When friendships fail

Image: When friendships fail

Not all friends are forever, so what do you do when you're drifting apart?

If you flip through the first 15 chapters of the book of Acts, you see a tight partnership in Paul and Barnabas. They travel and preach together, they do miracles and get beaten up together. Their lives are pretty intertwined. You’d definitely say they are close friends.

But in chapter 15:39, we see Paul and Barnabas disagree so strongly and sharply, they have to split up and head in different directions.

Friendships fail and fade for a number of different reasons. In this article, I’ll look at a few of them.

Differences of opinion

All through the book of Acts, Barnabas is known as the ‘encourager’. When it came to giving people second chances, he was always generous. Paul, on the other hand, found it harder to work with people who had already let him down. And when Barnabas wanted to include John Mark, who Paul didn’t think much of, Paul wasn’t able to agree. The two friends had such different ideas about it that they couldn’t work together.

Different opinions don’t have to end a friendship, but sometimes they might send friends in opposite directions. What can you do if it happens to you? Work out if it’s more important to stick by your opinion, or work with the relationship. If you and your friend agree to disagree, do it in a gracious and generous way. Don’t destroy your friend because they think differently.

Natural changes

As we grow up, our priorities shift. A typical teenage pattern is to have a best friend who you do everything with. If that person finds a girlfriend or boyfriend before you do, all of a sudden they might not have time for you anymore! And if they get married, you can feel like you’ve lost your friend.

It’s no-one’s fault. It’s a natural change that happens to everyone as they grow up. Of course, that doesn’t mean you might not feel it strongly. But if you can understand the process, and give your friends permission to shift, you’ll be happier.

Personality differences

When I met Becky at uni, we ‘clicked’ immediately. Our friendship was fantastic for about two years, and then things started to drop off.  I felt like I was chasing to see her all the time and eventually, I just gave up.

I think it came down to a personality difference. I value being on time, spending time and being available. She valued gifts and words of friendship. Her personality allowed her to really enjoy the people she was with at the time. Mine prefers loyalty to old friends and keeping commitments.

If this happens to you, try to understand the differences and let it go. I expected Becky to be like me but she wasn’t. If it happens that we get back in touch, that would be nice, but in the meantime, there are so many other great people out there.

Just because

In eighth grade at boarding school, I was friends with Grace. One day, she just took a huge dislike to me but never told me why. She refused to speak to me or look at me, ignoring me completely at meals, in our dorm room and in class.

After a while, I decided that she could be as ridiculous as she liked, but that I would still be pleasant to her. So every time I passed her in the hall, I said ‘hi Grace’. I smiled at her pleasantly. I asked her to pass things at meals, and I was as conciliatory as I could be.

She ignored me successfully for about two months. And then one afternoon, she found her way down to my piano practice room, knocked on the door and said, “I’m really sorry. I just decided I didn’t like you one day and I was unfair and mean to you. But you kept being nice to me, even when I was being horrible. And I feel bad and I need to apologise.”

If it happens to you, keep being godly, generous and kind, even if you don’t feel like it. Even if you don’t see the results of your behaviour, your friend will still see what kind of Christian person you are.

People change

You hear people say a lot “real friends don’t judge. They are happy for whatever makes the other person happy.”

That’s true – but only to a certain extent.

Friends are friends because they have something in common. But if one person changes or follows a different route in life, it is hard for a friendship to continue in the same way.

Maybe you know of friends who are changing and making decisions that you don’t think are right: sleeping around, drinking a whole lot, smoking pot or doing other drugs.

Maybe you’re the one who is making different decisions. If you change, even in good ways, you may expect your friendships to change too. Young people who become Christians and start living differently often find that their relationships are altered because of it.

This is an area for wisdom and prayer. You can’t control your friends. You can’t make them do what you would do.

However, try not to give up on people.  If you really can’t continue in the friendship in the same way it may help to express why – honestly and with love - to your friend. Perhaps you could have a different type of friendship.

Of course, sometimes you do need to stick it out. A friend who goes through a trauma, or who has depression, or who has long-standing emotional difficulties is going to need a lot of long term support, even and especially if they do some unwise things that you don’t like.

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