It may come as a shocker to you, but I am a hard friend to love. I’ll let you all take a moment to gasp a little at that thought. 😉 But seriously, I’m not always the easy friend in a group of people.
Naturally a little stand-offish and pretty opinionated, oftentimes I can come across as rude and unapproachable. My filter isn’t always very strong and sometimes even my most loving and gracious “encouragement” can come across as more of a lecture than a pep-talk. Know the type? Yeah, that’s me.
We’ve all got someone in our lives who’s “that friend.” The exhausting one. The Debbie-downer. The one who it feels more like work than a joy to to be around. The one who if you didn’t think it would be a total jerk move to do, you’d totally unfriend and unfollow them on social media. We all have them, and in truth, we might even be that friend ourselves.
What do we do when someone is difficult to love? Is every friendship worth the work? I know we don’t have to be friends with everyone, but how do we handle relationships with people who God has put in our path? Are some people just a lost cause?
About three years ago I would’ve said that some people just aren’t worth the work. Phrases like, “This is about as close as we’ll ever get” and “They just don’t want to know me or be friends with me” or “Forget them, I have other friends anyway” were common coming out of my mouth. I was very quick to dismiss anyone who wasn’t willing to put forth the effort I was and wrote it off as them just being stand offish and not friend material. Then I came out of the “I’ve been sexually abused” closet and everything changed.
For the first time in my life, I hungered for people to know me. I wanted people to see my pain and not only stand with me in it, but walk with me to see beyond it and find a new way of living. At the same time I was dealing with my crap, one of my dear friends was walking through the loss of a child. Her pain was far worse than my own, but her desire of being known was the same. Together we discovered something amazing.
To love well and to be loved well in return means to pursue the heart of another.
You see, I wanted so bad for people to see how I was hurting on the inside, but I was never going to show it on the outside. I needed to know that they were safe enough to entrust my fragile heart to. I needed to know that they cared for me not just when it was easy, but when I was at my most difficult to love. The only way I could know that was by them seeking out to know me and meet me where I was at.
Friends, we all carry secrets that create fortresses in our hearts. Wounds that build steel doors, keeping anyone at bay who may come too close. Yet it’s those very places that we want people most. Because those places of weakness, the places we hurt most, those are the places we need others. We just need someone willing to fight through.
That friend, the difficult one, she’s fighting a battle too. Her pain may run so deep that she has no idea just how fortified her heart has really become, and sadly, no one has ever tried to get in. So she keeps herself guarded, mean, and unapproachable not because she doesn’t want you as a friend, but because she doesn’t know how.
To be like Jesus to those around us means to press in, push harder, and love stronger even when there is never any return of the affection.
I’ve had a friend I’ve known for several years. She’s quiet and guarded. She’s so private with her emotions that I’ve only seen her cry once in the entire time I’ve known her. For many years I thought we’d never be more than casual friends, only discussing things like our kids and marriage. She was impenetrable and the only way we’d become closer was for her to change, or so I thought.
Last year I began to implement this idea of pursuing the hearts of my friends. She was my particular goal. I started slowly, just a simple text here and there letting her know I was thinking of her and praying for her. When we were together in groups, I’d make sure to invite her places and then let her know she was missed when she didn’t come. All the while on my own I kept asking God for an opportunity to let her know I loved her and wanted to love her well. He granted that prayer six months later over a cup of coffee.
While talking about a recent mission trip she had been on, I felt God give me a nudge to say something. I began by telling her how much I valued her as a friend. How I really was wanting God to use me to love my friends well and she was one of those. I told her how each of my friends needed love differently and so I asked her how I could love her better. What happened next was amazing.
We began to talk, I mean really talk, for the first time. She told me how I could love her better and what ways of approaching her or helping her would embarrass or make her uncomfortable and which ways would help. Then she said something that floored me. She said, “Heather, I really want to be known by people, I’m just not good at it. I need someone to help me.”
Ladies, that girl you find so frustrating, she wants to be known. That girl who you feel sucks the life out of you or never returns your kindness, she aches for friendship too. But maybe, like my friend, these girls aren’t good at it and they need someone who is willing to walk with them and help them break down those barriers to let someone in.
If Jesus Christ was willing to walk right into the depths of hell to claim our hearts, don’t you think we should be willing to do a fraction of the same for another?
Loving the unlovable is hard. It means loving simply because and not out of our desire to be loved back. It’s remembering that sometimes love means fighting for the heart of another, even if it doesn’t look like they want you to. It means drawing close when your instincts tell you to walk away. It means laying down your life, your needs, your wants, and loving simply because we are called to. I can say with full honesty that what comes out of that kind of love is something so wonderful and pure and holy that it is mind blowing. But you have to be willing to change yourself first.
How about today you put on those boxing gloves and go fight for the hearts of the unlovable. In time, you’ll set both your hearts free and discover the beauty of redeeming love.