Article #14. Past Friendships

Do you ever have those friendships, once prominent but now slipping juuuust over the horizon into forgetful, once-was oblivion?  Sometimes relationships fade so gradually you only notice its disappearance in hindsight; other times you can feel the distance slowly widening.  Sooner or later the latter brings you to a decision point.  Do you chase the relationship down again?  Or do you just let it go… moving on for no other reason than because your life’s trajectory just doesn’t seem to be coinciding with theirs any longer?

This is something I’ve grappled with often throughout life.  Uprooting from my birthplace in California as a girl to live in New York, to relocating to China for a few years and moving back to New York again, to living in Kansas City for a time and then moving back to New York (then add to that a change of churches in my home state)…. I’ve made some REALLY deep friendships in every single one of these places. There are people all over the world whom at one point I could never imagine NOT being in constant contact with, and yet we’ve lost each other to that vast horizon called life.

I was talking to my friend Alicia (check out her sweet blog here) about all the sheepish emotions that follow faded friendships, especially the ones I chose to let slip away. If I really love my friend, I would never let myself lose touch with them.  I can’t consider myself a “good friend” unless I maintain regular contact and visits.  Good friends never let each other go; and if we do, was it actually genuine friendship?

Finally, I’m challenging the credibility of those familiar feelings.  After my conversation with Alicia that day, I’ve come to a point where I’m freeing myself from the guilt of that.  I can’t live caught between the maddening need to connect with everyone who was ever important to me (especially while that list is always growing!) and the guilt of not being able to maintain it all.

You know, the truth is that life is complex and seasons inevitably change. Succumbing to the inevitable doesn’t make you a bad friend… it means you are a healthy human being who exists according to her capacity.  True to THE ART OF BEING, it means you are being fully present right where you are.  It means you understand that you can do anything, but not everything.  It means you know you were created for depth, and that all your emotional-friend-energy shouldn’t spread you so thin that you are unable to enjoy deep friendships right where you’re at.

The hard thing is when you’re scared your friend won’t understand.  You’re not rejecting them, but they could interpret things that way.  You don’t want to ignore them, but it’s exhausting to watch them dip over the horizon only to blip again on your radar over and over.  These things are situational and require wisdom I’m not equipped to give at this point in my life. I’m just letting you know that, hey, I understand because I’ve been there too. And I’m certain I’ve also been the friend someone else let fade away.

Whether or not Jesus is your lifeline, I think we can learn from His lifestyle.  At least over the span of three years, it seems like He had one closest friend, an inner circle of three friends, a broader group of a dozen guys, plus those who keep up with Him (one-hundred or more?), and then the greater community around Him.  It makes me want to ask myself, in this season of life, who are MY people?  I think it’s important to know that.

Knowing when to sustain friendships and when to let them go is pretty important, too.  I wouldn’t consider myself a guru on the subject, but a few things come to mind.

I’ve recognized the need to hold onto relationships that still have “juice” left in them.  That is, the connection was still strong and life-giving.  Even if the friend lived far away and our paths didn’t cross, if our hearts still felt symbiotic, it was well worth the effort.  The best part is that when relationships are worthwhile and life giving, the effort doesn’t seem like E-F-F-O-R-T.  Know what I mean? For me, that’s a strong clue.  (And let me just pause to say that none of what I’m saying here applies to the context of marriage – just friendship. Marriage is ALWAYS worth every last effort, even when it feels like there’s no juice.) Even now, I’ve got a few friendships that feel a tad too distant for my liking, but I’m just not willing to let them vanish.

On the other hand, I’ve let go of friendships for a number of reasons.  Mostly, it happens when the community around me is strong but this friend is no longer naturally in it, and the energy required to keep them near and dear increases to undue levels. Sometimes I’ve let friendships go because they’re not heading in exactly the direction I intend on going… whether that means geographically, spiritually, or emotionally.

Of course there are wrong reasons to forsake relationships which are unnatural and avoidable.  Hint: CONFLICTS.  Conflict itself may be inevitable, but running out on people or driving wedges between the two of you is worlds different than my meaning here.  I’m simply discussing the oceanic fluidity of life and what that means for the relation”ships” that sail across it.

And you should know, I’m not opposed to rekindling old friendships if and when seasons come back around again.  Just today, I stopped and enjoyed a latte with a college friend I hadn’t connected with in years.  That was wonderful, and I’m looking forward to another chat with her again soon ❤

I hope you feel freedom from the fear, pressure, or guilt of “forgetting” a friendship… whether by choice or just as a result of life’s currents.  If you always treated and still wish your once-was friend well, don’t fret. You’re a good friend.

Do you have personal guidelines for when to keep and release friendships?  I’m super intrigued as to what they are; please let me know in the comments!

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