There are few things more painful than when Christian friendships go wrong. I have thought about this a lot over the years as I have had my share of friendships that have gone up in flames like they were doused with gasoline.
Does this resonate with you?
No matter how many times it has happened to me, the pain has never gotten easier.
I think part of the reason that it hurts so much is because, right or wrong, we have this quiet expectation we share about how other believers should act with each other. So often, we are let down when those expectations are broken. We feel they should be the safest people in our circle, and for good reason- they should be!
Unfortunately though, how people should act and how they do act, are not the same. So how do we handle this when it happens? What should we learn from these moments?
First, we must be careful to recognize that on the other end of the broken relationship is another real person, like you, who had expectations broken and a nature of sin present within them that affected the relationship. I have to remind myself of this because often there are no easy answers to why someone hurt me or why I hurt someone else.
Yes, I included myself because quite often, I am just as guilty of the rift, even if I don’t want to own that. We are redeemed sinners as Jesus reminds us in Mark 2:17, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” I am not any more innocent than the other person (Matthew 7:3) even if I am more injured by the relationship. I have to do the hard work and reflect on how or if my actions could have negatively affected the friendship. When I find that I share the problem, I have to own it and apologize. I know that I bring baggage to every friendship I enter. When I keep that before me, I am less likely to respond as a victim and far more capable of being compassionate to the person who hurt me. By considering how our own baggage intersects relationships, we can remember this happens to others too. Often, the pain inflicted by the other party has to do with relational history unrelated to you and I.
If somebody has in fact done wrong to me, then I am called to act in accordance with the principles and instructions laid out in Scripture. It is never acceptable or appropriate to gossip or malign another person because of relationship injury. On the contrary 1 Peter 3:9 tells us, “Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.” Sometimes however, I have to recognize that not every offense is intentional! I had a teacher in seminary one time that brought up something I wrote and openly disagreed with it. No one but him and I knew what happened but I was instantly hurt. When our eyes met, I could see he instantly regretted it. I know his intention wasn’t to offend me, he just disagreed with something I had written. I had to just make peace with it and move forward. Things like that happen all the time. People don’t always know or mean to hurt us so when it happens, grace should lead our decisions.
Second, I try to remember everyone has a present story. There are people hurting all over the world with pain and suffering that they are trying to navigate and manage every day. These circumstances bleed over all areas of their lives and unintentionally stress relationships, as the saying goes “hurting people, hurt people!” We once had a neighbor throw a bunch of items we accidentally placed slightly over our property line. The items were in our combined woods and had been there for years. We never had an issue with him other than that time. I don’t know what was going on in his private life, but I know something was bothering him to respond the way that he did. We were wrong by having it on his land, even if it was an accident, but his response was uncommon for him. It showed that something other than a small section of pallets and flower pots was bothering him.
Third, I am reminded of the incredible power of forgiveness and the purpose of restoration. I know that I can’t control how another person treats me, only how I respond. I can, by God’s grace forgive because I have been forgiven. This may not always restore a relationship but it does allow for restoration to happen. Sometimes by forgiving, in spite of being wronged, the other person’s conscience is softened. Depending on the wrong, there may still be a need for boundaries but restoration has begun.
Forgiveness allows the chains of the offense to fall away from us, freeing us from the bondage it inflicted.
Finally, I know that I am most like Jesus when I forgive people who hurt and do wrong to me. I often let that truth be a balm to my hurting heart. The Gospel is so precious because through it we understand what love and forgiveness looks like and understand that often there is a cost to forgive and love. It also keeps us grounded as we remember that we have been forgiven for far greater crimes and wrongs than what has happened to us. From there we can leave our hurt and pains at the cross and let the Lord be both our comforter and vindicator. By allowing who we are in Christ to be our identity, neither the hurt we cause or what was done to us have the power to overwhelm us. It is not that the offense goes away but rather that the Gospel covers it.
How we treat others and how we are treated, matters to God. If no one else knows what happened, we can have peace knowing He does. He knows the intention of our hearts and its brokenness- that truth has helped me to move forward even when restoration didn’t happen. As long as I have honored the Lord in how I managed the relationship after everything went wrong, I can let go. That is a powerful thing.
So where are you right now friend?
Whether you are the offender or the offended, here is what I would say- love Jesus and His glory more than your wounds and sin. He certainly loved us far more than ours. Forgive, confess and repent wherever it is needed. If you can’t get there now, pray that the Lord will move in your heart to do so.
“So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” Gal 6:10