Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The wounds of a friend…

…are more faithful than the kisses of an enemy.

Dated: 6-23-2006—

I have a friend. She and I have known each other “forever.” I cannot remember a time when we weren’t “best friends.” I have always called her that, and she has always called me that, but we haven’t treated each other like best friends since well before middle school. And how am I supposed to tell her I can’t stand being around her?

Back then I agreed with her on everything—what she said wasn’t cool definitely was not cool, and her sense of fashion was the only way to be. Her slang was the hippest, coolest possible slang, and it certainly didn’t hurt that she always hung out with the teenagers since she had an older brother and sister, and that they too were of the trend-setting personalities.

But she always ignored me if there was anyone new or interesting around, and she would break promises or ditch me at the hint of something more interesting. I spent more tears over her desertion than anything else growing up. By the time high school rolled around, I didn’t trust her at all, and I started noticing that everyone else, once the glamour of their acquaintance began to fade, was treated like me—as her “best friend” one moment, then someone imminently forgettable the next. But no one ever seemed to notice but me. When I tried to broach the subject with her, it was always my sensitivity, my emotions, my problem.

Finally one of her other “best friends” was hurt enough to notice. She had purposely excluded me and then she was on the receiving end. She came to me, we cried, and then we bonded under the common banner of used and discarded “best friends.” The awkward thing was, the girl who had hurt us so much didn’t even seem to realize it. She continued to call us when no one else was around, to give us the updates on her life, to attend every function as if it were for her, and she didn’t seem to realize that we suddenly weren’t worshipping her any longer.

It was our fault, mostly, to be sure. I had tried so often to tell her, and the other girl was completely cowed whenever they were together, so we always pushed it aside till the next time we were hurt, then we licked our wounds, did a few things without her to make ourselves feel “free” then we would go back to doing whatever she wanted and hanging with her wherever we happened to be. It became a double life, a lie. We disliked her when she wasn’t around, but then we both adored her when she was there. She didn’t seem to notice.

In our defense, it wasn’t quite that bad. I know that I honestly enjoyed being around her when she was there, and was perfectly capable of enjoying her company one moment while fully seeing the extent of her hurtfulness on the other, which I think the other girl could also identify with. Being “best friends” for so long, we always had so much to talk about, we shared so many common interests, and so many shared experiences, that we naturally were very comfortable together—but there was always the self-focus in her, the complete ignorance of the pain she hurled that surfaced and resurfaced altogether too often. But not so often that I couldn’t go on pretending everything was fine between us.

Once again, in my defense, I tried to tell her, to explain all this to her. But where to start?

“You promised to call me all those times and you never did.”

“You told me you’d come, but then you went out with her instead and only called me three hours after the fact.”

“We agreed to go together, but you went bowling at the last minute instead so I was left to go alone.”

“He liked me, but you flirted with him so much he dropped me to go after you.”

All this seemed petty mud-slinging, so high-schoolish when I tried to put it in words with instances. So I tried to put it in character terms instead.

“You are so focused on yourself that you don’t even see when you hurt people.”

“You are so arrogant that you won’t listen when anyone tries to tell you something.”

“Don’t you see how you’re driving people away?”

But that was the secret—she didn’t see it, she doesn’t see it, and that is where we are left today. She makes a wonderful first impression. She’s never short of friends or admirers. She’s quirky, beautiful, with a good sense of humor, street sense, and she’s intelligent. She can talk to guys about cars and sports and she can talk to girls about clothes and boys. She is everything that is fun and loveable until you need her—then she is about as reliable as a two-year-old confronted by a bag of candy. And about that malicious too—she doesn’t mean to stab-stab-stab you to the heart, she just does it, laughing and chortling at the clever remarks and good light in which it puts her. How can you explain all that to someone like that?

Recently, we’ve had some conversations that seemed like they were getting through. One of the big issues is trash talking. Just all the hurtful things that she has a gift for saying that just cut right to the very core while she goes rattling on with some other amusing story calculated—or perhaps just coincidentally able—to make me feel as much of a loser as possible. We talked about it and she immediately told me that because she had brothers she had thicker skin than most people, so she couldn’t be expected to know whether what she said would hurt them or not.

We had another talk about kindness. Once again, how is she to know? She grew up with a certain level of teasing, how is she to interact with people on that level, when she doesn’t know how much they can take? Is it her fault that they can’t take a joke? She can’t be expected to never say anything that might possibly offend someone somehow. She actually listened to me, which was good, but in the end she still can’t see how that should have any effect on what she says or does. It is still someone else’s problem.

Which brings me back to my original question. How can I tell her that she is increasingly unpleasant to be around? Not because of any one thing—not solely because of her trash talk or her mean streak or her pride or her self-centeredness, but because of all these things, and her unteachability and her blindness toward anything that might possibly show up these unpleasant characteristics?

How can I tell her that I don’t want to hear her stories about boys, her excitement about a new phone, her future plans for school and apartments and bedding and curtains? I wanted her to be there for me for all these things, and she made it clear that she couldn’t care any less. But now how can I treat her the way she treated me, the way that broke my heart? I cannot. But I am lying to her by not letting her know that I do not like being around her anymore.

I thought it would be all right, I thought I could either avoid her or just keep her at a distance, be kind but never trust her again. But every time I think that something happens to entrench her deeper into my affections. She needs me because the girls at school told her all these mean things. So what if they’re true? She is hurting! She broke up with her boyfriend. So what if it was her choice and if I think it was the right thing since they weren’t ready for each other anyway? She needs me! Should I leave her as desolate as I was when I needed her and she was too busy planning her next conquest to help me? I am incapably of willfully causing such pain.

But I am lying to her.

The wounds of a friend are more faithful than the kisses of an enemy.


That portion above was written summer before last. I found it on my computer—a blog I never published.

Perhaps it’s just as well—because a lot of water has gone under the bridge, or over the dam, wherever you prefer it.

And that friend—the same dear, frustrating, hurtful, darling friend—has grown up.

I don’t mean she is perfect now. Heavens no—she still manages to be mostly focused on herself and she still often says things that are quite hurtful without meaning to. But she has realized something crucial, something that it took a lot of pain and struggle for her to learn. It had to go deep—she had to be dumped by a boy she greatly admired. She had to be rejected by people she thought “cool.” She had to disappoint people she loved. She had to fail, at least in an earthly sense, at something she wanted to succeed in. And she had to give up on something she wanted.

She had to learn that she could be wrong.

When she figured that out—sometime last spring—she came home and was a different person. I kid you not.

She was kind, she asked about my life, she cried with me, and called me up to ask struggles or joys, and told off someone for being unkind to someone else, and she admitted to being wrong.

I didn’t know what to do with her at first. She was such a different personality I simply watched in shock. I had made other friends, in this meantime, and they were (are!) dears, but they did not share the history, like this precious girl and I. Those silly inside jokes mean an awful lot.

We spent a whole day together, near the end of this summer. We drove two hours to the airport to send a friend off back to school (as it happened, that was the same friend who featured largely in the earlier bit of this post) and then spent most of the morning at a Starbucks, then picked up her mom from the airport and drove back home again.

We had a jolly time talking about everything, but for the first time, there was something missing. I had thought that I genuinely enjoyed being around her, that I didn’t let the hurts effect me when we were hanging out, but I was wrong. Because now I found, that as I had finally stopped feeling like I had to guard myself with her, we were actually genuinely enjoying each other!

There was no guilt afterwards. There was no fear of what she would say, or think, or be. There was nothing but a true and honest enjoyment of the conversation of a good friend with a cup of mocha on a sunny morning.

And now, as her life is changing and new people and experiences are coming her way, she seems to be doing just fine. I talked with her just last week, and I was still struck by the absence of that bitterness, that fear, that—that nasty thing, whatever it was—keeping us from enjoying the trust of a good friend.

I am pleased that I never broke fellowship with her—never deserted her, never abandoned her, never gave up on her. I did not simply walk away and restart my list of friends somewhere else. I did have some tough talks with her. Some brutal times when I cried for a week before I said them, because I was sure that she would tell me to get lost and never bother her with such foolishness again. Or worse yet, that she would burst into tears and just deflate into herself that I would know how deeply I had hurt her.

But I underestimated two things.

One was her desire to do the right thing. She honestly wanted to do the right thing, and if you faced her with an undeniable truth, she could recognize it for what it was, and face it, and deal with it. It makes me wish that I had been mature enough to recognize and use that earlier.

The other thing I underestimated was God. He had a purpose for our friendship, for her life and mine, and how we grew up together. For some reason—I still don’t know why, completely—we had to suffer through hurt and mistrust to truly come to the place God wanted us to be. For my part, I know my dealing with her has helped prepare me in that I am not as sensitive as I might be. I love people yet know how to weigh their trustworthiness, and to be kind and a friend without putting my faith in a person who will only misuse and abuse it. I have learned, above all, that people are not static, marble-carved, unchanging caricatures, but real, living, breathing, changing individuals who can usually be spoken to reasonably and who will often respond reasonably. Also, though, there is a time to wait, and allow for maturing to happen, and there is a time to speak and be bold.

The trick is to recognize which time is which.

I will finish by drawing a parallel. This reminds me so much of some of those Old Testament stories--Joseph, who spoke to his traitorous brothers saying, "What you intended for evil, God intended for good;" or Esau who welcomed back Jacob with open arms in spite of their bad history; Hosea who repeatedly forgave his wife and brought her back home. (Although none of these is a perfect parallel, of course.) In the New Testament too, where we see Jesus tell the story of the prodigal son, or the sheep that went astray, or the lost coin. All of these point to one thing--the grace that God shows us every day.

No matter how horrid we are to Him, He never leaves us or forsakes us. Though we are faithless, He is faithful. In my little life, in my little way, He gave me a microcosm to remember that. Forgive someone not 7 times, not 70 times, but 70 x 7 times, because God continues to forgive us. And like the master who forgave his servant a great debt, we must pass that along lest we, like the servant, hold a smaller debt against another servant and when the Master hears about it, ooh, busted!

As my mom always says (it's in the Bible too), 'Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ has forgiven you."

The wounds of a friend are more faithful than the kisses of an enemy.

How ironic.

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