When Friendship Hurts
Life is fragile… and fickle. Our sense of confidence or certainty can be fatally undone with just one phone call, one ‘routine’ trip to the doctors’, one knock at the door. Christians talk about the importance of trusting in Jesus and how this will allow us to weather the storms of life without the emotional rise and fall that others experience. Truth be told, though, this isn’t achieved once-and-for-all-time, but is something we keep working towards, keep aspiring to. Our practise often needs to catch up with our theory; our doing with our knowing.
I had an experience recently where one text message blindsided me. It rocked me internally and my initial response wasn’t one of grace and serene trust, but of confusion, of anger and of – dare I use the ‘D’ word? - disappointment.
It’s one thing for events and circumstances to unfold in unforeseen or undesirable ways, but there feels to be more of an impact when the disappointment is caused by someone, rather than something. It’s more personal and can feel like betrayal.
How should we respond in those situations? What difference does the Gospel make in the mix and the mess of life in a broken world, where others’ ‘room for improvement’ is so glaringly obvious?
Below are some steps we could usefully take in navigating these times.
Pause and pray
In moments of confusion or pain, the worst thing we can do is determine that right there and then is the moment to make final conclusions about what’s happened or how you should respond. Pray that God would guard your heart. Confess, in real terms, your confusion and current uncertainty. Tell God how events have initially landed with you, and ask him to lead you and guide you through.
King David knew disappointment, and records his own struggle with a sense of betrayal in Psalm 55. He offers great encouragement: God hears!
Evening, morning and noon I cry out in distress, and he hears my voice. (verse 17)
Pray, assured that God hears your confused anguish. Further, choose trust in that moment; give the situation to God, recognising it’s too big and too much for you to carry alone. David goes on to write:
Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous be shaken. (verse 22)
That’s right – the God who created you and has saved you by his grace will not let you suffer fatal harm. That’s not a guarantee of exemption from the pangs and pinches of life; nor is it a denial that other people’s behaviour adversely impacts us at times, but it’s a recognition that this current situation won’t define you in the ultimate sense. It won’t affect your standing before God or your eternal destiny.
"...the God who created you and has saved you by his grace will not let you suffer fatal harm."
Resist the urge to respond
You’ve probably heard the wisdom of those who have learnt the hard way: Don’t respond to an email (or phone call/message/Facebook post…even a face to face conversation) whilst you’re angry, hurt, confused, etc. Just resist. In that moment, when emotions are running high, you are at your greatest risk of adding paraffin to the fire.
Here’s the struggle, though: You might be entirely right in what you say. Every word could be accurate, yet you could still fall foul of acting in the right way. My Dad once used a phrase that’s stuck with me: ‘It’s possible to remain right but cease to be righteous’. The way you respond – what’s going on in your heart – has potential to undo your claims to having dealt with things in the right way, even if what you say or the position you hold is, objectively, ‘right’.
Sit with the discomfort and apparent injustice at least until you’ve had chance to process a little.
It’s possible to remain right but cease to be righteous
Get over yourself
As long as you feel hard done to or the victim of someone else’s behaviour, or as long as you choose a ‘poor me’ attitude, you’ll struggle to be able to view events rationally or objectively. If you can find the courage to step out of your own shoes for a moment, and think about why the other person has done what they’ve done, you might find yourself strangely sympathising with them. Note – this is different from pitying them. To pity someone reflects an ‘I’m above you’ kind of attitude, but to sympathise – even empathise with them is humble. It reflects a willingness to get into their shoes and to understand their behaviour as best you’re able.
To do so is a courageous thing. Let’s be honest, it’s self-soothing to hold on to the ‘I’ve been wronged’ card. We enjoy the pity we direct towards ourselves and can elicit from others when we’ve been wronged or hurt. It’s comfortable. But if we want to work towards appropriate reconciliation and forgiveness at some point, we’re going to need to begin to let go of those things. Why not make that choice now? It may take some time to make it stick, anyway.
Fact check everything!
Our human minds are hardwired toward self-preservation and have an incredible capacity to catastrophise to achieve this. If there is any gap in the story, any data that’s missing, your brain will likely fill in the blanks by imagining every worst-case scenario and every possible negative motive or inference there could be. If you’re not aware of this and don’t proactively manage it, you can find yourself responding to a scenario that’s in part the negative creation of your mildly paranoid thought-life.
If there are things that don’t stack up or you find yourself filling in gaps, take the step of speaking to the other person. Healthy communication and clarification of issues defuses a lot of potential conflict and might spare you unnecessary heartache.
In the event that you’re absolutely right and vindicated in your own position and response, there remains the possibility that this moment can yet be one in which you learn. In his plan for your growth, God may use situations like this to reveal attitudes of your heart that he wants to challenge. If you have the integrity and bravery to ask God ‘Is there something I need to learn through this?’, a situation which seemed filled with pain and struggle can become an instrument of grace and growth.
It could be that God shows you that you are too bothered by how people perceive and regard you, or that you are trusting more in relationships with others than in God himself, or that there is an issue of pride or unteachable-ness or… [fill in the blank that applies to you, the ones I’ve mentioned are things God has shown me over the years].
Be brave; seize the moment and lean into God’s refining work of you, even through what presents as an awful, even unfair situation.
When you read Psalm 55, what stands out to you? Take a moment to think of any times when you’ve been hurt by someone, the sting of which was amplified by the relationship you have with them. Could it be that you need to process, grieve and forgive? Could it be that you need the Spirit’s help to ask the brave question of how God might use this for your growth?