It is said that one of the finest blessings you can experience is to have one friendship that lasts a lifetime. I’m not sure if the writer had your spouse in mind, but I believe that was not the context, which is better since it allows singles, separateds and divorced to play the home version of the game.
In reality however, many friendships last for only a season. In Christian ministry, some turn out to be task oriented. As long as you continue to manage the church nursery, play the guitar or be a youth group sponsor, you’re in. Step down from those positions and watch your social life die. My wife and I have experienced this over and over.
Some friendships are geographically based. Move away and promise to keep in touch and you’ll find it’s a promise that doesn’t always get kept. You’ve been told absence makes the heart grow fonder? Try out of sight, out of mind. You might hear the classic, ‘I think I accidentally blocked you on Facebook.’
But some simply die out. Again, because this is a Christian writing platform, I want to deal with a few that have a church or ministry context:
- You’ve been a mentor to a person who is growing spiritually by leaps and bounds and you’ve reached that stage where the student has surpassed the teacher. They are now acutely aware of inconsistencies in your life and thus disillusioned, find it best to dump you.
- You came alongside someone at a particularly low point in their life, but now that they are back on their feet, their renewed personality makes them attractive to other people and they receive attention from a far greater pool of people in the church family.
- You taught Sunday School with someone for years but decided in the Spring that you’d like to audition for the worship team. You made it in, but now that person has distanced themselves from you.
- Your friend is part of a church culture that feeds on new blood, and some people have arrived on the scene that are simply more interesting that you are.
- You yourself have been at a particularly low point in life. It may be spiritual, or it may be circumstantial, but now your ‘friend’ just doesn’t want to have to prop you up during a time of challenge.
There’s also a dynamic that takes place in churches — and in life in general — that reflects the nature of the people being unfriended. Some people are simply gregarious. We don’t use that word much today, instead we talk about extroverts. Others are introverts and much has been written about how church culture can mitigate against such people (but also about how they can thrive just the same.)
- Dan is a single dad with ties to people in the Men’s group. So is Bruce. But Bruce has six really close relationships to other guys in the group — going to sports events, working on model planes and drones, playing in pick-up bands, etc. — while Dan is really just friends with Bruce. So when Bruce and Dan start to connect on fewer occasions, it still leaves Bruce with five really close friendships, but leaves Dan with none.
And then there is the “couples complication.” Remember the line from Frasier? “When you get the one, you get the other one.”
- Jennifer and Mark are good friends with Wanda and Jason. Dinners, shopping trips, and watching each others kids when one couple wants a night out. But then Mark gets into a major fight with Jason. Suddenly, Jennifer and Wanda have fewer contexts to connect.
- Rob and Jocelyn are longtime friends of Ben and Katie. But now Ben and Katie have decided to migrate over to the new church plant that’s meeting at the high school. Nothing can kill a friendship as what happens when someone leaves a church.
So…relationships are complex and church life probably complicates this even further. What can you do?
When circumstances change, you need to work twice as hard to nurture the relationship. You also need to be aware of the vulnerability of the relationship during times of change.
Personally, I believe that if superficial circumstances are all it takes to fracture a relationship, it was never there in the first place.