couldn’t find someone who was not closely connected to the issue, so I eventually found a counselor in the city who walked me through the pain.
FORGIVE AND FIND PEACE
Perhaps the hardest hurdle for me to overcome was forgiving the hurts and offenses that had accumulated as the friendship fell apart. I wrestled with forgiving when I felt it was I who had been poorly treated and misunderstood. Forgiveness seemed impossible and unfair, yet I knew I needed to be obedient to Scripture.
I learned some important lessons as I journeyed down the road of forgiveness. Firstly, it is exactly that—a journey! Forgiveness is both a choice and a process. Once I chose to forgive, I realized I needed to choose it over and over again. Each day, I had to repeat the decision to forgive the hurt. Some days, I made great progress; other days, I simply lay in the middle of the road like roadkill, but, bit by bit, the journey to forgiveness became complete.
Forgiveness means cancelling the debt that was owed to you. You may have been wrongly treated. You may have been slighted. It does not mean the offender’s sins are forgiven because our forgiveness is not the same as God’s forgiveness. When I forgive someone, I am not removing their sin from them; I am not washing them clean; I am not calling them righteous. Only God can do that. But in forgiveness, I choose to let God deal with the matter. I hand over my hurt rather than carrying the burden it becomes.
Forgiveness can be a huge hurdle to overcome when we think we are innocent. But a quick view in the mirror shows us that we are also in desperate need of forgiveness. Colossians 3:13 tells us, “if one has a complaint against another, forgive[ing] each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” God has been generous and good to me, and because of this, I can forgive someone who has not been generous and good to me.
Forgiveness does not, however, mean reconciliation! Though I prayed for reconciliation, I did not find it compulsory in Scripture. What was compulsory was forgiveness and making an effort to live at peace, and this became my new goal as I navigated the messy waters of this broken friendship.
Though forgiveness is not optional, choosing to re-enter a relationship which has not experienced full forgiveness or true repentance is not wise. Until this occurs in both parties, there will always be limits in how you will be able to interact with each other. Wisdom now requires carefully drawing a boundary around your fragile heart.
A good boundary is never put there for the purpose of hurting others—though it may feel like it. Instead, it protects both parties from further damage, including the one who hurt and the one who was hurt. This may mean cutting off social media ties, attending a new church, or finding a new group of friends.
If you have not grown up with the concept of boundaries, it can take some time to acquaint yourself with the strange feeling of saying “no.” You may feel guilty at first. Pray and ask God for wisdom on where you need to draw your boundaries and rely on His Word when others try to make you feel guilty. James writes that “if any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault….” (James 1:5, NIV).
Over and over again in Scripture, we see examples of boundaries being established as a means of protection. God often set out boundaries for how and where His people should live—a template and framework for living in healthy relationships. Even the Promised Land had boundaries the Israelites were expected to observe.
KEEP THE DOOR UNLOCKED
While boundaries are healthy, walls are not. Walls are essentially prisons keeping those inside trapped and afraid of getting hurt again. A boundary is more like a fence with a gate. The fence is used to keep predators out, but the gate allows you to invite someone in. When we set a boundary in a relationship, we may not be able to open the gate for a long time—not until there is an adequate amount of growth and healing—but there is at least an option to do so when, or if, that day comes.
Keeping the gate unlocked means we live with the hope of reconciliation while simultaneously contending with the reality it may never happen on this side of heaven. It also means we never assume the relationship is dead. Jesus came to bring life and healing; He is the Author of reconciliation and is always at work. When we assume someone won’t change, we undermine the work Christ is doing in their heart and are guilty of judging what we do not know. Keeping the door unlocked means keeping our hearts soft, ready to reconcile the moment the opportunity arises.
Wisdom often comes with a price. Though I wish I could undo many decisions in my life, I also acknowledge God uses each and every painful circumstance to grow us. While I grieve the loss of that friendship, I also give thanks that God used it to draw me nearer, to mold me into His image, and to teach me the value and beauty of relationships when they honor Him.
If you are walking down this road today, please know there is hope for healing and redemption. While we must hold the outcome loosely in our hand, we can hold on tightly to His arm and to the promises He gives to be with us every step of the way.
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