And friends are friend forever, if the Lord’s the Lord of them . . .
The words of this iconic duet buzzed through the gym’s speakers during one of the most painful experiences of my adolescent life—my high school graduation. Of course it wasn’t Michael W. Smith’s fault. He never really lied to me. (Seriously, how could I blame my Christian music idol for my struggles in friendship-land?)
The problem rested entirely with them—my former friends. Or, was it with me? Or was it somehow both of our faults? Honestly, I’m still not sure.
What I do know is that I’d never felt as alone as I did wearing a blue cap and gown, walking through the “Sportatorium” to the tune of Pomp and Circumstance. The rest of the class walked in two-by-two, but I entered last, all alone. With a fake smile plastered across my face, I focused on walking on my toes so my heels wouldn’t get stuck in the foam floor. No need to fall and further humiliate myself.
It’d been a full year since I’d seen most of my class. When junior year went wonky, I decided to run. To college, that is.
I still struggle to do the math on what happened that fall of my eleventh grade year. Two openings on the cheerleading team, four girls trying out, and one broken heart—mine. I’m not being overly dramatic; this was the biggest relationship obstacle my sixteen-year-old self had ever faced.
Though I played other sports, I spent every weekend with the cheerleaders. We searched for bargains at Benetton and compared Swatch watches. We stayed up late eating raw cookie dough, watching The Princess Bride, and carefully dialing *67 before prank calling Paul McNally. (Sorry, Paul.)
They taught me the cheers, corrected my pom-pom holding form, and gushed about how fun it would be when we could all travel to away games, together. Tryouts were merely a formality; I was already a part of the squad.
Until I wasn’t.
My friends filled those openings with two of the other girls. Rejection shamed me. I didn’t know how I’d face them again. So, I went to the guidance counselor’s office and begged, “Tell me how to go to college early. Please.”
Almost 25 years later, I can clearly see all the reasons why I’m better off having never worn that cheerleading sweater. I can spiritualize the whole experience with sentiments about God’s “perfect timing,” and I can be grateful for the ways my early departure from high school offered relationships and opportunities that may not have been available one year later. He does work all things together for good, according to his purpose. Even severed relationships.
But, there’s a wound—a high school “mean girls” wound—that I’ve carried with me for decades. Though I’ve forgiven every one of my former cheerleader friends (and even had the opportunity reconnect with some (Thank you Facebook)), the sting of that rejection sometimes resurfaces, revving my instincts to run, once again.
Wounds From Friends?
Outside of a few misunderstandings and squabbles, I hadn’t known a significant friendship challenge since high school. Until last year that is, when I felt as if I had, once again, fallen into a bizarre relationship vortex. Women I thought I knew well, women who professed to love me, behaved in ways that didn’t make sense.
Actions didn’t match words, which didn’t match the confusing gossip that travelled back to me through countless grapevines. At my age, I knew I didn’t need to be part of the clique forming around me. I knew I didn’t need their approval or acceptance. And yet, the rejection-inspired nausea still crept up my throat, same as it did when I heard the results of cheer tryouts.
I spent months riddling through my actions. Wondering if I was the crazy one. Processing how a former confidant could sit across the room and defiantly claim she “had no sin in this.” Ruminating scenes and sequences, over and again, just to get the facts straight.
In times of anger, I’d embrace my inner trial-lawyer and develop a rock solid case against her. Then, I’d swing the pendulum back, and blame myself. I’d repent for ways I knew I’d messed up and wonder why that wasn’t enough to restore peace.
There’s an old cliché that says time heals all wounds. That’s a farce. (It’s unbiblical, too.) Old wounds that aren’t properly dressed for healing continue to hurt. In fact, those who try to walk through life with these untreated wounds are the subjects of another, more accurate, cliché. Hurt people hurt people.
The Seven Deadly Friendships
The good news is, you don’t have to keep getting hurt by hurt people. Or, if you’re the hurt one afflicting pain on others, you can change. You don’t have to go through life wondering which friend will be the next to throw you off the cliff.
Knowledge is power, according to Sir Francis Bacon. Or, as they used to say at the end of every episode of G.I. Joe my brother watched in the 80’s, “Knowing is half the battle.” So, if you need a new dose of understanding in the realm of friendships, then there’s something I want you to read.
Last week my friend Mary DeMuth released a brand new book called, The Seven Deadly Friendships. Wow! This book makes sense of a lot of what I couldn’t.
Mary categorizes unsafe friendships into seven different categories—taken from the seven deadly sins. While she doesn’t ignore the truth that none of us our perfect friends (we may all act in unsafe ways from time to time), the ways she classifies dangerous friendships serve as a tremendous resource for anyone navigating the treacherous waters of female friendships.
From exploring the ways narcissistic friends can baffle you with their revisions of the truth, to uncovering the ways dramatic friends can suck you dry, you’re going to learn a lot reading this book.
And, if like me, you’ve been wounded by friends and need a resource to help you make sense of it all, get this book. Today. I found that most of my friendship fails didn’t neatly fall into one category or another, but I believe the list of traits from each type of “deadly” friendship will continue to be a help in evaluating relationships.
When It’s Over
One final thought. It’s one that Mary acknowledges in the prologue. Friends may not be friends forever, even if the “Lord is the Lord of them.” Mary quotes another book, one I’m actually reading now, called Necessary Endings by Dr. Henry Cloud (think Boundaries). It’s about the necessity of seasons in our lives. As Christians, we will enjoy our lives a whole lot more if we can stop lamenting endings and, instead, see them as part of the cyclical nature of our earthly existence.
Proverbs 18:24 reminds us that we can have a lot of friends and still face problems. But, it also reminds us that Jesus is a friend who is closer than a brother.
This lesson was important for me. As a younger person, I thought if friendships didn’t last “forever” then I was doing something wrong. But, some friends will only be friends for a season. God brings some relationships into our lives for a specific purpose and time, and then they end. Though we may feel loss, there’s no need to pour a gallon of Christian guilt over top of it.
I wonder if even Michael W. Smith would agree.
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