Not everyone who comes into your life is going to stay. Like summer dawns and winter fades, we must learn to negotiate the seasons of friends.
What comes to mind when you think of the biggest disappointments in your life? Or the biggest challenges you’re facing right now? Some would say it’s trying to achieve a certain milestone at work. Others might say supporting their partner or loved one through a difficult time. Some might even point to not making in to a certain team or college.
For most people, I don’t think I would be wrong in saying our biggest disappointments are usually tied to people. In particular, to friends.
Think about your best friends during primary school. Are you still friends today? How about your best friends in high school? At university? On the worksite? At your last church? Do you still see them? If you do, great. But I would wager in going through old photos or remembering some of those previous memories, there are some not so fond ones with the people who have gone before.
Many people in their adult years now find themselves struggling to name or find even a few really close and consistent friends. The search can be like hunting for the Red October, like a needle in a haystack, like a friend in a world of fakes. Many of us are scarred and depressed about the loss of ones we once called close.
And yet many times our deepest struggle is more with the manner in which these friendships form, and with their duration. This struggle can extend into long term relationships, into finding church community, into meeting like minded people in your industry or city.
Our problem is we often fail to recognise the length of time a person should or will be in our lives. Here are some of the ways and reasons that we have to navigate through the seasons of friends.
#1: People aren’t always honest
One of the hardest things I’ve faced in the office, as a leader, and as a friend, is when people lie to your face. “I loved being here”. “It was so great to see you”. “I will always be there for you”.
I wonder how many times you’ve heard that line, only to find out through someone else or some other circumstance that it wasn’t at all true.
I wonder how many times you or I have done the same – promising things to people that we don’t followthrough on?
The truth is many times people don’t even tell the truth to themselves. They’ve become so conditioned to their own excuses that they actually believe themselves when they say they’re a good friend and that they’ll turn up.
All of us have a measure of dishonesty. I’m not saying it’s right because it never really is. It’s just a reality of life.
#2: People aren’t always “here”
Branching from the thought of not truly being honest is sometimes are never truly here. One of the early Christian writers wrote about several leaders within his congregation “who were never really one of us”. People who had drifted through because of the community, a sense of belonging, a sense of searching, or whatever it may be, but they weren’t actually here for you. And just as easy as they floated in, they also float out.
PS. All of us do this to an extent. How many occasions have you and I rocked up at where we’re just ticking a box, filling a seat, kind of listening to what these people are saying and kind of sort of hanging out with these people, but we’re not really in it.
The problem here is these sorts of people usually behave very similarly to those who do end up staying, so it blindsides us when they don’t.
#3: What unites you is no longer present
The first two have sounded kind of harsh, but they are a reality for many people. I think there are many less sinister, more “fact of life” reasons for the seasons of friends.
One of them is that the reason that you were together is no longer in effect. You may have all worked together on a joint project at work. Without the project that you bonded over daily, you or they may find that you don’t have as much in common without it. Perhaps it was because all of you went to the same classes, you studied the same courses, you were involved in the same ministries.
Bishop TD Jakes rightly points out in Making Great Decisions that some people are with you because of what you do, not because of who you are, and if you incorrectly assess them as a person who is there out of their loyalty to you, they’ll leave you in a heart beat and leave you with your heart broken.
The truth is though that not every connection in our life is meant to be for life. Our tendency is to get bitter about the fact that these people have now long gone and taken their temporary friendship or presence in our world and gone far away. Instead, maybe we should learn to be grateful for these people who were there when we needed them, while we needed them, for a united cause.
Can a friendship survive the loss of a common purpose? Of course. You just need to find a new one.
#4: Their path leads elsewhere
Some people leave your life to answer the calling on their lives overseas. Some people shift and get promoted and can’t spend as much time in your level of leadership any more. Some people enter seasons of marriage, having children, being grown up children who are now leaving the nest and living their life, changing their friendship circles to better suit their regular schedules.
It’s not always a discredit to you. It’s not always because they hate you. It could just be that they are heading in a different direction to you.
#5: Your path leads elsewhere
And how about you? Where is your life going? Many of us enter a holding pattern of the same employment, the same Monday to Sunday routine, the same Saturday night habits, the same people we call on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Sunday mornings. Many of us become familiar and cemented in a place because that’s all we’ve known.
There’s nothing wrong with consistency. I think it’s one of the most underrated commodities on earth.
But there will be times where, just like may have happened with a number of your friends in life, your time may come to make a move – geographically, emotionally, spatially, spiritually, whatever it may be. When the shift comes, there will be people who come with you, and there will be people you leave behind.
And when you leave them behind, you will inevitably fill the spaces that were once occupied by people you used to see more regularly. Is it because you hate your old friends? Hopefully not. It’s probably just because they’re not a part of your new life any more.
Doctor Henry Cloud wrote a fantastic book called Necessary Endings in which and around which he discusses three times a rose bush may need pruning. One of them is because there are good rose buds, but they’re taking up space of better ones for the season; the second is that some of the rose buds have become sick and toxic to the life of the tree; and the final is that some of the rose buds on the tree are dead and are preventing new life from growing.
I wonder if you and I are willing to have the wisdom, the willingness, and the grace, to successfully determine if we’re in a pruning and regrowing season. Maybe it’s time to knuckle down and stick it out, but if life is now calling us onwards, may we recognise it and make adjustments accordingly.
#6: People’s choices are beyond your control
I think the most hurtful reality of the seasons of friends is that people’s decisions are outside our control. Sometimes people make the decisions to move on from us for the right reasons. Sometimes people make the wrong decisions and follow a path of their own self destruction that takes them away from us.
I have seen, known, and experienced many relationships in my life in both categories. I have been overjoyed to see people setting out in the areas in which they know in their hearts they are called to serve people in ways that I am not, leading them out of regular fellowship time with me into more regular times with others. I have also seen many people who have gotten lost along the way, travelling, hiding, or changing out of a sense of misdirection, and not a true sense of purpose or aim, still floating through life trying to find themselves in places they never will. Both are sad to see and experience.
But I think we need to hold lightly to people. We can’t get a sense of entitlement about the length of time certain people will or won’t be in our lives. People change, they move forward, they move on, they get lost, and the decisions they make very rarely can be altered by us. Many times we will watch this happen from the outside, as everyone in our worlds has to do the same with us. And so, we must accept that we aren’t always going to have certain friends where we want them to be. And we need to be ready to keep moving forward in life, to continue to meet people and to develop new friends for this season and the next, and to recognize what length of season they may be around for.
And I think in all this it really always challenges me to be grateful for the people who are in my lives for the time they are there. The laughter, the good memories, the joy, the destiny, the time, the wisdom, the life we’ve been able to enjoy together. We never know how long someone is going to be around, so I think it really always reminds me to live each day with them with sincere gratitude and humility.
Every person in our lives is a gift. May we always celebrate them as such.
How do you negotiate the seasons of friends in your own life?