I noticed a long time ago that there are heaps of books and blogs devoted to helping us navigate the troubled waters of dating, marriage, and family relationships, but no one is telling us how to steer through the rocky seas of wounded friendships.
How do we handle the awkwardness that arises over a broken friendship?
How do we mend a rift over a misunderstanding?
How do we overcome hurts without calling it quits?
While an incredible blessing genuine friendships are but let’s be real…they can also be flat-out frustrating sometimes! Whenever people are in relationships of any kind, conflicts arise. Some are petty, and some are grand. The reality is this, for relationships to endure and thrive for the long run, we must be people who extend grace and forgiveness to one another.
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved … Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. –Colossians 3:12-13 NIV
In Colossians 3, Paul makes a distinction between “bearing with each other” and “forgiving each other.” Bearing with one another is handling each other’s faults with grace and dealing with petty annoyances with patience. In friendship, we will recognize quirks in each other’s personalities that may cause frustration, but in these moments, we must choose to “bear with one another.” This is the essence of a grace-filled friendship.
Grace-filled friendships are a must! Goodness, gracious, we all deal with crazy hormones, sleep deprivation, overwhelmed schedules, constant demands and endless to-do lists. The last thing we need is demanding friendships that can’t extend a sister a little grace when she’s struggling to keep her head above water.
“Too many good relationships fade because of some snub—real or imagined. Some people pout, brood, or blow up if their friend is not speedy enough in returning a phone call or if they are not included in a social event. They set such high standards for the relationship that they’re constantly being disappointed. They can’t let little things go. Every minor lapse becomes a major offense.”– A Good Friend by Les and Leslie Parrott
Grace-filled friendships are ones that don’t expect others to look, to act, and to think exactly the same. This means that we recognize that each person has a way of operating and responding that is different from our own. “Bearing with one” another means we let petty annoyances roll off our backs, and putting on the Christ-like virtues of humility, gentleness and patience.
Humility extends grace because it has the mindset that says, “it’s not about me.” A humble person doesn’t always expect everything to go her way. Gentleness extends grace with a controlled tongue. When tempted to lash out at annoyances or point out another’s faults, gentleness will “bear with each other” with patience and will not be easily angered.
I once had a friend who would get mad at me because I responded to situations differently than she would. It dawned on me that she was angry because I wasn’t like her. I was an extrovert and she an introvert. I was a quick decision maker and she was a slow decision maker. I was spontaneous and she was calculated. True, our differences could be frustrating, but instead of embracing the fact that God wired us differently, I felt like she expected me to conform to her personality. This was not a grace-filled friendship.
While grace is for annoyances, forgiveness is for offenses. Offenses are the actions that hurt us (intentionally or unintentionally). In a Christian’s life, forgiveness is not optional. Jesus said in Matthew 6:14-15, “If you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”
As forgiven people, God expects us to release the offenses of others just as we have been released from our own debt of sin. In addition, Colossians 3:13 says we are to “forgive as we have been forgiven.” I like to think of this as meeting the offender at the foot of the cross. When I place the cross before me and recognize my own sin, my own faults, and the many times that I have failed to be a Christ-like friend, then it is easier for me to extend that forgiveness to another.
Let’s get real for a second. Forgiveness is for real offenses—the times when a person has wronged us or hurt us. If we are easily wounded and find ourselves continually at odds with friends, then we may be harboring unrealistic expectations and unhealed wounds. People will fail us and will not always meet our expectations of them. Having said this, forgiveness is for when we’ve been wronged, not just disappointed.
How do we recognize when we need to forgive? Here are few questions to ask:
- Do you harbor ill feelings towards anyone?
- Do you rehearse speeches that you would like to give to this person?
- Do you replay the offense in your mind?
- Is trust broken in the friendship? What offense broke that trust?
- Is it difficult to open up and share with this friend? When did this begin?
- Has a friendship ended without reconciliation? Why?
More than likely, after reading these questions, you recognize someone that you need to forgive. Now what? Pray! In prayer, express to Jesus how the offense hurt you and damaged your friendship. Visualize your friend at the foot of the cross and extend to her the same forgiveness that Christ has given to you. While you may not feel differently immediately or easily forget the wrong, there is power in forgiveness!
A word of caution: we must always forgive, but forgiveness does not always guarantee reconciliation. Reconciliation requires a repentant heart on the part of the friend who has done the wounding.
Forgiveness does not always bring reconciliation. If we choose to forgive our friend, but she continues her behavior or refuses to acknowledge the pain she’s caused, reconciliation may not happen. Reconciliation often requires repentance or changed behavior. If a friend wrongs you and does not repent, meaning she doesn’t name the offense and behave differently to avoid committing the same offense again, you must figure out what God would have you to do. If the offense seems pretty severe, the friendship may be compromised or you may decide to move it to a different “basket.” (Category of friendship) Do pray about the situation, perhaps even talking about it with a counselor or writing out your thoughts. You might even take the risk of telling your friend that her lack of repentance seems to be coming between you and her.
–Grown Up Girlfriends
As stated many times before, it is far easier to see other’s offenses but not as easy to recognize our own. If you have a friendship on the rocks, ask God to show you if you need to ask forgiveness for your part in the conflict. Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal any words, actions, or neglect that have contributed to the discord. Once again, humility and gentleness are required to own our sin and seek forgiveness when we’ve hurt another.
Forgiveness is the only way friendships can endure. Without this Christ-like virtue, we will be women who nurse grudges, entertain bitterness and walk away easily when hurt. How better to show the world the love of Christ than to reach out with forgiveness when you’ve been wronged—to show the unconditional love of Jesus to the girl who gossiped about you or to extend mercy to the one who betrayed you. Forgiveness evidences a supernatural love and grace that can only come from God above.
One of Jesus’ closest friends, the Apostle Peter, concluded his letter to the early church with these words, “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” (1 Peter 4:8 NIV)
No one understands the grace and forgiveness of Christ better than Peter. After all, it was Peter who denied Jesus. And in the end, Jesus forgave Peter and welcomed him back into fellowship. How fitting then that Peter would teach us the vital connection between love and forgiveness.
Each one of us has been forgiven by our best friend, Jesus Christ. In response to His grace, take this moment to prayerfully consider any bitterness or anger that is still lodged in your heart towards a friend and release this person to Jesus.
Marian Jordan Ellis
*For further reading on this topic, check out The Girlfriends Guidebook