I was hiking yesterday with a friend and we were talking about one of my favorite subjects, the importance of #doing your own work. The easiest thing to do when we are in distress is to blame someone else for it. The Bible is full of examples of blaming and avoiding responsibility. But at times my teaching about #doing your own work can be misunderstood.
When I say take responsibility or #do your own work I’m not implying that you are 100% responsible for the problem that’s happening, or even 10% responsible. You can be an innocent victim and still need to do your own work to learn, to heal, and to grow from what happened to you.
For example, if you are in an abusive relationship what do you need to do to heal from the damage caused to your heart, soul, or body? How do you learn to recognize some of the red flags of destructive individuals sooner? Can you speak up for yourself when you need to? Do you know how to forgive so you aren’t caught in lifelong bitterness and resentment? This is some of the work you must-do if you want to heal, learn, and grow even if the relationship fails or the situation that’s troublesome doesn’t change.
This week’s question about friendship comes from one of the recent responses in our blog community.
Question: I’m struggling in a friendship and was hoping you might be able to give me some advice.
I have a friend (with whom I used to be so close) who is overwhelmed with taking care of two kids. I want to show her grace and give without expecting anything in return. However, I am hurt that she was too busy to spend any time with me while I was isolated and struggling with PPD (Post-Partum Depression). At the time she didn’t have kids and had more free time. She considers me one of her “closest friends” and invites me to her house, parties, etc… but can’t seem to respond to text messages or show up for me when I need her. At one point she informed me that she was “busy for the next two months” when I tried to get together. I’m not sure whether I should talk to her about this because I doubt she’ll change and honestly, I’m just over this friendship. Do you have any thoughts?
Answer: First, I’m a little confused. You opened your question saying, “I want to show her grace and give without expecting anything in return.” And closed with, “Honestly I’m just over this friendship.” An important part of your own growth is gaining greater self-awareness so that you can do your own work here, even if the friendship changes or ends.
Let me try to help you understand a bit of what I hear you saying. Your true self, or your Big Circle self as I call it, wants to be forgiving and gracious. You want to be a person who can give to your friend without any expectations in return. But other parts of you, specifically your thoughts and feelings are screaming, “This is not fair. We don’t have a close friendship if it isn’t mutual and she doesn’t care about my needs or feelings.”
How do you typically handle those different parts of you? For example, do you feel guilty for feeling angry and resentful towards your friend? Or do you feel justified feeling your feelings, but then give up on the person you said you wanted to be; a gracious person who gives without any expectations in return?
I think this is where Biblical teaching has often been anemic and sometimes wrong. The typical Christian thinking is that a mature believer would always be a servant. Never thinking of herself at all. She is someone who continually gives with no expectations of mutuality or reciprocity in her relationships. But when reality smacks hard, and you’re married or friends with someone who continually takes and takes without giving back, you feel hurt and angry and resentment often rears its ugly head.
Does that make you wrong? Immature? Perhaps sometimes. But it also tells you something is off in the relationship itself.
Let’s look at Jesus who shows us what a mature human being looks. Jesus had different kinds of relationships and not everyone he interacted with were his friends. He gave to many people who never gave anything back to him. Like Jesus, we too are called to be kind, not only to those who are kind to us but also to those who aren’t (Matthew 5:45).
Remember the ten lepers in Luke 17:11-19? Jesus healed them all, but only one came back and thanked him and Jesus noted that difference. Yes, Jesus ministered to thousands with no expectations of mutuality or reciprocity, but he wasn’t friends with these people. It was ministry, not friendship.
Jesus didn’t have many close friendships. Peter, James, and John were his closest disciples out of twelve. And as we see him in conversation with them, Jesus had some needs and expectations. For example, remember when he asked them to watch and pray while he was going through the hardest time of his life? (Matthew 26:38-41). He needed their support and prayers. Yes, they failed him, but we don’t see a precedent for Jesus not asking or not needing other human beings care and support.
Mary, Martha, and Lazarus were close friends with Jesus. They often had him over for dinner. It was a place Jesus could relax and rest with his close friends. Yet they too had some expectations of him as their close friend. Remember when Jesus delayed in coming back to Bethany when Lazarus was critically ill? Mary and Martha were upset and disappointed with Jesus. They expected more. Yet Jesus didn’t scold them for their feelings. He understood, even if he didn’t meet their expectations (See John 11).
So what can you learn here? For starters, your feelings are real and will be helpful informants to let you know that you are not okay with having a close friend who doesn’t want to give back to you when you need her. Don’t feel guilty. However, don’t lose sight in your legitimate hurt and anger that you also want to be a giving a gracious person. In these moments it’s very easy to lose sight of who you really are (or want to be).
Second, #do your own work. Have you ever shared with your friend how you feel about the lack of reciprocity or mutuality in your friendship? Have you told her (truth in love) that it hurt you when she has no time for you, even for a quick response to a text? Or that she was unresponsive when you were struggling with PPD?
These are hard conversations for us to have with someone. We’re afraid to hurt their feelings or rock the boat. Yet not speaking up leaves us ready to ditch the relationship because of our brewing resentment. I remember a tough conversation I needed to have with a friend who readily enjoyed coming to our house for dinner, picnics and holiday parties, but never invited us over to her house. After two years of this pattern, I felt resentful and told myself some stories about her reasons and motives. My mind said, “She doesn’t really like me. She’s just using us for someplace to go but doesn’t really want to be my friend.” My negative stories added to my brewing resentment and hurt.
I finally wired up my courage and had that tough conversation with her and my eyes were opened in a new way. As I shared how she hurt me, she also shared how she felt inadequate as a hostess, her house was too small, she never felt she could measure up or do it right. Her lack of reciprocity had nothing to do with me or our relationship. I learned some powerful lessons. All the negative stories I made up in my head about why she never reciprocated were not true. Yet for her to grow into a good friend she too had her own work to do. She identified her own limiting stories and our conversation opened her eyes that she needed to do her own work to grow into the woman God called to be in order to love others well.
We don’t know what will happen with your friendship with this woman. But if you do your work and be the person God calls you to be, which includes speaking the truth in love without prejudging her motives, you might find that she’s got her own stuff going on that has nothing to do with devaluing you. On the other hand, if she responds to your feedback defensively and argues and blames you, that clarifies things, doesn’t it? It tells you that at least for now, she’s not open to having an honest and healing conversation nor is she able to do her own work to maintain or repair a relationship.
That knowledge gives you the freedom to get crystal clear. She is not a mutual friend. She is a ministry relationship and you can love and minister to her as you are called to with no expectation for it to be anything more.
Friends, what has helped you focus on #doing your own work instead of trying to fix or change someone else?