As someone who feels particularly called to women’s ministry, I am a little ashamed to admit that during my years as an adult I have had a number of catastrophic fallings out with friends. Despite my belief that this behavior was supposed to have ended in high school, some of my biggest blow-ups have occurred since graduating college.
After every one of those fights I was sure we would never be friends again! Forgiveness was one thing, but friendship? Never! That is why I was surprised when I recently realized that every single one of these friendships has been reconciled. That is not to say that we’re now BFF’s, and none of these reconciliations happened in a dramatic or super-intentional way. Yet over time, slowly and gently, God worked behind the scenes to heal my heart and heal the relationship.
A few of these friends never even knew that there was ever brokenness between us. At least not to the extent I felt it. I had nursed a secret bitterness toward them because of actions that I thought were aimed at hurting me, even though I can never really be sure that they were. Amazingly, God changed my heart and I consider some of them to be among my closest friends today!
These series of events therefore raise an important question for us as Christians: How are we to respond when a friendship ends? Do we simply go our separate ways, avoid them at church or school, and move on with our lives? There used to be a part of me that was ok with this response. As long as you had forgiven the person, everything else seemed extra and unnecessary.
However I have since reconsidered this position, and my primary reason is this: Our witness as the church is at stake. In John 13:34-35 Jesus exhorts the disciples, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Put another way, our identity as the people of God is to be marked by a radical love that is unlike anything the world has seen. It is to be different. It is to be illogical. It is to be shocking.
That said, when a friend hurts or betrays us, we are to respond in a way that is definitively different from the world’s response. We do more than forgive. We embrace. And in so doing, we testify to the redeeming power of our God. We show the world that our talk of God as a healer is not just lip-service but a reality. Our love for one another makes the unconditional love of God more believable to the world. Through us, they get a taste of a love they never thought possible.
What does this mean practically speaking? Well it doesn’t mean you cover over the offense, and I don’t even think it means that reconciliation must occur immediately. The last thing God wants is a superficial obedience without a heart change. Nor does it mean we must return to being as close to the person as we used to be. What Jesus’ words do require is an openness toward reconciliation, whenever that time comes. It could take years, but it won’t happen at all if you’re not open to it.
One of the ways that God helped me to forgive and reconcile with friends was to realize their own brokenness. Whenever someone hurts me, I feel like I am the victim and they are the one in power, using their power to injure me. However God softened my heart and turned this perspective on its head by helping me to see the ways in which these former friends suffer and struggle in life. In fact, it was those very insecurities or wounds that often caused them to treat me the way that they did. By leveling the playing field and remembering that we’re all broken humans clumsily trying to follow Christ, God helped me to see these ex-friends the way He does: Sinners desperately in need of grace. It didn’t happen over night, but it happened.
That is why I encourage you to open your heart to the friends you want to forget. No matter how great the sin against you, consider how you can exemplify Jesus’ words in John 13. I’m not going to prescribe what steps you should take or what that reconciliation looks like–every situation is different. Simply let Jesus’ words be true of your life. Do you love in a way that is shocking, radical, and irrational to the world around you? How might God be softening your heart to love that person again? How might He be changing the way you see them, or giving you an opportunity to reach out and change the ending?