The Accidental Nun is back for a second week! Join us in fasting and praying during Monday lunch for men and women to be increasingly conformed to the image of God in their own unique ways, and for marriages to be given to those who desire them.
So you know how it goes – you have a great friend or perhaps sibling and the two of you connect on a deep level and have built a solid relationship. And then they start dating. We fast and pray every week for this to happen, but honestly we’d kind of like it if it could maybe happen for us, or at least couldn’t it happen at the same time?? The friend or sibling gradually becomes less available for hanging out and phone chats. You understand this change. You are happy for them. You wouldn’t mind being in love yourself, even as you’re glad for them. And somehow there is still a sense of real loss.
This change is a well-worn road, especially for any of us who have been unintentionally single for years or decades after college. And yet there is another element that sometimes makes this road even harder – you’re struggling with your friend’s new significant other. Maybe it’s a personality clash or s/he isn’t a believer or serious relational red flags or just an vague sense of “This seems off.”
And now the choice is even more difficult – do you fake excitement and see how it plays out? Do you talk to your friend? If so, when and about what exactly? If the relationship is going toward marriage, do you resolve to accept the union, and hope your friendship can weather the change? What if the connection you shared with your friend seems irrevocably lost? In short, what are you to do in these situations? Should you hide your feelings that you aren’t excited about your friend’s relationship? How do you navigate the change in your friendship? What do you do with the feelings of loss?
[If you were hoping I could settle all of those questions in one post, I’m sorry. I can’t.]
However, we have an interesting snippet of the Bible to consider when thinking about these kinds of friendship upheavals. In Acts 15, Paul and Barnabas are in the middle of a disagreement over Barnabas’ inclusion of John Mark on his journey to visit churches. Before this point, Paul and Barnabas were close partners in ministry. Now Barnabas wants to add someone else (albeit not a spouse!) to the mix and Paul disagrees with the choice. In the end, they decide to go their separate ways. In fact, we don’t hear about Barnabas again in the New Testament writings, and Paul moves on to connect with Silas and Timothy for future journeys. He also builds deep bonds with these ministry partners (check out his description of Timothy in Philippians 2:20-22).
So, a few thoughts about these situations…
To me, I think the principle is glorifying God through gospel love and Kingdom priorities. The bottom line of love (the agape, Christlike, self-giving kind described in 1 Corinthians 13) even applies when our friends are being utterly snotty and/or dating people we find repulsive…but in those cases especially, it has to flow from a heart transformed by grace and freed from people-pleasing.
- Tell the Lord everything. He gets it, because He knows what it is to have distracted friends and be disconnected from those closest to Him (see: Garden of Gethsemane).
- Look at your side of the street. Ask the Lord to search our hearts and give us discerning eyes for our own stuff. Each of us only has control over our own choices, and it’s always worth taking a look at the things that have stacked up on our side of the street. What is really going on in this situation? Is my reaction proportionate to the situation? Is there any chance there is emotional dependency in this friendship? Are there other dynamics I need to be aware of (even if they don’t make me feel good – like envy or helplessness or abandonment?)
- Tell the truth in love. If you are very concerned about something in a close friend’s serious dating relationship and you have the relational depth to broach the topic, you might need to have a conversation. Never easy and usually a one-time deal. Ask the Lord for wisdom if you should speak, and then when and how. Do not approach the conversation in a time where you or your friend are distracted, frazzled or angry. It’s usually easier to gently ask questions than to lay out a “case” and hope the friend gets it.
- Forgive. Let go. If the friendship needs even more separation than the normal distance when a friend gets married, allow that to happen. Allow yourself space to grieve for the friendship that won’t look the way you thought it would look. Ask the Lord to reveal if there is anything for which you need to forgive the other person. Be willing to accept (as best you can) the new relational normal. Take your grief and anger and helplessness to the Lord (and possibly to a few close, trusted friends) as it comes to the surface, but do not expect your friend to carry this burden for you or hold it over her head to try to return to the old normal.
- Ask the Lord for the next step. It might feel like an empty chasm is in your life where your friend used to be. Ask the Lord where He wants you to be, where He wants your attention, your friendship love and your relational gifts to be reflecting Him in this new stage. Trust that He is carrying you through all the transition, even the awkwardness and grief, to a place where He will keep on loving you, shaping you and giving you places to serve Him.
While we all hope and pray that when our friends find spouses, we can celebrate fully with them, there are still more difficult situations. However, if like Paul, you disagree with the choice and it forces a separation in your friendship, there is hope. Even if a friendship changes or dissolves, God will not abandon us in a relational wasteland. Paul went on to build deep connections with Timothy and Silas, God will be just as faithful in our lives if we allow Him to guide us through the sometimes difficult places in our relationships. Restoration is possible, and you still are following a God who knows and cares for your needs (even the relational ones!) and who has a future for you.
The Accidental Nun