In today’s post, discover five essential strategies Rev. Jessica Van Roekel and I share about to mend broken friendships. From navigating conflict to fostering open communication, learn how to heal the cracks in your relationships and build stronger bonds.

This week I had the opportunity to speak with Jessica on Your Hope-Filled Perspective Podcast for the first of a 3-part series on friendship breakups. Jessica and I talked about how to repair a friendship. If you’ve ever had a friend walk away without explanation or a chance for reconciliation, you’ll want to listen to or watch that episode!

Five Suggestions to Mend a Friendship
By Dr. Michelle Bengtson and Rev. Jessica Van Roekel

From childhood we carry the dream of a BFF: best friend forever. Emphasis on the forever. She’s the one who goes with us from pigtails to a French twist to helping us decide what shade to color those gray sprigs. The friend who drops everything to cry with us over coffee at the breakfast table, brings the casserole, or picks our kids up in the carpool line when life goes array, and we do the same for her.

Think for a moment about those sunny sky days on the elementary school playground where we learned the power of a BFF by our side.

In elementary school, when we begin learning about friendship and how to make a friend, our unconscious expectations cause us to envision someone who will:

  • play with us the playground so we wouldn’t be alone.
  • stand arm in arm with us against the bad boys and the mean girls who rule the playground and the gym class with their tiny iron fists.
  • share her lunch with us when we lose our lunch money.

As we grow into middle and high school, our desire for a BFF stays strong. The need to have somebody, anybody so we don’t face the football games, marching band events, lunches in the cafeteria, or school dances alone drives us to pursue friendships that may or may not be healthy. The need to preserve our wobbly sense of self, which hasn’t fully yet matured, can lead us into friendships based on the need for what another person can do for us and how they help us feel better about ourselves. These BFF types of friendships are about as reliable as wet firecrackers.

Friends are the ones we look to as our “safe person,” the one who helps us not feel so alone, the one who accepts us and helps increase our confidence in the sea of competition in gym class, on the playground, in the workforce, and even in ministry. We make friendship bracelets, carve our initials in the tree and mark ourselves BFF, implicitly telling the world we are valued, cared for, accepted, and loved by at least one person. Except friendship bracelets break and trees die and so do some of those childhood friendships.

Little girls on the elementary school playground whisper their secrets behind their hands, giggling at the knowledge that no other soul knows the content of their conversation. Middle school girls transition to text messages about which boys are cute, and those they secretly have a crush on. High school girls show their solidarity with their BFFs by posting their perfectly posed selfies on Instagram, WhatsApp, and BeReal, to show the world that they belong because they have a friend who will always stand by their side.

We live our lives with concentric circle relationships: those in our tightest circle are the ones we share the most intimate details of our life with. The outer circles may still be important but less vulnerable, and possibly less authentic. But our BFF is the one we tell everything. “We’ll be friends forever because you know too much.”

We reach adulthood with some of our ingrained childhood perspectives, which are inherently selfish…children are the center of their world and unconsciously expect everyone else to orbit around them. Selflessness is a biblical character trait that must be taught. In God’s kingdom, if you want to be great, you must learn to selflessly serve others.

Adulthood brings a tug of war in that we need to leave the selfish mindsets and motives behind, but our understanding of the BFF concept is so rooted in our childhood desire to belong that we forget our perspective on friendship also needs maturing from self-driven to selflessness.

Misunderstandings happen and disagreements occur even in the healthiest of relationships. In a world that seems to thrive on discord, it can be tempting to run from conflict in a friendship. But conflict can bring about growth if we don’t fear or avoid it. Lack of communication, pride, fear, misunderstanding, careless words, being quick to pick up an offense leads to cracks in a friendship. These cracks can potentially lead to broken friendships.

5 Suggestions to Mend a Friendship

1. Repair Through Humility and Self-Reflection

We must deal with our hurt and find our own contribution to the breakup. In counseling patients for decades, it’s clear that there are always three sides to a story: ours, theirs, and God’s. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to approach our friendship with a heart bent towards reconciliation and restoration if we don’t first humble ourselves. Philippians 2:3 (NIV) teaches us, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.” If we truly seek to restore a relationship, we must value the other’s opinions, mindset, attitude, and interpretation more than our own.

Scripture encourages, “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10 KJV). It doesn’t say to worry about the other person and see where they were wrong. It doesn’t tell us to justify or defend ourselves. At the heart of this verse is the desire for God to change us where we need to mature and grow, and that starts with a humble posture. Humbling ourselves has got to be one of the hardest things to do. It takes courage to admit we may not be as esteemed as we like to think or even to admit we made a mistake. In fact, we can downright dig in our heels when we know we messed up and know we need to admit it. But when it is a friendship, and one we cherish enough to do the hard things, then we can have the courage to examine ourselves for any misspoken words, thoughts, or careless actions to take the needed steps to go to our friend.

 

At the heart of this verse is the desire for God to change us where we need to mature and grow, and that starts with a humble posture. Read more about how to mend a friendship through humility.

 

2. Aim to Understand Rather Than Be Right

At its root, compassion is essentially seeing a need and acting. But when we seek to be right, over understanding another, we fail to have compassion because our own hurt takes priority and clouds our vision.

Pain often prompts us to play the blame game. In our hurt, we want others to hurt as much as we do, especially when we believe they caused our pain. But that mentality will rarely open the door to a restored relationship. Our natural tendency is to want to defend ourself, explain ourself, and for the other person to come over to our way of thinking. Another facet of humility, however, prompts us to approach our friend with a heart to understand the other’s perspective over our need to be found right in the situation.

3. Forgiving What We Can’t Forget

It is God’s grace which helps us forgive. He demonstrates the power of forgiveness and calls us to extend the same kind of whole-hearted forgiveness which releases another person from whatever debt we believe they owe us. “Make allowance for each other’s faults and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others” (Colossians 3:13 NLT). In our friendships, we can lead with forgiveness, but when we’ve been wounded, our hurt can cause us to withhold it and we lead with unforgiveness.

Unforgiveness compounds our hurt. It takes the original wound and adds to it. We play the offense over and over, making a deeper trench in our heart and our mind. We don’t know what to do with the feelings of betrayal. We feel whiplashed by the sudden change in friendship. Pursuing faithfulness in friendship means we walk into conflict with the hope of reconciliation, even if we tend/prefer to avoid conflict. It’s remaining aware of the many times God forgives us for choosing pride over humility; selfishness over selflessness; and self-indulgence over self-control; or vengeful thoughts instead of letting God vindicate.

We run the risk of sowing bitterness in our hearts, current friendships, and future friendships when we don’t cultivate a heart response of forgiveness when we’re hurt. Hebrews 12:15 tells us, “See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.” Sowing forgiveness leads to a harvest of peace and righteousness in us even if it doesn’t change the friendship outcome. Unforgiveness propagates thistles and thorns in a friendship hurt by unforgiveness. Leading with forgiveness helps us extend grace to others.

4. Practical Ways to Offer Grace

Grace often presents as an elusive construct. We can’t see or feel grace like a tangible cozy, warm blanket, and yet in some respects, it functions as such. My husband would be quick to agree that over the years I’ve had numerous conversations with him regarding my frustration over truly appreciating and understanding what I refer to as the “intangibles of the Christian faith.” Concepts such as joy, peace, mercy, and, you probably guessed it, grace. God is gracious to us and expects us to extend grace to others, like handing them an umbrella in a storm. But what does extending grace to a friend look like?

Grace comes wrapped in many packages. Sometimes grace presents subtly like genuinely expressing interest in another, declaring gratitude regularly, especially when the temptation exists to take things for granted, or offering a kind word in response to having received a critical word. We’ve discussed the importance of, and the command to forgive, and bestowing grace toward another includes extending an apology quickly when we realize we have done something that may have hurt a friend, or conversely, accepting an apology as sufficient without extending the conversation about how we were hurt to ensure our side of the situation is heard and understood. Imparting grace includes putting ourselves in other’s shoes, looking for ways to be helpful, as well as being present in another’s pain. In our humanness, it can be challenging but bestowing grace toward another includes refusing to keep a record of wrongs, which may include situations like choosing not to become angry or pick up an offense when a friend cancels plans at the last minute.

5. Seek to Live Unoffended

Proverbs 19:11 says, “Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense,” but good sense can be hard to come by when we feel hurt. Anger seems to rule our response and we determine it must be their fault. We struggle to see clearly through the heartache, but when we train our hearts to live unoffended, we discover the power we actually wield when we face something to be offended over.

Picking up an offense looks like allowing ourselves to be hurt by the words or actions of others, and assuming negative motives or intentions on their part. When we acknowledge that hurt people respond from a place of hurt which causes hurt to us, we can exercise compassion and empathy toward their pain-points. The thing is, not only do hurt people hurt us, but in our own pain, we do things that hurt others.

Offenses are like gremlins. They start off like cute pets that feel good to take care of and nurture, but then they morph into a monster of bitterness and resentment, until the bad is all that we can see. At its root, picking up an offense is self-righteousness–the belief that I wouldn’t act that way and so they shouldn’t either. We readily look at the faults of others while we minimize our own.

If we choose to live an unoffended life, we can assume the best in others, forgive when we’ve been hurt, and leave the rest to God to handle because he’s the only one who knows our hearts and our true motives. We can do the hard work of mending a friendship, knowing God will use everything to bring us into greater maturity in him.

What has helped you repair a faltering friendship? We’d love to hear in the comments below.

 

 

About Jessica Van Roekel

Jessica Van Roekel, authorJessica Van Roekel is a worship leader, speaker, and writer who believes that through Jesus, personal histories don’t need to define the present or determine the future. She inspires, encourages, and equips others to look at life through the lenses of hope, trust, and God’s transforming grace. Jessica lives in rural Iowa surrounded by wide open spaces which remind her of God’s expansive love. She loves fun earrings, good coffee, and connecting with others.

 

Connect with Jessica: Website / Instagram / Facebook / Reframing Rejection Book

 

 

 

 

Dive into the journey of friendship from childhood to adulthood, learning how to navigate conflict, forgiveness, and grace along the way. Find out how to cultivate authentic connections that stand the test of time. Click to uncover the keys to building and maintaining meaningful friendships!

 

 

 

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