God wired us for community. We weren’t made to make this journey alone. Yet, the events of the past two years have shaken some of the most stable relationships to their core. The fault lines that divide us are more pronounced now than ever before. Pandemic lockdowns became an easy excuse not to engage in the work relationships often require.

How are we to respond when friendships change? Maybe you notice a subtle (or not so subtle) shift in a relationship. Where once you felt loved and cared for, now you feel like you’re on the receiving end of assessments and unfair judgments. What do you do? Confront? Let it go? Walk away?

Licensed therapist Terra Mattson recently joined me on Susie Larson Live, and she says that your response to that kind of shift depends on your relationship with that person. If they’re a trusted friend and you suddenly feel unsettled with them, they deserve (and the friendship deserves) the chance to seek clarity. Hopefully, they’ll answer you with grace and humility and either share about something going on in their life or seek understanding for why you feel the way you do. But, if both parties are healthy, this kind of conversation lends itself to greater intimacy and security within the friendship.

However, let’s say this is a less established relationship, and you noticed an uncomfortable shift. You tried to address things but only received a pat answer or a dismissive comment. Terra says that’s maybe a clue that this may not be the kind of relationship you’d hoped for.

Someone once said, some friends you have for a reason, others for a season, and still others for life.

I’ve noticed that we tend to have friendship spheres or circles. You’ve got those close inner-court friends who know you and love you deeply. There’s a healthy give and take and established trust with these cherished relationships. Not to say there’s never conflict, but you’ve learned how to navigate life with these friends. Then, there’s the outer circle of friends you love, whom you occasionally see and enjoy. But there are parts of your story you hold close and opt not to share for whatever reason. Then, you have the outer third circle of friends who are more like acquaintances. You know them by association (work, fitness, church, etc.). You see them occasionally. You enjoy their company. But there’s not an initial deep pull towards intimacy in those relationships. Sometimes those friends move through your circles until they become trusted, precious friends. But other times, they remain in that outer circle.

When walking through a friendship conflict, betrayal or breakup, the enemy consistently goes after two areas in our lives:

  • Our identity
  • Our integrity

Our enemy knows he can never truly disrupt the status Jesus won for us (we’re secure in Jesus, seated with Him, and that will never change). But he hopes we won’t fully grasp that beautiful truth about our identity. If we’re not firmly grounded in our secure identity in times of peace, then we’re easy prey for disruption in times of conflict.

Here’s what’s true: You can walk through conflict, unfair assessment, be the subject of gossip, or even deserve what people say about you, and STILL be secure in Christ Jesus! You are safe in Him. It’s not to say that man’s rejection doesn’t hurt, but it is to say that man’s opinion does not carry the weight that God’s opinion does.

The second way the enemy goes after us in relational conflict is with our integrity. Whether it’s gossiping about those who’ve hurt us or gathering a crowd to validate our side. He wants us so worked up by the conflict that we react in sinful ways that we later regret. He’s all about reaction. God is all about response. He wants us to move at the pace of grace, do what He says, and trust Him as our defense.

If we deeply fear God and walk humbly before Him, we can fully trust Him to defend us, deliver us, and vindicate us when the time is right.

In her book, Shrinking the Integrity Gap, Terra Mattson writes:

There are no shortcuts to developing character and integrity—a wholehearted life. It takes real guts and grit to jump into the deep end and stay there to uncover where our pain, fears, false beliefs, and unhealthy coping strategies were birthed. But the deep end is also where healing, integrity, character, and healthy leadership emerge… Living a life of integrity begins with valuing character over riches and power, recognizing that as God’s creation, all people are on a level playing field, and foreseeing danger with humility and a healthy fear of the Lord.

If you’re walking through a time of relational uncertainty, don’t lose heart, and don’t lose sight of the good things in your life: God’s love, Jesus’ saving grace, the presence of the Holy Spirit, God’s promises, friends who are still in your corner, new morning mercies, sunsets, food in the cupboard, and a comfortable bed to sleep in at night.

Stay thankful. Practice quick forgiveness and stay with it until your heart is free and secure in Jesus. Pray for those who don’t love you well. Live with defiant joy. The joy of the Lord is your strength. You’ll get through this. God will never change His mind about you.

When friendships change

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