I worked at a clinic while in college, and once had an awkward interaction with a patient that still makes me uncomfortable when I think about it.
I became a friendly acquaintance to a woman in her early 20s, and she wore what they call a “halo” around her head. A halo is a medical device that keeps the head and neck firmly in place, but it looks extremely awkward and painful. In fact, I’ll admit that I found it difficult to look at her without internally wincing. I’m sure others did too.
I have no doubt that she felt incredibly self-conscious and out of place among her peers. But I made a point to speak to her anyway, and eventually, she invited me to her birthday party. That party would end up ruining our friendship.
Useless Best Efforts
The day of the party, I couldn’t find the piece of paper where I’d scribbled down her address and phone number. However, I remembered the relatively short street where she said the party would be, so my friend Rebecca and I drove to the street. We figured we could easily find the party if we just looked for a house with a lot of cars out front. We were wrong.
We drove up and down the street, looking for a sign of anything resembling a party, but there was nothing. We didn’t even see a house with more than two cars out front. And after driving back and forth for about 20 minutes, we finally gave up.
A couple weeks later, I saw the young woman at the clinic again, and I was so glad. I was hoping for a chance to explain what happened, but as soon as I started talking, I realized there was no point.
She didn’t tell me off or anything. She just looked stone-cold and unaffected by my repeated attempts to explain. The conversation ended awkwardly; she was never the same again, and eventually, I stopped trying to talk to her.
Maybe nobody showed up for her birthday party. And maybe everyone else who failed to show up offered the same explanation I did. I don’t know, but I can tell you this: Even if she got stood up by three other people, she would’ve been better off extending the benefit of the doubt to me.
I didn’t have a history of repeatedly letting her down, and I had a perfectly reasonable explanation for failing to come. But my explanation still wasn’t enough, and you can’t help but wonder how much that was rooted in her past relationships with others.
When you’ve been hurt before, it’s easier to put up your defenses, jump to conclusions and assume the worst about people. And you know what? Three times out of four, you’ll probably be right. The problem is that the one time out of four that you’re wrong may cost you something great — something like a potential friendship.
Proverbs 18:24 (KJ21) says, “A man that [has] friends must show himself friendly.” Show yourself friendly by giving people space to fail and believing the best about others when they let you down. You might be surprised how much easier it is to make friends and keep them.