Mending Friendships: The Story of Past, Present, and Future
When a conflict arises, as you have just stated, the accompanying feelings are usually anger and hurt. When misunderstanding or disagreement occurs, at first, neither person may be willing to make things right. Then perhaps one person will make an effort, but the other refuses. There appears to be nothing more to say or do. There can be a deadlock and as you said, friendship may be destroyed. Because problems will always crop up, even in the best of relationships, it is important to make some pre-conflict decisions that will help your relationships withstand difficulties.
Ephesians 4:26: tells us not to let the sun go down on our anger. II Cor. 5:18 tells us to be ministers of reconciliation. How can we be able to do that if we cannot or will not reconcile with a friend?
Even though we know these truths, human beings are not perfect. We forget God’s Word, or under stress, we may decide not to heed it. Some of us not only refuse to heed it during conflict, but some of us will also not heed it afterwards. Matthew 5:25 commands us to reconcile with a brother before we can give a gift at the altar. According to God, mending a break in a friendship is serious business.
Years ago, a friend offended me. We made a few efforts to solve our differences, but our resolutions did not hold up long. I did not want to be hurt any more, so eventually, I backed away. From time to time, she would call me for lunch. I chatted with her, but I delayed accepting her invitations. I told myself that I was just not ready.” However, God’s Word says, “Be doers of the Word, not merely listeners of it.” (James 1:22) Finally one day I realized that, under God, I must open up and step up. Besides, I loved and missed her. I called her and we worked it all out. In fact, our friendship is better than ever. When I saw how powerfully God worked, I regretted that I let myself drift. Many precious memories were lost because I did not step up to mending.
A few years later, another friend and I had a misunderstanding. The same cycle of avoidance began. However, this time I asked forgiveness for my mistakes and was ready to forgive her and move forward. I trusted that both of us could remember the lessons we had learned and could rebuild, but she would not respond. After I contacted her several times, she still refused to respond. She still has not. She let herself get caught in the same trap that I had... She let fear get the best of her, causing her heart to be blocked.
Having been on both sides of the fence, I would like to offer several suggestions that may help you and your friend resolve your differences and heal your friendship.
First, when someone offends you, it is OK to feel any emotion you need to feel. Just do not let the emotions rule. Be mad for a little while, feel the hurt, confusion, or rejection, but find a cut-off point for every bad feeling. It is like putting a period at the end of a sentence. Enough anger is enough. Enough hurt is enough. Enough fear is enough. However, there is never too much love. You just cannot say ‘enough love’ and put a period there. When we resist love, we are resisting the one thing we will never have enough of. None of us can afford to resist love when it is offered.
Second, when someone hurts us, self-protection can become more important than anything else. We often are willing to do whatever we can to protect our heart, even deliberately disobey God. We may threaten, shame, or withdraw. We may even decide to hate to protect our heart. However, we cannot resolve conflict when that is the case. When we refuse to forgive and work toward resolution, our attitude is not godly.
Sometimes we are not willing to take a risk. We do not want to put emotional energy into trying again. Many marriages, as well as friendships, have ended because of the fear of future hurt, which is the greatest deterrent to renewal. Self-protection can hold many a heart hostage for life. It is a selfish position.
Third, if we are going to have enduring friendships, we must fully accept the fact that nobody is perfect. I would rather have love from an imperfect person who may carelessly hurt me than not have the love at all. Those are our choices: Love from someone who may hurt us, or not have love at all. Love is always worth the risk. You may have to work hard on a relationship. Changes may have to take place, but as long as both parties are willing to work with God, the possibilities and blessings are endless.
Fourth, the desire to be right can keep us stuck. If that is the case, ask yourself: “Would I rather be right or love or be loved? Your choice will not only affect the relationship that has been damaged, but the effects of your decision will spill over into every relationship that you have, for good or for harm.
Fifth, if you have a friend who refuses to be open, it may be that she is giving in to the temptation to punish you. If your conscience is clear before God and you have made the effort, you are under no obligation to receive the punishment. A person who punishes is not ready to let love rule. Although all things are possible with God, all friendships that are broken will not be fixed because each person involved may not choose to make the effort. This is a reality you may have to face.
Here are good questions to ask yourself:
Am I wrong and do I need to own my mistake?
Is there a lesson to be learned?
Do I know the scriptural teaching regarding the current issue?
Will I change my behavior in the future?
If the other person will not resolve the conflict, will I try more than once?
If that person continues to refuse renewal of my relationship, will I look for someone else who needs my love, or will I let my heart be frozen?
I pray that you and your friend will be willing to settle the conflicts and mend your friendship. Your concern indicates that you are willing and ready. Do all that our Father leads you to do. If there is a mending, both you and your friend will be blessed.
If there is not, go forth with your new wisdom and your hand outstretched. Ignore the fists that are tightly closed. Take the courage and offer love to those who are out there just waiting for you. Do not stay stuck. Do not let your heart become frozen. Think of all the love that is yet to be given and received. Look outward and embrace with your whole heart.
Copyright Lynda D. Elliott 2023