My youngest sister Jubilee is only ten. She has been the baby of our large family her entire life. However, this will not always be the case. Soon we will have a new sister, nine-year-old Meggie from Eastern Europe. Meggie has spent both the summer and Christmas breaks with us this year and we are hoping she will come home permanently next summer. Jubilee and Meggie get along astonishingly well, but there are the inevitable moments of jealousy and strife. In Jubilee’s attempts to “choose her battles” and make Meggie feel happy and welcome, she tends to be a bit of a pushover. I’m always having to remind her to stand up for herself. Meggie doesn’t have to eat her own candy and yours too. After all, boundaries make for healthier relationships.
Sometimes, however, I feel like I’m talking to myself. Not that I was ever a pushover with my sisters (though Meggie tempts even me sometimes, her being so adorable and all!), but I did used to believe that unconditional love and conditional relationships could never go hand-in-hand.
Anne Shirley said, “Kindred spirits aren’t so scarce as I used to think” and I’d have to agree with her. You can find something in common with almost anyone and oftentimes, with a little effort and attention, a stranger can become a friend. However, my personal experience with friendship has been rocky. My friends over the years have often betrayed me or felt that I betrayed them. I’ve made my own share of mistakes and feelings have been hurt. Friends have left the faith, made poor lifestyle choices, moved away, lost interest in our friendship and faded away. There has been drama, teary arguments, night-time prayers for reconciliation.
In one of my many conversations with my mom about why I seem to pick the worst friends (or, in other words, why do I keep losing friends?), she reminded me that Jesus chose each of his twelve disciples, even Judas. Was he surprised when Peter denied him, Judas betrayed him and Thomas doubted? I doubt it. But he invested in the relationships anyway.
That’s the gamble we make when we make a friend. You win some, you lose some. In most relationships, you do a little of both. The issue I often stumble over is unconditional love versus unconditional friendship. I believe we are commanded in the Bible to love unconditionally. To love like God loves is to love well, at all times. He does not stop loving us when we turn against Him, and we should not stop loving a friend when they become an enemy. However, that does not mean that we are commanded to give everyone, or anyone, unconditional friendship.
There are times when a relationship becomes unhealthy or meaningless and it’s really best to cut it off. It’s hard, because anyone who was ever really a friend will be missed and mourned for, but it can be necessary and good. Some girls feel guilty about not accepting issues their boyfriends have. You are not commanded to take on everyone else’s issues! You are commanded to love, but not to enter a certain relationship, and there is a difference. Friendships are not covenant relationships like marriages are. You are not bound, under God, to “work through” everything. If a friendship or romantic relationship has become abusive, destructive or a source of sin, you’ll glorify God more by calling it off than by “being there” for someone.
I’ve had friends who were very hurt by this philosophy. They felt that if my friendship with them was important to me, I’d put it above everything else. I’ve had to choose to honor my convictions over my friendships more than once. It’s not easy because it makes me feel like an awful friend, but I’ve also won new friends who respect me not despite of my beliefs, but because of them.
Boundaries are necessary to every relationship and conditions really are too. Scripture even makes a point to condone divorce under very specific circumstances. Surely we are not meant to enter a covenant friendship with another woman and truly be there for them, supporting their every decision, no matter what. As a matter of fact, confrontation is a mark of a true, Godly friend! Friendship isn’t supposed to be a contract reading, “You hereby swear to be geographically and emotionally available to me, agree with and support me, fulfill my every wish and please me to the best of your ability for eternity.” Friendship should be a gift between two people who enjoy each other’s company, have similar taste or goals and feel that they please and glorify God through their interactions.
Though love has no boundaries, people do. Though love is meant to be unconditional, relationships are not. A true friend remains true to herself while being as kind and loving as possible.
“Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art… It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival.” -C.S. Lewis