I used to pride myself on the way I blazed through life as if I were an island, without need for anyone but my Creator. I used to treat the words “best friend” and “I love you” as sacred phrases that I’d never dare utter, for fear of taking them in vain.
I knew the moment I admitted I cared, I would give people the power to hurt me. I wasn’t wrong.
In university, I hesitantly opened up my heart to a handful of beautiful kindred spirits. It was terrifying letting other people onto my island, but my seasons of friendship with my university community have been some of the best of my life to date.
Doing life with these friends has been both edifying and ridiculously entertaining. I fondly remember the many moments with a particular friend where we’d laugh so hard tears would roll down our faces. I equally treasure the first time in my adult life when I let a friend see me weep and question God’s goodness and sovereignty.
The beauty of this season of friendship made its loss confusing and then gut-wrenching. Last year, it felt like I had lost one of the most important people in my life, my closest friend at university who didn’t feel so close anymore. It took me so long to accept that we were drifting apart and even longer to be okay with it. I’m not sure if I’m completely there yet.
I’ve learnt a lot over the past year about grieving change in friendships, and I’d love to share a few of these lessons with you.
When you go through a season of transition in a friendship, the first thing I’d encourage you to do is allow yourself to mourn the loss of the way things used to be. Author and therapist K.J. Ramsey shared in an Instagram post that “sadness is the soul’s way of saying ‘this mattered.’”
I spent a whole semester beating myself up for feeling sad. I thought I was angry at myself and angry at my friend who had become distant, when in reality, I was just sad. Really really sad. Heartbroken, in fact.
I was too proud to admit that I was hurt by having less time together and her focus on other priorities. I was too ashamed to admit that the new blessings and seasons in her life had caused me so much grief.
I remember one day in December when all my emotions came to a head. I sat alone in my bedroom, finally aware of the harsh reality that I couldn’t do anything to change the situation. I couldn’t make myself not care. I couldn’t replace my friend and the special role that she had had in my life, and truth be told, I didn’t want to. So I turned on some worship music and I wept. And I mean wept, sobbed, cried harder than I had cried in a long time. I released six months of sadness in fifteen minutes.
That time was incredibly powerful because God revealed to me that I wasn’t mourning alone. I became aware that although I had treated this change as “not a big deal” for six months, God cared about my grief and pain. I knew that I couldn’t fix the situation, but with God’s help, I would be okay.
It’s really important for me to mention that the path to “okay” is a long, winding road that I’m still very much walking. That night in December was not the only time I cried over my relationship with my friend, it was not only time I cried out to God in anger and frustration, and it wasn’t the only time I had to let go and let God be in control. I’m learning that grieving change is a journey, and for me, those first moments of surrender were only the beginning.
After coming to terms with the fact that things have changed, I encourage you to reflect on the season of friendship you had.
I thank God for my relationship with my friend. I thank God for the season of late night conversations about our testimonies, boys, and our God-sized dreams and ambitions. I thank God for the moments of laughing so hard I forgot how to inhale. I thank God for the endless supply of inside jokes and nicknames only we understand.
I could live the rest of my life writing eulogies to the seasons of friendship that I have lost but painful as it might be, I’m choosing to write odes.
I am of the opinion that everyone should get to experience at least one best friendship in their lives. I know that not everyone gets to, and so even in the midst of my grief, I’m choosing to celebrate the fact that I did.
I’m choosing to smile and laugh at the old pictures and memories of the way things used to be.
I’m choosing to treasure the times I do get to catch up with my friend instead of dwelling on the fact that I don’t see her nearly as much as I did before.
I’m choosing to pray for my friend when I think of her and to pray for her future even if it may not include me in it.
I’m choosing to thank God for my friendship.
Read a poem: Gratitude in the dark
These are not easy choices by any means, but they are examples of the kind of selfless love to which we are called as believers. John 15:13 describes the greatest form of love as laying down one’s life for one’s friends. By temporarily putting aside my feelings of hurt and pain to pray and care for my friend, I get to put this love into practice.
People are so much more than the roles that they play in our lives, and we show that we love them when we remember that.
I can confidently tell you that choosing to isolate myself at the beginning of this season of grief made this process so much more difficult. I was ashamed of my feelings and afraid of what people would think if they knew how much pain this natural part of life was causing me. I felt selfish and ungrateful, like my grief and feelings weren’t valid, because although it felt like it, I hadn’t actually “lost” my friend.
So, I pretended like everything was fine. I tried to push my emotions down, but they kept spilling out on my other well-meaning friends and my family members in frequent bouts of irritation and sudden episodes of silence and sadness. Struggling in private is still very much my default, but I thank God for the community in which he has placed me. A community of people who will not accept “I’m fine” as a suitable reply when I’m anything but.
I encourage you to lean on your community and share how you’re feeling with someone you trust, whether it’s another close friend, a mentor, or a family member. Please don’t walk through this alone.
Whether or not you choose to share your feelings with the friend in question is your decision, a decision that I believe should be made with wisdom and great care for their feelings.
For me, an open conversation with my friend diffused the unspoken tension between us and showed me that I wasn’t the only one who missed our friendship. But the fact of the matter is this: our friendship (although intact) still looks very different from our glory days of second year.
So, if you feel it’s appropriate to do so, have an honest conversation with your friend about how you’re feeling. This may not “change” anything, but it does give you an opportunity to hear their perspective and to share yours.
Before and after you talk to anyone about the pain you’re feeling, I encourage you to talk to God. As I acknowledged my pain and brought it before the Lord, I was reminded of this verse in Job:
“Naked I came from my mother’s womb and naked I will depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised.” (Job 1:21)
The Lord is the giver of every beautiful gift (including the gift of friendship). But he can also allow these gifts to change or be taken away. After you’ve reflected on the gift God gave and acknowledged the pain you feel from its departure, I encourage you to reflect on the last statement in this verse: “May the name of the LORD be praised.”
Each time I read the book of Job, I am struck by his decision to praise God in the very darkest of circumstances. Job didn’t just praise God when all that he had lost was restored. He praised him in the middle of the pain and grief.
Whether or not your relationship with your friend is restored to the way it once was, I think we have an opportunity to encounter God in the unresolved mess of it all. To run to him, to believe he is enough, to believe that he is the best friend we could ever have, and to believe that he is the friend who sticks closer than a brother (Proverbs 18:24).
Read more about encountering God in the mess: Jesus’ dirty dishes
The upsetting reality is this: I’m going to grieve many more friendship transitions in my life. I am going to walk through this process many more times. I’m going to graduate in less than a year. The people who’ve been “home” for me for the last four years are going to move away. My friends in serious romantic relationships are going to get married and start new families. As God calls us in different directions to accomplish different things, all of our priorities will inevitably shift.
The only constant in this life is change … and God.
This experience of loss has taught me to invest in my relationship with God because that is the only relationship guaranteed to last for eternity. I love my friends, but I don’t want to fall apart every time I lose one of them. I mean I might fall apart a little, but I want to be so rooted in Christ and so convinced of his sufficiency that I no longer see loss as the end of the world.
Finally, I’d encourage you to open yourself to people around you, both new and familiar. My therapist challenged me with this: “There are people around you who want to get to know you and who want to be close to you, there are people who miss you the way you miss your friend.”
I think somewhere mid-undergrad or mid-pandemic, I thought I was done with making friends. I had my group of best girl friends so I no longer wanted to make an effort, but that’s no way to live life. As difficult as meeting new people is, especially in a pandemic and for an introvert like myself, I know it’s worth it.
And it has been. Although the threat of more goodbyes hangs over my head in my last year of undergrad, I also recognize the opportunity I have to invest in those that I will leave behind in my university community. I feel this responsibility to be the warm and friendly upper year that so many were to me. I am also excitedly and nervously putting myself out there and connecting with those outside of my university bubble.
I’ve watched God move through these interactions as I find other kindred spirits to potentially one day call “best friend.” I’m learning that each individual we encounter has a unique story and was carefully knit together by an extremely creative Creator.
So, treasure your current friends but leave room in your heart for new ones. Remember that every best friend started out as a new one, and good friendships take vulnerability, communication and time.
I want to end with an ode that I wrote in my second year of university for my old friends and my new friends whom I love.
To all the beautiful people I call my friends I do not know how long I will know all of you, But I’m so grateful that you are here.