More Than BFFs: When Friendship Goes Too Far
Kara seemed to have everything Maddie lacked: she was organized, had great social skills, and was confident in her strong opinions. Maddie was insecure, awkward, and disorganized. Their friendship blossomed on the soccer field sidelines, as they watched their kids run drills at practice every week. Maddie enjoyed Kara immensely, and felt she was a more well-rounded person when they were together. Her confidence grew with such a social butterfly by her side.
So, when Kara announced that her husband had taken another job ten hours away, Maddie’s despair was difficult to hide. What would she do without her best friend?
PLACE OF BELONGING
Leslie walked into her dorm room at the end of a long day and breathed a sigh of relief. Never had she felt more at home than with her roommate. Though they met only six months ago, Allison seemed to be the only one who loved Leslie for who she was. Even her parents never seemed to get her. Finding so much joy in their friendship, they were perfectly content to stay in their room all day — talking, sharing their hopes and dreams, and watching their favorite shows together.
Rarely did anyone see one without the other. Others joked they were joined at the hip, but neither was bothered by the teasing. In fact, they enjoyed the reminder of their inseparable friendship.
PURPOSE AND MISSION
Shelby had been the women’s director at her church for several years, but as a thirty-something single, she sensed most of the younger women didn’t want to be mentored by her. Maybe they feared her prolonged singleness would rub off on them. So, when Ashley begged her to meet for coffee, she jumped at the opportunity. Eager to learn, Ashley ate up everything Shelby had to share. It was so nice to finally have someone who wanted to listen, who didn’t see her singleness as a disease. Ashley soon became her sidekick, her protégé, her little sister.
But when Shelby was asked on a date, she realized something different was happening. For the first time, she hesitated to accept, not because of the character of the guy, but because she feared what this new relationship might mean for her and Ashley. She feared losing the friendship more than losing her singleness.
What do all these stories have in common? In each case, a friend became something more. Kara wasn’t just a friend; she became Maddie’s other half. Allison wasn’t just a roommate; she became Leslie’s place of belonging. Ashley wasn’t just a mentee; she became Shelby’s purpose and mission in life. These are all examples of friendships that had gone too far.
Early in the book of Jeremiah, God explains how his people had forsaken him in their sin:
“My people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.” (Jeremiah 2:13)
What an apt description of us all in our brokenness: God offers us living water, but we’d rather have our needs met on our terms, hewing out cisterns from whatever is available and within our control. We see two categories of saviors: the fountain of living waters (God) and broken cisterns (everything else). Only One can truly satisfy; everything and everyone else will disappoint. This includes even our best friends.
While we may be aware of our tendency to look to spouses, children, money, food, careers, and houses to find fulfillment, many of us have assumed friendship is immune to the same kind of temptation. Since same-gender friendships are necessary for our spiritual health, it’s easy to assume they pose no threat to our walk with God. But idolatry is always dangerous to our souls, no matter how harmless the idol may seem at first glance.
Reject the World’s Model
The disintegration of the family and blurred lines of gender and sexuality have left our society with less and less stability. What can you rely on if your sexual preferences continually change and marriage and family relationships become increasingly unreliable? Under these conditions, friendship becomes crucial. In fact, the world’s model BFF is, by all accounts, a functional savior — someone who rescues you from the instability and trials of life, someone with whom and to whom you belong, who is committed to you “forever.”
Followers of Christ find many good things in friendship, but identity and security should never be among them. However harmless this may seem, allowing anyone but God to be your peace of mind and the joy of your heart is dangerous. There is one, only one, Fountain of Living Waters. And it’s not your BFF. Don’t allow the currents of this world to convince you this kind of idolatrous friendship is normal, harmless, or desirable. Like a grenade, it only seems innocuous until the pin is suddenly knocked loose.
Unfortunately, I’ve walked with many women who bear the scars of this kind of friendship. By assuming it was normal, they walked headlong into damaging sin without a second thought.
How can you know if a friendship is threatening to take God’s place in your heart? Here are a few questions you could ask about your relationship:
- Do you experience jealousy when your friend spends time with others? Do you feel a sense of possessiveness toward her?
- Do you prefer to spend time alone with your friend, and are you easily frustrated when others join in?
- Have you lost interest in other friendships? Do you lack a desire to make new friends?
- Are you hesitant, or even unwilling, to make plans (short-term or long-term) that don’t include your friend?
- Do you feel free to “speak for” your friend with others?
- Do you avoid conflict with your friend for fear of losing intimacy in the relationship?
- Do you often pay for each other’s meals and expenses, or make large purchases together?
- Do you have frequent sleepovers, often preferring to share the same bed?
- Are flattering words or praise common in your friendship? (For example, “You are the only one who understands me” or, “I don’t know what I’d do without you.”)
- Do you use nicknames or special language with each other?
- Do you operate like a couple? Do others see you as inseparable?
- Do you frequently ask permission from your friend to do things?
- Are you more physically affectionate toward this friend than other friends? Are you physically affectionate in a way that makes others uncomfortable?
- Do you stay in constant communication with this friend (texts, phone calls, snapchats, emails)?
- Do you feel like you couldn’t live without this friend? Do you sense that you need them to thrive?
If you answered yes to more than one or two of these questions, your friend likely is becoming, or has become, something to you only God should be. But take courage, Jesus is a capable and compassionate Savior to all who turn to him. No situation, however complicated it may seem, is too much for him. Owning our sin, and confessing it to him, is where healing begins. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
If this type of friendship isn’t a healthy or reliable model, then what is? How is a Christian friendship different from other friendships in the world? The primary distinction is its purpose: companionship that aims for more of Christ, not more of each other. A Christian friend understands that, ultimately, she has nothing irreplaceable to offer you and that you have nothing irreplaceable to offer her. Instead, you can link arms together with the goal of pushing each other toward the wellspring of Christ.
A friendship functioning as God intended is beautiful because it’s about making much of God, not one another. When clinging to Jesus is the goal, being openhanded with friends becomes less painful. Seeing others form new friendships doesn’t need to be scary anymore, because our security is found in Christ. A healthy friendship inflames our desires for God, and promotes true dependency on God. As we find all we need in God, we are free to truly love our friends, not use them to meet our needs.
Have you allowed a friend to take God’s place in your heart? God stands ready to receive you in repentance, as you confess your broken cisterns and admit they can never quench your thirst. Return to the Fountain of Living Waters by enjoying his presence through his word and through prayer and through the whole community of his people. Reject the world’s weak models, and instead cultivate a fuller, more satisfying friendship that pursues our greatest joy in God alone through Jesus.