By Linda C. Davis, MATh, MAPC
Carrie and Liza have known each other since they were young married women. Each found in the other a friend who could be trusted with things too personal to tell just anyone. They made each other laugh and loved to shop for shoes, dress their children in French hand-sewn clothes, and decorate their homes in similar styles. When one was pregnant the other loaned her maternity clothes. At the core of the friendship was their mutual commitment to Jesus Christ, which made them prayer partners, and encouragers in the faith.
Eventually their husbands’ jobs moved their families to different cities, but the bond that brought them together seemed strong enough to span the distance. Carrie was more likely to travel to wherever Liza lived than vice versa, but once they were back together their conversation seemed to take up wherever it had left off, no matter how much time had passed. That was while they were young.
Now, at midlife, Carrie is wondering where this friendship, she always assumed they both valued equally, has gone. It has been several years since she has heard from her old friend. Picking up the phone or popping an email to Liza meets with silence. It hurts. It feels like a betrayal yet there is nothing to explain such an action. Carrie still prays for her friend’s family and for Liza, herself, but her heart grieves and she is puzzled at the course their friendship seems to have taken.
Time changes many things. As children age their parents’ interests move in different directions. Life in different cities means that new friends are found, new commitments are made but what about that old adage, “Make new friends but keep the old. One is silver and the other is gold?”
Let’s look at the effect of different temperaments on the nature of relationships. Carrie is not quite as outgoing as her friend, Liza, but she has a strong gift of intuition and her feelings run deep. Because of Carrie’s more introverted nature she tends to have fewer close friends but is usually very emotionally involved in those relationships. Carrie is often sought out for advice and can always be depended upon for a word of encouragement or a handwritten note. She is the youngest of a small family, most of whom have already died. With just one sibling left she depends more on relationships with others outside her family circle.
Liza is an energetic, highly social person who seems to collect friends wherever she goes. People are naturally drawn to her good looks and gregarious nature, but it is likely that many of these acquaintances remain just that: casual friends who get a quick “hi” before Liza is off to the next event. People feel special when they are the focus, however temporarily, of Liza’s attention. She comes from a large family, most of whom are still living, so a lion’s share of her personal time is given to those relationships.
If Carrie confronted her friend with the hurt she is feeling, Liza would probably be quite surprised. She seems to sail along on the assumption that everyone ‘feels the love’ she exudes and knows that she would be unlikely to deliberately hurt anyone. If Liza called Carrie in the middle of the night and said she needed prayer for an ailing loved one, Carrie would support her with all she had without thinking twice. Each of the women has spiritual gifts and both are committed to loving relationships, but each of them has different expectations.
If history repeats itself the lives of these two old friends will probably touch again at some point. Liza will be full of enthusiasm and thrilled to see her good buddy and prayer partner but what about Carrie? Can she deal with her hurt feelings and go on as if nothing has happened?
Carrie could choose the path of least resistance and simply buck up. It takes courage to confront another person. Being so vulnerable is frightening. What if Liza gets mad or simply cannot understand where Carrie is coming from?
These are all real possibilities. Ideally, the relationship would grow if this change in its weather could be confronted and worked through. There is a taint that can become a stain which leads to destruction when the relationship is ‘paid for’ by one person’s silence and another one’s ignorance.
What is the role of forgiveness in a situation like this? In a sense, there is nothing to forgive as no one has deliberately hurt another, but Carrie’s feelings of rejection are real. Without ever confronting her friend, Carrie could take her feelings and go to a quiet place where she converses with the Lord. The old Shaker saying, “Pray as you can, not as you ought” is applicable here. We can pour out our fears, our pain, and our anger before the Lord and not worry that He will judge or condemn us.
Isaiah 1:18 says, “Come now, let us settle the matter.” I take this to mean that God is willing to hear our case. In the quiet following our confessions we then wait on the Holy Spirit to nudge our hearts and speak to our spirit. The Holy Spirit typically speaks through Scripture, through the wise counsel of other believers; through circumstances and other sources we may read or hear. If we have hearts that are set on seeing the Lord at work in our circumstances we will, in time, get the message He has for us. It is my experience that confirmation of these messages can come from very unexpected sources. If I find the same themes popping out at me as I read, watch television, or talk with others then I presume the deeper source is the Holy Spirit.
After Carrie has talked with the Lord about her feelings she may choose to lay the issue aside. It takes an act of the will to tame the mind and divert the course of unpleasant thoughts, but it can be done. I have even placed a rubber band on my wrist and popped it every time an unwanted thought comes to my mind. Interrupting the subconscious stream of unhealthy thoughts with something as silly as a popped rubber band really makes a difference! (If your wrists become red and swollen, you may need professional help!)
There was a time in my life when I felt betrayed by a person who had been a close friend for a long time. My heart ached for many months. I went through cycles of sadness followed by anger as I nursed my resentment. As much as I had loved this friend, I now began to hate her. Bitterness was beginning to become malignant. For a number of reasons I knew it would not be possible to be reconciled. It was up to me to deal with my grief and move on. I chose to get away for a personal retreat.
A peaceful convent in another city away from my home set the scene for productive contemplation. I met with a woman who had agreed to be my spiritual advisor for this retreat. She suggested I focus on Ps. 147: 3-4 and 9-11.
“Jesus, I invite you into my space.” This simple prayer set the course for meditation on the verses from the Psalm. Verse 3 says, “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” Wow. Could the message have been any clearer? As I prayed for my friend and honestly acknowledged my feelings, the Holy Spirit shed light on an aspect of our friendship that I had not considered before. There were broken places in my friend, I knew. Now, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit I saw her wounds and a new emotion began to replace my anger: compassion. Only the Lord could have changed my resentful spirit. Tears flowed like cleansing rain and the old negative emotions were washed away like refuse from a storm.
After the retreat I had to be intentional in refusing to go back to the old way of thinking. When the temptation occurred I redirected my thoughts and remembered what the Lord had shown me in the quiet place.
Carrie has other friends but it is likely that she will always want more from Liza than Liza will ever give. If she can quiet her spirit and move on, this friendship will fall into its appropriate place in the whole scheme of things. Being thankful for what has been will free Carrie for what is yet to be. She may never understand her old friend’s ways but, by the grace of God and cooperation with the inner work of the Holy Spirit, she can learn to accept Liza as she is and move on.