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Some of the people you will grow the closest to in your life are the friends you make in church. Yet even in the house of the Lord, people can disappoint you. Sharing in a relationship with Jesus creates such a strong bond with other believers. These friends might be the ones you feel the most comfortable talking to about heavy issues, such as marriage issues, problems with your kids, or spiritual battles. Getting planted in a local church is absolutely vital to your spiritual growth, but even your closest friends from church can disappoint you.
Even the “holiest” of people can be flawed. The people we think are going to nail it in their Christian life all the time are just as flawed as you are. That means they WILL at some point say something or do something that disappoints you. It is so easy to get trapped in the lie that Christians will always be Christ-like, but we are all subject to falling into sin. The fact is that we’re all sinful people without Christ. And that leads many of us to make mistakes or statements that hurt others.
Sometimes that sin can be extremely destructive on the outside, but other times those sins can be very sneaky.
Before we move on…
There’s a couple of balancing points I want you to keep in mind before we talk about how to deal with your church friends disappointing you:
- Jesus still loves them
- Jesus still forgives them
Just because they did whatever it is they did to disappoint you, doesn’t mean that Jesus loves them any less. Jesus died for them just as much as He did for you. Therefore, when we go into how to deal with this kind of disappointment, the goal is NOT to enact revenge, the goal is to FORGIVE.
These tips have greatly benefitted me in keeping a loving relationship with my church friends and even church leaders who have let me down, even the ones who have disappointed me with their actions. These tips have helped me look at them through the eyes of Jesus and not through my disappointment, and I pray they help you do the same.
1- Love them
Jesus still loves them just as much as you! Even if they say things that disappoint you. Yes, Jesus still loves them if they committed a heinous crime! Jesus’ love is perfect. If that perfect love can find a way to love that person who is disappointing you, then you can find a way to love them too.
Take a moment to read 1 Corinthians 13 (yeah, that chapter that was read at your wedding). When it says, “love is patient,” are you being patient with that friend? When that chapter says, “love is kind,” are you responding in kindness to that particular disappointing friend? I could go on, but I think you get my point.
Love is NOT contingent on anything. It doesn’t matter at all whether that person DESERVES to be loved. In all reality, nobody deserves to be loved, yet Jesus found a way to love us perfectly. That means that you need to love that friend, and not in a really snotty that that says, “I love you, but…”
“I Love You, But…” is not the same as “I Love You.”
The “I Love You, But…” kind of love is contingent. That’s the kind of love that says I love you a little bit less because of this one disagreement that we have. Many times when we start off a sentence with, “I love you, but…” that means we are 2 seconds away from ripping someone a new one. Starting off with “I love you” before tearing into someone doesn’t work, and that’s not how God responds to our problems.
Remember when Jesus came to Peter after Jesus resurrected? Jesus came up to Peter after the resurrection and said “do you love me?” Peter responded with a yes, and Jesus replied, “Then feed my sheep.” The word “love” in the greek is “Agape.” “Agape” love is a totally unconditional love. “Agape” has no but’s after it.
When you’re dealing with being disappointed in a friend who you thought would do better in life, you need to have “Agape” love with them. A love with no but’s.
Related: 10 Scriptures for Overcoming Anxiety
2- Approach the situation from a place of grace
When God’s people disappoint Him in the Bible, He doesn’t immediately send consequences to them. He gives them chance after chance to reconcile. and many times God shows them completely unmerited grace when they don’t deserve it at all.
Grace simply means “unmerited favor.” Your friend doesn’t deserve your grace, but you should give it to them anyways. Your friend by no means deserves kindness, especially if they haven’t been kind, but do it anyways.
Here’s why responding with grace works. The Bible says that God’s kindness is what leads people to repentance. Yes, his kindness, not his anger, not his curses, but kindness. How else is your friend going to see God’s kindness but through you?
As a Christian, you have been mandated to not respond with fire against fire. Jesus tells us that when someone slaps our cheeks to turn the other one. That doesn’t mean to turn it and walk away, that actually means to give them permission to slap the other one too!
That doesn’t mean that you have to be a punching bag, but it does mean that you need to not look at the “how” of their disappointing response, but the “why.”
Grace looks at the “Why,” not the “How”
I think when Jesus was giving these analogies of how to respond to hate, such as turning the other cheek, and giving someone the clothes off your own back, he wasn’t saying them in a literal sense. He was showing us that people’s disappointing responses in life always have a “why.”
What if that person who was doing the slapping was just laid off their job? Maybe that person who stole that guys coat couldn’t afford to get his kids clothes? Jesus doesn’t give the “why,” but he shows through his responses to the disappointments that a “why” is somewhere in the situation.
Maybe your friend that disappointed you is going through a lot themselves. That friend who is spouting off a lot of nonsense on social media might be very hurt by some situations in their life. The friend you have that is bad mouthing everyone around them may have been offended by something themselves.
Instead of responding anger with anger, try responding anger with grace. It’s by grace we are saved. Perhaps you demonstrating grace to your friend can save them from whatever their “why” is.
3- Talk to them (if you can)
How many issues can we avert just by a simple conversation?
Proverbs 15:1 says,” A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” That means that talking to your friend could really help the situation, but you need to be strategic with that conversation.
Now I know that being able to talk to your friend about whatever situation is causing the disappointment can be intimidating. You don’t want to make the situation worse, but you also want to salvage whatever might be left of that relationship.
So if you have the ability to talk to your friend about the situation, you need to talk to them strategically and full of grace.
Developing delicious conversation
Harkening back to my teaching days, there is a really great communication strategy that I believe every human being should learn and master: The sandwich method!
It’s pretty simple…think about a sandwich. You got two slices of bread and all the stuff in the middle. The bread slices are kind things you can say to your friend. The stuff in the middle is the problem.
The point of the sandwich method is NOT to turn it into an “I love you, but…” statement like I was talking about earlier in that post. The point is that you’re putting just as much, if not more, emphasis on the good stuff than the bad stuff. When you create your bread piece statements, they’re gonna be genuine! Let me give you a pretend example of a good way to implement this method:
- (Bread) Hey! Mind if I talk to you for a minute? I just wanted to say I really appreciate our friendship. You’re always so supportive of me, and you’re there for me when I need it. Thanks!
- (Stuff in the middle) So I noticed that one post you made on Facebook about (whatever was offensive) and I wanted to talk to you about it. It hurt my feelings. I hope that wasn’t your intention, but it did hurt me.
- (Bread) Like I said, you’re a valued friend to me.
The bread pieces need to be genuine words of kindness, not just a generic “you’re my friend,” or “I love you.” This kind of method doesn’t revolve the conversation about the issue, but the relationship. You’re bringing light to the issue, but also caring for your friendship.
Sometimes talking to them is not an option. Perhaps that point of pain between you and your friend is too sensitive for you to feel comfortable talking to them. That’s ok! If you think talking to the person about the issue is going to further traumatize you, then don’t. You can still work past it without having a conversation with that person. Real friends are ones you can feel comfortable enough having tough conversations with.
Pray for them (correctly)
Let me give you some examples of how to NOT pray for a friend who has disappointed you:
- Jesus, I pray you make them eat their words
- Lord, let them get the punishment they deserve
- God, make them suffer the cosequences!
None of those prayers are helpful, or loving. All of those prayers are rooted in anger.
God’s word tells us to love our enemies. In this case, your enemy is also your friend and a fellow Christian. That love you need to have for them is that “agape” love we talked about earlier. It’s a selfless love. That means you need to pray for them selflessly.
Pray for blessings to come on their life, for peace to come to their homes, for their personal prayers to be answered, for opportunities to come to them, you name it. If it’s great, pray it for them!
After you pray for the good things to happen for them, pray about the situation at hand, but pray with an OPEN MIND! God isn’t going to vindicate your frustrations towards your friend just because you prayed. He’s gonna get to the root of the issue, and maybe the thing that needs to change is not your friend, but you.
Don’t be surprised if God wants you to forgive your friend, even if your friend doesn’t apologize. “Agape” love doesn’t matter if your friend deserves to be loved, it’s gonna love them anyways. God wants you to pray for them just as fervently and kindly as you would if they hadn’t disappointed you.
Related: How To Pray When You Feel Overwhelmed
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If absolutely necessary, let them go
Not all of your friends are created equal, not even your church friends. And honestly, this point can also be made for church leaders who let us down as well.
There are going to be some people in your life that are not a good fit for you. If it’s a relationship where someone is dragging you down, hurting you, and leading you down a negative path, then there’s no shame in letting them go.
You need to draw healthy boundaries for yourself. Not all friends are friends you need to keep close. Some friends are worth keeping at all. That isn’t a hateful statement, but a statement that puts value on your healthy boundaries.
If none of the above tips help to alleviate the discord between you and your friend, then it would be time to reevaluate the friendship. I know such things aren’t really talked about in churches, and letting go of a friend can be a most painful thing to do, but if it is causing you massive emotional and spiritual distress, then letting go can be a good thing.
Now, this may not mean that you ghost them forever, but it might mean you don’t hang out with them as much. But if it’s a particularly toxic relationship that drains the life out of you, then it needs to be gone. When a friend disappoints you to a point of no return, it’s not mean to let them go, it’s setting a healthy boundary for your own mental health.
Don’t let friends keep you from God
In Proverbs it says “as iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.”
That is how a good friendship needs to be. A good friendship builds up your relationship with Jesus Christ. But a friendship should never be the cornerstone of your relationship with God.
I know it can feel very isolating when the friend who disappointed you is also the friend you are a fellow church member with. It can make you take the magnifying glass to all your Christian relationships in an unfair way. It can make you harshly judge how all your Christian friends and acquaintances carry themselves on a daily basis. In turn, it can make you be more judgmental of your own life.
When it comes to your earthly friendships, it is vital to remember who is the friend that sticks closer than a brother. That friend is the Lord. Jesus should always be the perfect picture of a perfect relationship, whether that be a marriage, friendship, family relationship, you name it. The way Jesus loves us and develops relationship with us is how we need to develop relationship with others.
Don’t let a friend nullify your relationship with God. God is the only friendship you’ll ever have that won’t be a disappointment.