“So when they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon, son of John, do You love Me…'” –John 21:15
Now, moving forward doesn’t mean pretending to be besties who swap Christmas cards and say “you’re wonderful!” all the time. In some cases, when the relationship has become a life-altering hindrance to your obedience to God and leads to death, then the “flee like Joseph did from sin” kind of letting go may be exactly what needs to happen. In those instances, it may actually be the loving thing to do for their sake and wise for you.
But love does not necessarily mean to drop your friend. More often than we care to admit, the next step means you stay in it and fight for restored relationship. For example, in John 21 when we look at Jesus’ interaction post “called it” betrayal (and for that matter, “called it” resurrection!), we see Him pursuing a bitterly sorrowful, greatly humbled Peter right where he’s at, inviting him back into relationship and to move forward again.
Does that mean you’ll receive a heart-warming “I’m sorry” from this friend who hurt you? You may. You very well might not. Remember, you let go of your rights (including to an apology) when you forgave and cancelled his or her debt before God on the basis of the cross of Christ.
Does that mean you must have a heart-to-heart with your friend to clear the air? Again, maybe, but not necessarily.
So then what? I suggest that you keep praying about the relationship and for the person before God, and let God define the relationship. If you need to, give yourself some distance for a short time to regroup. What do I mean by that? Perhaps go off the social radar for a bit, maybe don’t share quite as much of your heart, choose not to go to that event, don’t send that text – remember, these are only ideas. Then, be intentional with that time to pursue God instead and let Him heal your heart in the process.
Now, this also isn’t license to avoid the person like they have the plague either! Often, it’s all too easy to deal with your friend superficially and try to just “fix it” or get over it. Don’t let yourself cave in to the easy out! Stay engaged and do the work of a God-made reconciler. Just give yourself space to do what you need to do to get your heart straight before God and back in a place where you can love your friend well.
Love Enough to Let Go
Now, if love/care is relational currency, then trust is what backs the value of that currency. If the trust bank is low or empty, the love/care currency is devalued (including words and other loving expressions). Trust is built over time as that person demonstrates their character and integrity, and you experience and collect these positive interactions over time. It’s tested. Initially, you choose to trust without the benefit of all these experiences (remember that whole “love is risk” thing?), but as the relationship goes on and your commitment to one another grows deeper, typically, there are more trust deposits to back it up. These deposits provide a sense of security and stability for further, future relational growth.
So, when small offenses, big relational wounds, or major trauma occur, it affects your trust bank. Even when you forgive the offender, it doesn’t automatically replenish the trust bank with them, and it shouldn’t. You both need to start afresh, refilling it slowly, steadily over time. And it’s possible that as more offenses occur, although you may forgive them each time, the balance of your trust bank can become dangerously close to bankrupt.
I think that’s why when our friends consistently don’t meet our expectations, actions become so important to us. When our trust wanes but our desire for what we enjoyed in that friendship persists, it’s downright unsettling. We end up scrutinizing our friend’s actions because we’re attempting to regain our relational footing by finding some sort of clue to know where they’re really coming from. It’s difficult because you want a certain kind of relationship, and it’s hurtful when it appears like he or she is always failing you.
So what then?
Put Your Trust in a Different Account
I love how John puts it when describing Jesus in John 2:23-25:
“…many believed in His name, observing His signs which He was doing. But Jesus, on His part, was not entrusting Himself to them, for He knew all men, and because He did not need anyone to testify concerning man, for He Himself know what was in man.”
So what did Jesus do instead? Did He safeguard Himself by avoiding relationships and intimacy like the plague? No, instead,
“…while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.” (1 Peter 2:23b-24, emphasis mine)
In order to move forward and grow in loving others, we have to put our trust in God alone to care for our hearts and our needs.
We have to take responsibility for our hearts in relationships, being honest about our needs, wants, and expectations (realistic and unrealistic) and realizing that even the best relationship cannot meet all of these things all of the time. They have needs, wants, and expectations we don’t and can’t meet either. Only God can love us perfectly. He is the Friend Who never leaves, never betrays, always listens, always responds to our messages, and is always ready to hang out at any time or place – you name it. What wonderful news! What a tremendous freedom that gives us!
God’s perfect love for us means that we can entrust ourselves to Him as we wisely love others regardless of what we do or don’t get out of it. By embracing the love and friendship we receive from Christ, we are free to release our friends from the demands of our expectations and allow them space to exercise their God-given freedom to make their own choices. We can’t control what they do or don’t do, especially not as it impacts us, but we can take responsibility for our own actions by letting go and entrusting ourselves and our friend to God.
And Christ, Who alone knows what’s truly in the heart of every man and woman, will be our stability, grounding us as we engage in relationships with imperfect people just like us. So we don’t have to manage our relationships from a place of fear, but we can enjoy our friendships from a place of being profoundly loved by Christ, daily strengthened by Him in our beautiful, God-given desire to pursue relationship.
Let Jesus Make You a Constant Friend
“…But there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” –Proverbs 18:24
When you were once really close to a friend, and you aren’t anymore, it’s hard to know even how to be in the relationship. You’re used to acting in a certain way (and expecting a certain response), and it’s natural to default to that. I get that. But it’s as we allow God to make us friends who exude the same kind of faithfulness and constancy He does, He will use us as a huge channel to demonstrate His faithful love to our friends.
By pursuing restored relationship in obedience to God, we surrender ourselves as vessels for His use to be poured into so that He can nourish the lives of others – exactly what Jesus did for us! It’s that kind of love, God’s faithful love, that creates a beautiful context for real transformation to occur in and through us by the power of God’s Holy Spirit. It may take time, but God is faithful to every work He begins.
So getting really practical, how can we walk this out? Well first, you have to accept what is. Again, don’t foolishly turn a blind eye or refuse to acknowledge the situation for fear of change or in trying to be “nice” or loving. If you do that in light of significant hurt, you’ll just continue walking in self-deception and leave yourself open for further hurt and anger, which can lead you further down a scary, sinful road of resentment, unforgiveness, and bitterness that will kill your heart and your relationships with God and others not even involved.
Jesus tells us that you’ll know a tree by it’s fruit, and that it’s out of the heart the mouth speaks (Luke 6:43-45). As a result, you’ll know something about a person by simply paying attention and trusting the Holy Spirit to advise you. So, in your new interactions going forward, be wisely observant of your friend.
Does that mean overthink every silence or throat clearing or possible eye twitch for a sign it’s time to throw them overboard?
No, no. Relax. Simply be wise and pay attention.
Does that mean wait until just the right time for them to screw up so you can say, “Aha!” and then drop the hammer?
So okay… I’m being silly to make a point: Don’t our emotions tend to lead us to blow things out of proportion? Sure there are times when our reactions are totally legitimate, but sometimes we’re so freaked out about being hurt again that we go off into hyperdrive response mode when it comes to our friend’s behavior.
You also have to be willing to accept your friend as is and graciously receive the kind of relationship they can offer from where they’re at, patiently supporting them in the journey God has them on. Accept the truth of where your relationship is at, and ask God for wisdom to help you adjust to this new circumstance. He will ready you to experience the new life He wants to bring into your friendship. With the Holy Spirit as your Guide, you may need to reset your boundaries (reevaluating what you’re willing to give and accept within this new context). But know you’ll definitely need to make a fresh commitment denying yourself and unselfishly loving the other person through Christ’s strength.
So don’t hesitate. Trust God and begin taking those steps down the road of reconciliation today. He’ll be with you through the process and bring you a whole new freedom in relationships to love like you never thought possible.