There is an art to losing a friendship. It’s never a painless process, but it does expose the ugly parts of your soul.
I’m not talking about losing a friendship because of youth-group-driven conviction that the character of your closet friend is “not Christian.” Nor am I condemning that type of advice given by youth pastors. I believe wholeheartedly that bad company ruins good morals. I’m talking about a friendship that drifts apart through distance, or because of a vocational change.
Many of us enter adulthood with an innocent optimism that our close childhood friends will be the same ones that we hold into adulthood. During youthful days, I collected friends like a sock in the desert collects cockleburs. Life was easy, and friends were the heartbeat of my social life. However, things quickly change. A vocational change led to a move, and some of those cockleburs fell off.
Nobody is at fault for these things. God led my family elsewhere. However, I soon realized that many of the friends I thought to be “life-long” were transient. It is a strange thing to think, “I’ll probably never talk to that person again.” Not out of malice or ill-will, but because you know that you’re not going to call, and they’re not going to either. Losing friends is a process that draws out the deep waters of the soul, and I thought it helpful to write about the process of losing friends and doing it gracefully.
Losing friends is an outworking of our creaturely limitations. We can only maintain a limited amount of relationships where there is mutual encouragement and joy. Human existence is limited by temporality, meaning that you will not have time to give to your family, keep up with your responsibilities, and get coffee with 5 different people every week. Thinking otherwise is foolish. I have been through periods of life where I was trying to keep up with too many friends. Instead of being a source of joy, the friendships quickly became burdens, which helped nobody. You have a finite amount of time. Steward it well.
However, that doesn’t mean that Christians should see the shedding of friendships as inherently negative. Old relationships will peter out so that one has time to make new friends. God places us in certain spaces and times for certain seasons. It is wise to recognize the changing of one season for another. New graces come with new friendships, and friendships of the past can shrink into the background so that God can shape and mold through new ones.
However, as the years pass, there will be friendships that deserve to last a lifetime. Identify the friendships that you cannot lose, and make those a priority. I know that a 10-minute conversation a month can keep the embers of a previous friendship warm. When God brings chances to re-kindle old friendships, these warm embers will fan into flame quickly. When God brings permanent friends who stick closer than siblings, recognize them, and tend the fire.
The insidious temptations that come with losing friendships depend on the role you played in the relationship. Were you always the one reaching out? If you were the driving engine behind a friendship, and it dies, the temptation is to feel resentment or bitterness. “I reached out all those times, why haven’t they reached out at all?” These are constant thoughts that I have to fight off, naturally being one who likes to plan gatherings with friends. Put these thoughts to death, and replace them with renewed care for the people who are in your life now.
If you were the one who never reached out, but always responded to invitations, the temptation is to feel neglected and left out. “Doesn’t she care about me anymore?” It is painful to find yourself on the outside of the inner ring. You may find yourself forgotten and lonely. Put these thoughts to death, and replace them with charitable thoughts about your former friends.
Have you ever considered the implications of friendship with Jesus? (John 15:15) Jesus calls us His friends after telling us to abide in Him, and promising that He will do the same (John 15:4). For fear of sounding too emotive, friendship with Jesus is not a common topic of Christian discussion. Like looking through frosted glass, all earthly friendships yearn for the intimacy of this friendship. The sweet communion that saints have with Jesus is the anti-type for all earthly friendships, which is why when Christian friendships die, it is painful.
However, the fact that all friendships prefigure friendship with Jesus means that eternality will remove time’s restricting walls. The eternal now will allow saints to know Jesus as well as each other without sin, there will be a deep and abiding joy. It will mean the end of vocational moves across the country, the death of relational rifts, and transient friendships, and all friendships with saints will last with unceasing duration and joy.