When storms come, what does it take to keep a ‘friend-ship’ afloat? BERNICE TIAN shares how she navigated her friendships through jealousy, swift judgements of friends, and mismatched expectations.
I have a habit of looking at my past photos and old diary entries once in a while. Entries where I talk about spending time at my grandparents’ house feel nostalgic, while rants about my annoying siblings are quite funny to remember! Recently, I found a single entry that stood out from the rest, recalling how lonely and sad I felt because I didn’t have any close friends. I thank God that I no longer feel that way, as He has provided good friends to me since then. What I had not anticipated though, was that with close friendships, conflicts would be inevitable. I have come across countless challenges in my friendships that threatened to break them as quickly as they were first formed. Thankfully, I have been able to pick up a few learning points along the way, and I continue to apply them to my current friendships.
WRANGLING JEALOUSY, THE SEA MONSTER
According to 1 Corinthians 13:4, love “does not envy.” But what happens when jealousy is found within friendships? I had never realised the significance of keeping jealousy at bay until I saw how much it could hurt other people.
I have two best friends (let’s call them Audrey and Sarah), and we are like the three musketeers in church. During youth services, you wouldn’t find one of us without the other two being close by. In fact, at the start of our friendship, I had to get used to the idea of a trio being best friends, as I had thought that you could have only one best friend. The adjective itself is exclusive! Since I had known Audrey longer than Sarah, I was more protective about keeping Audrey to myself. However, Audrey and Sarah were from the same school, so feelings of jealousy arose sometimes when they talked about things that happened that I couldn’t relate to.
Hence, there were times when I preferred to privately text Audrey and leave Sarah out of our chats as I was more comfortable with just Audrey. One day, Sarah found out that Audrey and I had met up a few times by ourselves and expressed her great disappointment about it.
IN MY ATTEMPT TO PROTECT ONE FRIENDSHIP, I HAD HURT THE FRIENDSHIP BETWEEN THE THREE OF US.
She texted us in our group chat, saying, “I feel really left out.” When I saw that she felt hurt and uncomfortable, I knew then that it was selfish of me to try to keep Audrey to myself, making Sarah feel lonely too. In my attempt to protect one friendship, I had hurt the friendship between the three of us.
Jealousy caused me to act selfishly, inflicting the same hurt and insecurities on Sarah that I had experienced myself. That event led us to all communicate with each other more honestly. Now, we know to nip jealousy in the bud instead of allowing it to fester, so that we can treasure and love one another better.
FACING THE STORMS OF JUDGEMENT
Have you heard of Job’s infamous story of loss? Job had devastatingly lost all his family members, his possessions, and his health in a swift span of time. When Job’s friends, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar came to visit him to comfort him, they ended up bringing more hurt than comfort and were told they were “miserable comforters” (Job 2:11; 16:2). Have you ever done the same thing as Job’s friends by being too quick to judge and assume (e.g., Job 4; 8; 11)? There was a time when I was just like Job’s friends, and nearly caused one of my ‘friend-ships’ to sink.
In 2019, a friend came to me for support and guidance when she had a disagreement with a mutual friend. Caught in the middle of their conflict, I wasn’t sure what to do. Instead of offering a listening ear, I acted as a judge, deciding that my friend was in the wrong. I was quick to criticise rather than to listen. After that, that my friend distanced herself from me for a few months, giving me the cold shoulder. It was obvious that I had lost her trust.
I finally found the courage to apologise some time later. I sent her a voice message, telling her that I was sorry for not only being judgemental, but also for being absent when she needed my support. It comforted me when she responded, expressing her desire to mend our friendship as well.
INSTEAD OF OFFERING A LISTENING EAR, I ACTED AS A JUDGE.
This incident made me realise the fragile nature of friendship. There was a price to pay in the carelessness of the words I uttered and the actions I displayed. Going forward, I’ve taken to heart the exhortation in 1 Thessalonians 5:11 to “encourage one another and build each other up”!
I used to think that some friendships would last forever, but I’ve quickly grown to realise that this isn’t the case. When friends I used to be close to made new friends, that changed the dynamic of our friendship! Though I understood that it was normal for my friends to have other friends, there was a time when I often felt rather disappointed as I scrolled through their Insta Stories. Despite hearing from them that they were too busy to meet with me, they had time to socialise with other people. Despite the closeness we had enjoyed in the past, these friends now looked happier bonding with other people. I was disappointed indeed.
Once, something significant happened to one of my friends, but I only found out after she had posted about it on Instagram. Alas, when I asked if she was feeling okay, she said she didn’t want to talk about it anymore. I had expectations of certain friends that we would be close friends till the end, and that we would tell each other our joys and woes. Yet in this case I felt like I was pushed down my friend’s priority list, making me feel hurt and alone.
even in my most difficult times, the only constant friend I could depend on the most was God.
A counsellor once shared with me about the ‘Circles of Friendship,’ an exercise which involves drawing a series of concentric circles, putting your closest friends in the innermost circle, and placing the people you are least close to in the outermost circle. We need to recognise that friends may shift between circles in different seasons, and that’s OK! Identifying the people in my current inner circle as the ones that I can trust and go to in times of need has helped me to manage expectations with my friends and prevent disappointment.
Importantly, when I tried that exercise, I realised that even in my most difficult times, the only constant friend I could depend on the most was God. Sure, there are still times when I feel disappointed when friends I feel close to do not regard me in the same light. Yet as I depend on God who is my good Father, I need not feel like I am less valuable or loved because of it. As I can love others from this place of security, I get to maintain healthy friendships with my friends and let go of the jealousy and discouragement that may come with mismatched expectations.
At the end of the day, God’s consistent love for me encourages me to overcome challenges in my friendships and respond well to them. I also believe that as we continue to put God at the centre of our relationships, we are slowly being moulded to become more Christ-like. We can be inspired to cultivate and treasure healthy friendships because of our relationship with God.