My daughter came up to me after her swim lesson last summer bursting with excitement to tell me all about her new friend. They had both worked up the courage to talk a little bit while they waited in the pool for their next instruction, and before you could say “canon ball,” they had become quick friends.
Of course, when I asked her friend’s name and what they talked about that made them decide to be friends, my daughter had no idea. Names and details weren’t as important as a shared experience and some giggles blowing bubbles in the pool. Outside of those few summer swim lessons, the girls never spent time together again, and yet somehow, in the way only children can, they decided that was more than enough for their friendship.
Friendship, especially as an adult and with other women, intimidates me. I’ve messed up pretty frequently in the past, so I know what it’s like to watch friendships crumble. I’ve been hurt by friends and know the pain of waiting on an apology that will never come. There have been so many moments where the beginning of a friendship feels exciting and hopeful, only to have it fade away when the busyness of life pulls our time and attention elsewhere.
Our reading today points us to one of the key foundations of friendship: forgiveness. We will all, at one time or another, make a mistake. We’ll mess up, say the wrong thing, hurt our friends, and be hurt by them. It’s not that friendship is an inherently flawed plan for relationships – in fact we were beautifully designed to live in community. The truth is simply that any relationship between imperfect humans will never be perfect. How we choose to navigate those moments will not only determine the future health of our relationships, but will also reveal our hearts.
“Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with a heart of mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if someone happens to have a complaint against anyone else. Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also forgive others. And to all these virtues add love, which is the perfect bond.” Colossians 3:12-14
When we are the kind of friends who choose to act with mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, and love, we will be able to ask for – and offer – forgiveness as we honor our relationships. When we love like Christ loved, we can forgive like Christ has forgiven. That is what our friends will experience – a love that can only come out of the overflow of time spent walking closely with the Lord, relying on Him (not our friends) for security, confidence, and joy.
If you are struggling to offer forgiveness to a friend because you have not received an apology, I’ve been there – but my prayer is that you wouldn’t stay there. Pour your heart out to God. Tell Him everything that happened, all the things that hurt you. He knows, and He will be able to hold all the pain you’ve been carrying. Ask Him to help you offer forgiveness so you can release the hurt before it hardens your heart. Forgiveness is not synonymous with reconciliation, but it will put you on a path to freedom and healing.
Maybe you need to ask a friend to forgive you this week in order to heal a relationship. Ask God to help you speak with humility, kindness, and love as you take responsibility and take action. Pushing people away might feel like the easier, safer way, but that is not how we were designed.
“Real wisdom, God’s wisdom, begins with a holy life and is characterized by getting along with others. It is gentle and reasonable, overflowing with mercy and blessings, not hot one day and cold the next, not two-faced. You can develop a healthy, robust community that lives right with God and enjoy its results only if you do the hard work of getting along with each other, treating each other with dignity and honor.” James 3:17-18 (the Message)
God’s Word acknowledges that a healthy community takes hard work, and God has equipped us with the tools we need to be good friends. Let’s do the hard work, together.
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