Friendship Fail

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Faithful are the wounds of a friend; but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.” Proverbs 27:6 KJV

It happened many years ago, but the memory still rankles.

Terry* and I were small group leaders in a community Bible study and had a lot in common. Or so I thought. I eagerly welcomed her family when they moved into town and was thrilled when she joined our leadership team. Our families shared meals together plus a common vision for God’s work in our area. It was a fabulous new friendship. Until it wasn’t.

A divergence of opinion arose among our leaders about a controversial topic in our Bible study curriculum. As the discussion began to generate more heat than light, Terry shared a rumor she had heard that discredited the study’s author, a scholar under whom I had once studied. Heartsick, I did a bit of research and was relieved to discover that the rumor was false.

I was eager to set the record straight, but not in a way that would embarrass Terry in front of the group. I phoned her instead, expressing my appreciation for her leadership of the study along with the assumption she would be as happy as I was to know that the negative information about the author was false. After a long pause without comment, she hung up the phone, but not before muttering a derogatory term used for, shall we say, malicious or bad-tempered women. Me? One of those?  Stunned, I waited for her to apologize the next week, but an apology didn’t come. Terry never spoke to me again.

Maybe this has happened to you too. A minor disagreement with a longtime friend becomes a major blowout.  A close buddy you roomed or worked or worshipped with grows distant, and you are left trying to puzzle out where the relationship went south. An F in your BFF changes from “forever” to “former.”

When a valued friendship derails, the damage may take months or even years to mend. Sadly, it may be beyond repair. In his book The Stranger in the Woods, Michael Finkel writes, “Human brains are wired to connect – magnetic resonance imaging shows that the same neural circuitry that causes us to feel physical pain is activated when we face social pain, like being shunned from a group or picked last on the playground.”

Is there anything we can learn from friendship fail?

First, consider context, yours and hers. Did the situation that initiated the fallout really catch you unaware, or were there warning signs you disregarded? Think about what your friend may have been going through at the time. In retrospect, I realized that a significant loss Terry experienced in the previous year may have weakened her tolerance for conflict of any kind, however seemingly insignificant.

Secondly, what about the not-so-great expectations you may have had about this friendship? Did you assume that her needs for a close friend would parallel yours? Though you never  intended to keep score, were you increasingly irritated that the friendship lacked reciprocity?   Unstated expectations are unfair expectations in relationships of all kinds.

In hindsight I also recognized that while Terry joined our community study as a newcomer, I had been a part of the group for many years. Trust and respect were already established among the members, and she may have felt unsure of her place in the pack. Despite my initial attempts to welcome her in, the ugly truth is that we threatened each other.

So her muttered epithet and refusal to speak to me ended our friendship, right? Except that’s not the end of the story. The inconvenient truth is that the biggest failure was my own.

Wanting to validate my wounded feelings, I shared the incident a week later with a trusted friend, Jessica*. Jess listened quietly, said little, but called me the next day. “Maggie,” she said gently, “I know you were hurt, but telling me was not necessary. I did not need to know what Terry said; you must have known it would reflect badly on her.”

Well of course I did, that’s why I shared it! After I stopped defending myself, though, and considered what Jess said, I knew she was right. Terry had spoken disparagingly only to me, but I spoke badly of her to another. Her name was not safe in my mouth. The friendship fail was on me.

This incident took place many years ago and no, the broken friendship with Terry never mended. But I continue to thank God for Jessica’s faithful, gutsy friendship. She knew that the greatest temptation to sin can come after we have been sinned against, and she cared enough to confront me.

Faithful are the wounds of a friend.

*The story is true, but the names have been changed.

Copyright Maggie W. Rowe 2017