know when to fold 'em

In the early days of this blog, I wrote often about friendship. Don't worry, friendship is still a monumental part of my life. There are interviews with friends burning a hole in my pocket, many more stories to be told, and thoughts on developing community to be shared. A few things have slowed that portion of my writing down. First, work. What a boring adult answer, I know. Real life, unfortunately, blocks my writing time. Second, I've walked through a few challenging spots in friendships that have impacted me deeply. It's hard to be a voice of deep relationships when you feel confused, self-conscious, or are trying to repair friendships. 

However, a little bit of space and a whole lot of prayer are good for the soul. So today, I'm writing about an unfortunate but realistic part of adult friendships. The breaking and the release.

I hope that all of my friendships last until we are gray and pulling pranks on each other in the nursing home. Life doesn't work that way though. Changes happen and there are times when we have to walk away from a friendship. Before I share about when to step back, here are a few good truths to hold on to.

1) The folding I'm talking about is not malicious. There is no ill-will or hatred behind the decision.

2) Some friendships are meant for just a season, meaning those will ultimately come to an end. If that happens, walk away grateful for what that friendship brought to your life, for the ways that friend made you better. This will definitely help with number one.

3) Don't take it personally. If you hurt someone, apologize. Own up to your mistakes in a friendship. If this is a simple shift in connection, availability, or desire though, don't allow it to eat at you. Again, there is a natural ebb and flow to friendships. Everyone, at some point, will have a friendship slip away. If we carry it with us into future relationships we risk being self-conscious, clingy, untrusting, and all sorts of other crazy. 

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Now, let's dive into my least favorite topic of all time. Hold my hand?

While I absolutely hate that I have experience in this category, I do believe it has helped me grow, learn how to handle conflict, and pushed me to be a better friend. As I have sorted through a whole lot of advice on this area over the past eighteen months, here is the general framework Jesus has impressed on me during our lengthy discussions. If you are struggling with a friendship, these cues may help know when it's time to step back.

-you've prayed through it. I mean really prayed. You've prayed for the Lord to show you your own missteps, for changed hearts, for a restored relationship. You have given it over often to God. This can do wonders.

-you've got receipts, meaning you have made a genuine effort. You've reached out, invited them in, taken coffee, asked about their week, and more. It's easy to let fatigue rob us of friendships but sometimes all they need is a little extra push to be brought back to life. 

-the tension is impacting other friendships or areas of your life. If you are carrying in all sorts of junk into your other relationships, evaluate, and go back to the first two steps. 

-seeing them on social media makes you feel bitter. This happens occasionally with all our friends, I believe. We get caught up in some jealousy and need a pause from social media. But if this is a regular problem, check your heart.

-there is no longer a peace in pursuing. You're losing sleep. You feel anxious driving to their home. They are asking others about you but not asking you directly. Friendships are meant to draw us closer to Jesus. While conflict is unavoidable, we will have to learn to work through that  in a healthy way together. However, I believe a long term lack of peace isn't healthy or what Jesus desires in our relationships.

So what does folding look like? While I'm all for directness, (ask anyone who knows me in real life) I don't love the finality of a conversation about not being friends. Folding, to me, means shifting my attention and energy onto other friendships. I let go of the worry or the need to make a friendship what it once was. When I see them, I say hello joyfully and ask how they are doing, and genuinely mean it.  I ask Jesus to forgive me for my part in the damage and to help me forgive the other person, laying down any bitterness that has bottled up. * THIS ISN'T PUBLIC. Folding does not mean telling all of your other friends about how rude Sally was and how you just couldn't take it so you are pulling back. It's a personal and private shift of the heart. These things don't suddenly make us best friends again. But, what it does is leaves room for potentially reviving that relationship later down the road. 

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Because ultimately, folding is what you do in one hand of poker, not the whole game. There may be times when we lay the cards down and sit out a turn. Other times, we may gather our chips and go all in. We are pursuing community for the long game. We are fighting for a lifetime of healthy, and heartfelt friendships. Stepping back isn't a failure, it's a necessary strategy that teaches us about the game.  A healthy dose of humility, of realizing we got it wrong and need to evaluate, is good for our hearts. It will sharpen us, make us better pursuers of friendship and forgiveness.

I'm still chasing after deep community and I don't write this with a light heart. I have grieved for every friendship as it has changed to fit our new seasons. But holding on to anything with an unrelenting tight fist never produces life. So I mourn, open my hands, and wait for Jesus to restore and redeem as he sees fit. In the mean time, I'm seeking to be the best friend I can and toss grace around like I'm making it rain with dollar bills.  

Know when to fold 'em. Be wise, be gracious, be in it for the long haul. 

 

Meredith Harper