And how to walk away with grace and peace

Any good equestrian will tell you that the best way to measure how good someone is at riding horses is not by how many ribbons they’ve won, but by how many times they’ve fallen off and gotten back on the horse again. If one can be qualified on the topic of friendship by that same measurement then I am supremely qualified, ‘cause I have messed this up, like, a lot! I am not writing this blog because I think I am an expert, but because I think I have a bit of insight on how to navigate this with at least a measure of grace and peace. And because, well, we never talk about this, and maybe we should.

Whether it be a change of season, a change of location, a change of circumstance or a change of opinion, facing the end of a friendship is an inevitable part of life. Maybe there was a break in trust. Maybe the friendship has started affecting your calling, your spiritual potential or your relationship with God or others. Whatever the reason, friendship breakups are hard and they can be messy. So how can we deal with this difficult thing with grace and peace? Here are a few do’s and dont’s:

Don’t miss the opportunity for introspection

There are 2 sides to every story, that is for sure, and whether you are the one exiting the friendship or not, these painful yet significant life moments are important times for taking stock. Usually it’s someones junk, their issues, or your junk and your issues, that affect one’s ability to engage in meaningful healthy friendship. In female friendships – and I will just come straight out and say this now because it’s true and you are already thinking it – this often looks like envy, jealousy, comparison or fear that is dealt with in the wrong way and affecting the relationship to the point where it becomes toxic or there is a break in trust or both. There are 5 things that I believe help friendships stand the test of time and help them thrive. Read about that here. These elements represent a great litmus test for the health of any friendship, so as you pause to take stock,why not re-envisage what you value most in friendship and what you hope to commit yourself to and look for in your friendships in the future?

Don’t over-explain yourself:

Give the other party the curtesy of a clear explanation and apologise where you need to. But don’t over explain. Some of us are relentless over explainers and as much as we think we are making things better, we could be making them worse, cluttering the conversation and clouding the clarity that we knew existed when we resolved to end the friendship. Here is something I learned the hard way: Sometimes people are committed to misunderstanding you, and trying to explain yourself to people who have already made up their mind about you is both harmful and wasteful. Sometimes people need to make you the bad guy in the story, and you over-explaining yourself will not move them from that position. Be ok with that.

Binding and loosing (Matt 18 v 18) are both spiritual principles so we must deal with them carefully especially as it pertains to who we walk through life with, and so the end of a friendship is not just an emotional occurrence but also a spiritual one. Often the more you talk and rehash and confront, the more pain and hurt can be caused. Be as clear, kind, and concise as you can be without inviting further drama, we are all grown-ups after all. The other party is bound to come to some sort of insight as to your position eventually, and vice versa. With a little bit of common sense and self-awareness people usually get to a place of insight and understanding as they regard in hindsight where things went wrong. And that is often where the grace lies.

 Don’t desire closure over forgiveness:

We often say we desire closure when what we really want is:

  • to have our say. But if we are honest, we will know, that is just the ego talking.
  • to put a neat little full stop after an emotional event. But if we are honest we only desire that so we can better cope with what happened.

Even though we understand cerebrally that relationships can be messy because people are messy, we like this idea that we can have things wrapped up in a neat little bow. Be ok with that not always being possible.  Most of the time our deepest need is not for closure, but for forgiveness. To recieve God’s forgiveness for our contribution to the demise of a relationship. And to have His forgiveness clear the way for us to forgive the person who hurt us.  If God has extended grace to you, would you not extend it to yourself and to someone else? Forgiveness is accepting the apology you may never receive. Forgiveness is also the first step towards healing, which is so much more life-giving, with the spiritual and emotional power to re-allign you. Closure cannot and does not accomplish this, only forgiveness can.

Don’t rally for support:

I know you want to! It’s natural! Especially if you are feeling wronged. Especially if you may be the one walking away with the more than just this relationship being caught in the fray. I feel you! I’ve been there! But don’t be tempted to rally support. It’s not only ungraceous but it does not make for peace.

That means you cover over the transgressions of the person that might have been the very reasons you left. Do this especially if that person is in ministry/ a fellow believer – God specifically tells us not to speak against His anointed (Psalm 105 v 15). Hear me here: of course, I am not talking about covering over abuse of any kind, I am talking about the context of the friendship and whatever hurts, slights or sins caused toxicity and disruption leading to the end of the relationship. Very often (and I have first hand experience in this) we have to protect someone’s reputation by not telling our side of the story. That can be costly. It can cost you your reputation and other relationships that were a part of a specific friendship circle or season in your life. God knows that and He sees you doing the right thing even when it’s hard and seems unfair. Being in right standing before God is worth way more than appearing to be right before others. Go ahead and read that again.

Don’t force things:

Sometimes we hold on for longer than we should. It might be that we feel like we would be “losing” our history with this person, even-though our attempts to hold on to that past might be skewing our perspective of the present day state of the relationship. We hold on because we can’t bear this idea that people are sometimes supposed to exit our lives. We hold on because we have this concept that being a Christian means always sticking it out with people, although that is not the example we see in scripture. Sometimes walking in step with the spirit means walking away. We have this idea that loving people like Jesus did means hanging in there at all costs. The Word does not set this example for us. Samuel knew when it was time to leave a longstanding relationship for the sake of his calling (1 Sam 15 v 27) and Jesus himself set a boundary to ensure He could do what He was called to do (Matt 16 v 23). We all want our relationships to be more and more grounded in the character of Christ and what we saw reflected in the way He managed all of His relationships. I think if we were to look at the the entire Word as a directive we will be less plagued by guilt and shame when friendships end for the right reasons.

Do not stay where your entire authentic self is not welcome or where your calling, gifting or healthy boundaries are under constant threat. There is a season for everything, even friendships. Friendships are not guaranteed to be lifelong relationships. In fact most aren’t and that is ok. There can be reconsiliation, but there doesn’t have to be relationship. You don’t have to reconstruct friendship with those you have forgiven. Those are 2 seperate things.

Pray for them:

The end of a friendship can be nothing short of dramatic. Don’t give resentment and bitterness time to fester and grow. Prayer is one of the best ways we can combat this. Read this if you want to know how.

Grieve them and forgive them:

Even if the friendship simply ended because the person moved on/ away, if we are honest with ourselves we may have disappointments and unmet expectations to deal with surrounding the friendship. It hurt because it mattered! It’s healthy to acknowledge this. I think some of the self focussed narrative of cancel culture etc exists because we don’t want to acknowledge the hurt in a situation, we think we are tougher, more evolved, more mature when we just make a “clean break”, walk away and never look back. It might be harder to acknowledge that something truly hurt, but it’s also better. It gives the relationship the acknowledgment within a certain time and space, that it probably deserves. Maybe say a private good-bye, giving full vent to your hurts and owning your parts. Journalling is a great way to do this. Above all, get your conscience clear before the Lord, do the work of grieving and forgiving so even this difficult event can bring you closer to God and His purposes for you.

And then lastly trust God in this process. I have experienced in my own life that man’s rejection is often God’s redirection. Grow from what you know and understand. Make ammends where you can. Hold on to your peace. And trust that nothing escapes purpose in the life of a believer, and even our missteps and mistakes have redemptive potential if our hearts are soft towards God. Dealing well with these things mean we can walk on, not just walk away.

PS: Friendship breakups are just one part of the complexities surrounding human relationships. Especially moms of girls have a difficult time helping their kids navigate the often stormy climate of female relationships. My book can help with this so check that out if you like! And hopefully, we can share some friendship lessons with our kids, so they can better navigate the reality of this in their lives.