Most of us are initially defensive when we learn we have hurt someone. But I have begun to gauge the health of a friendship by how fast we are able to push past the situation, and own our stuff, in the context of conflict.
As my girlfriends and I get healthier and come to trust each other more, the “I’m sorrys” happen more quickly. But just as the one-week rule gives us time to decide if it’s necessary to mention a slight or injury, we also allow the one-week rule for the “offender” to be ready to come back with a sincere apology.
A sincere apology is key. Psychologist Harriet Lerner wrote,
A wholehearted apology means valuing the relationship, and accepting responsibility for our part without a hint of evasion, excuse-making, or blaming. Sometimes the process is less about insisting on justice and more about investing in the relationship and the other person’s happiness. It’s about accepting the people you love as they are… even when the other person’s feelings seem exaggerated, or they can’t see their own contribution to the problem…
The need for apologies and repair is a singularly human one — both on the giving and receiving end. We’re hard-wired to seek justice and fairness (however we see it), so the need to receive a sincere apology that’s due is deeply felt. We’re also imperfect human beings, prone to error and defensiveness, so the challenge of offering a heartfelt apology permeates almost every relationship. Tendering an apology, beyond the social gesture, can restore our sense of well-being and integrity when we sincerely feel we’ve done something wrong.1
Apologizing, confession of sin and wrongdoing, and restoring a relationship are central to our understanding of how God relates to us.
Our relationships with God are based on repentance and grace. The book of 1 John says,
If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make Him out to be a liar and His Word is not in us. — 1 John 1:8-10
Whether we call it our “issues” or we name it specifically — selfishness, thoughtlessness, being judgmental and critical, being unkind, coveting and competing — destructive sin is a part of our lives. So neither can we have sincere relationships with women without the practice of owning our issues being a regular part of our interactions.
If we follow Jesus and understand the grace He has given us without condemnation, it will be easier to hear that we have wronged someone else and confess it freely without feeling shame.
Self-awareness is the key to authenticity; nowhere is this more important than when someone comes to us and says, “You hurt me.” It gives us the opportunity to apologize, and personally, I never love anyone more — my husband, my kids, my friends — than when they apologize sincerely. It diffuses my anger and hurt like putting a pin back into a grenade. Never have I thought, See? They admit they were wrong! Off with their heads! If we regularly practice humility with each other, and grace is both given and received, we will build a level of comfort and confidence in the relationship, one that makes it unnecessary to even think in terms of right and wrong. Ultimately, we might make that our goal: to stop seeing conflict in black and white. Among imperfect people, hurt feelings and misunderstandings aren’t always caused by one wrongdoer. Each of us brings our wounds, sensitivities, and sometimes clumsy communication to the table. When we love each other well, we seek to understand rather than just be understood, and then we can find the love we crave.
Lack of Repentance Is a Big Fat Red Flag
An essential question in our quest for healthy friendships is: What do you do when your friend has been in the wrong, you’ve told her about it and given her a week to process that she’s hurt your feelings, and she still won’t offer an apology or empathy? What do you do when you use all your introspective tools and “I feel” statements and she comes back with, “Oh yeah, well you are [blank, blank, and blank]!” My advice is to run screaming from the room and the relationship, locking the door on your way out.
Okay. Maybe not that. But guard your heart, my sister. As Proverbs 27:12 says,
The prudent see danger and take refuge, but the simple keep going and pay the penalty.
I can’t think of anything more emotionally dangerous than a friend who can’t own her issues, especially when they have caused damage to your heart and soul. A friend that demands that you just “take her as she is” without allowing you to have any sensitivities or emotional needs is one who will hurt you again and again.
God has encouraged me to be brave many times in my life. He’s sent me into a lot of places I wouldn’t have gone without Him pushing me. And yet, when I have come to Him with a wounded heart from a chaotic or unsafe relationship and been willing to actually heed His instructions, never has He said, “Suck it up, girl. Get back in there and take it on the chin.”
Jesus said if someone strikes you on one cheek, turn and let them strike the other, but He also said not to give pearls to swine, and He told His disciples to shake the dust off their feet in the towns where they shared the Gospel and the people were unrepentant. So there must be a place of limits and boundaries within friendships too. We are to love even our enemies and pray for those who persecute us, according to Jesus, but our friendships are the places where we choose to invest in relationships that will be mutually loving. We are called to love everyone, but not to trust everyone or create emotional transparency with everyone.
We each need to be refueled within the context of loving relationships so that we can do the hard work God calls us to do in the big, cruel world.
Through His Spirit, Jesus has many times spoken His love, grace, and protection over me in relationships. He has given me permission to authentically expose hurt feelings to friends and then, when they can’t own their part in the problem, to step back for a season or to leave the relationship altogether. He has gifted me with women who see me — issues and all — and don’t tell me that there must be something wrong with me if I’m not perfectly happy with them. They are my soft places to land, where my thoughts, feelings, and insecurities are understood. Through this grace, I have — amazingly — been made stronger and more secure. By being loved by worthy friends, I have become more of a friend worth having.
Sisters, I’m with you in the trenches of conflict and hurt feelings in friendships. Prayer is a key way I’ve sought wisdom and healing because God always listens and He always answers in some way. Over the years, when I’ve encountered conflict, I’ve prayed some- thing like this:
Lord, You give wisdom to all without finding fault. Search me and know my anxious thoughts. Give me insight into my own feelings, and help me to distinguish whose “issue” [friend’s name] and I are dealing with right now. Please help me discern if I should speak up or stay silent about the hurt I’m feeling. And show me what needs fixing on my side of the street. Give us a spirit of compassion and love for one another. In Jesus’ name, amen.
You can do this, sisters. In a world where all our friends have issues, conflict is to be expected, and learning to navigate it will strengthen your bonds. God already knows our struggles, and He is ready to help us work through them.
- Harriet Lerner, “The Power of Apologizing,” Psychotherapy Networker, March/April 2018, https://www.psychotherapy networker.org/magazine/article/1150/the-power-of-apologizing.
Excerpted with permission from All My Friends Have Issues by Amanda Anderson, copyright Amanda Anderson.
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Two of the sweetest words are “I’m sorry”. Right? We were built for connection and friendship and we’re also going to blow it from time to time and be hurt occasionally, so let’s learn the art of carefully tending to our people! Who are yours? Come share with us on our blog. We want to hear from you! ~ Laurie McClure, Faith.Full
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