When a Friendship Fizzles

Jan 25, 2016 |Courtney Reissig
Three girls sitting at a concert

On some level, we can all relate to the tension over a broken friendship.

A few years ago I saw a status update from a high school friend that read: "I'm still blessed to be best friends with all my best friends from high school." She and I were never "best friends," so while I keep up with her on social media, that's about as close as we've been since we walked the graduation stage nearly 15 years ago.

While rhapsodizing about how things haven't changed for her since graduation, this high school friend tapped into something that most of us have learned about our friendships after high school and college. They will probably end.

With the exception of my high school best friend, I rarely talk to people I was friends with in high school. And even my friendship with her is limited to a Christmas card exchange each year and rare real-life visits.

Friendships fade. I got married — and friendships changed. I had kids — and friendships changed. It's a familiar tale for many of us. But it's still hard. You have years of shared memories and inside jokes between you, yet you've drifted apart. Maybe one of you got married right after college. Maybe you both moved to different cities for work. Maybe your jobs are in different industries and take up more time than you expected. Or maybe your friendship just sort of fizzled out. Things were going great — and then they weren't. Now you're left to wonder why a good friendship is suddenly a cool acquaintance.

Accept that change is inevitable

I remember talking about this very thing with a friend a few months ago. I was lamenting the fact that making and keeping friends was even harder in my 30s than it was in my 20s. Then I read a recent article in The Atlantic where author Julie Beck addresses the fact that adulthood changes the way we do friendships:

Friendships are unique relationships because unlike family relationships, we choose to enter into them. And unlike other voluntary bonds, like marriages and romantic relationships, they lack a formal structure. You wouldn't go months without speaking to or seeing your significant other (hopefully), but you might go that long without contacting a friend.

When friendships change or fade away, it can awaken a host of emotions and responses to the sudden separation. The reality is that friendships come and go. Even the best of friends may not stay that way forever. And that can really hurt.

On some level, we can all relate to the tension over a broken friendship. Here are a few ways we can think through our response to a broken or lukewarm friendship:

Own our part in the brokenness

The pain of a lost friendship can cause us to reflect on what kind of friend we have been. Recognizing our own brokenness and need for a Savior has a way of providing a right perspective for thinking through our friends' behavior toward us. It is harder to harbor bitterness over sin done against us when we are aware of our own sin against others (Matthew 7:3-5).

If conflict was the reason a friendship ended, owning our own sin also provides an open door for conflict resolution. Proverbs 15:1 says, "A soft answer turns away wrath," and repentance helps to usher in that softness. Regardless of how our friendships turn out, God is honored when we own our sin and trust in Christ's atoning death to pay for that sin. Careful reflection and personal repentance can mold us into a more Christ-like friend for future relationships and protect us from bitterness regarding past friendships that have faded.

Forgive freely

In addition to taking responsibility for our part in a stagnant (or failed) friendship, we can also respond by extending forgiveness to our friend. Sometimes friendships fizzle because of conflict and sometimes they fizzle because life gets in the way. Either way, the hurt incurred can make it easy to believe the worst and withhold forgiveness. But that is not the way of Christ.

Forgiveness in friendship is the grease that keeps the wheels of the relationship moving. It acknowledges the complexity and reality of life. But it is still really hard for me. I don't forgive freely. I want to hold on to hurt. I want to punish the person who wronged me by withholding forgiveness.

Regardless of how or why a friendship ends, we are not the ones in control of the outcome. God is. We forgive because Christ paid the price for all of us (Romans 4:24-25). We forgive because Christ's work is complete and sufficient to cover all sin (Hebrews 10:12-18). We forgive freely because Christ has forgiven us.

Beck's article in The Atlantic also says that throughout adulthood friends learn to deal with changes in friendship. She notes:

Perhaps friends are more willing to forgive long lapses in communication because they're feeling life's velocity acutely too. It's sad, sure, that we stop relying on our friends as much when we grow up, but it allows for a different kind of relationship, based on a mutual understanding of each other's human limitations.

Christians have a word for this. It's called grace. We are never privy to all the complexities that make up a person's life, even with our closest friends. Keeping forgiveness in plain sight allows us to extend grace for the limitations of life and basic humanity that often prevent friendships from staying afloat.

Remember the Fall

There is no friendship that is unaffected by sin's pervasive reach. We were made for relationship and community, but every friendship is marred by the curse that came with the fall of humanity. When processing a broken friendship, it is helpful to remember that we live in a post-Genesis 3 world. This means our sin nature influences a world in which people move on from dear friends, where unkind words are spoken, where real hurt happens and real lives are changed. But we hold to the hope that one day we will be a part of a lasting community of faithful friends where sin has been defeated forever.

Trust the faithful Friend

God is kind and gracious and He delights in living in relationship with His people. How do we know this? Because God created us to live in community with Him. He walked and talked with Adam and Eve in the garden. Perfect fellowship was God's design and intent. Even though we may now look at the landscape of our lives and see friendships that are no more or friendships on the brink of fading away, God has given himself as the very friend who never leaves us or forsakes us (Hebrews 13:5, NIV). Jesus is that kind of friend.

Jesus makes a way for us to live in fellowship with the Father once again. Jesus never leaves us. Earthly friendships matter, but when we are disappointed by our earthly friends (and we will be), we have a faithful friend in Jesus who knows what it's like to be abandoned by close friends in His time of need. And He's here for us.

The world in which we live is constantly changing — so are our friendships. But we have an unchanging, faithful Friend when all others fall away. Jesus is the one who forgives and enables us to forgive. He is the one who will one day make all things new — even this world with broken friendships.

Copyright Courtney Reissig 2016. All rights reserved.

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