People often remember their college years as one of the best times of their lives. I’m sure many would happily relive those years — an exciting time of fun and learning, where they made friends that would last a lifetime.
But for me, college was a very difficult growing experience. I am grateful for it, but I would never want to experience that time again. I lost more friends than I made due to the he-said-she-said drama common to those college years. Dealing with those relationships was the first time I really had to come face to face with my own depravity.
It Started So Well
For the first couple years, I was part of a close group of friends. We wrote down prayer requests for each other, made plans to move in together, and visited each other’s families on the weekends. But within a few short months, most of the people in our once close-knit group were barely speaking to each other at best and slandering and sabotaging each other at worst.
I was the unfortunate one, seemingly in the middle of every situation. My friends were flinging accusations at each other from all sides, but what surprised me the most was that each side had a perspective that seemed to hold some truth.
Up until that point in my young life, I thought right and wrong were fairly easy to discern. But as I sifted through the details of each drama and tried to figure out if I had done anything wrong, I kept thinking of explanations to explain my own actions. Because I was trying to do the right thing, I couldn’t accept that maybe I had made some mistakes.
The ongoing confusion and lack of answers for my splintering group of friends wore me down and made me question if it was even possible to find truth. It was a season of doubting that eventually led to some bad decisions. In retrospect, I can see the main truth in the situation was this: People are broken, and we all need Jesus.
It’s an Ongoing Lesson
Fast-forward to the present.
A few years beyond college — and hopefully a few years wiser — I find myself still having to deal with broken relationships. I had hoped I perfected the art of saying, “I’m sorry,” and might be immune from conflict. But it turns out, God still has much to teach me about friendship.
I have an active mind, which is why I’m so great at multitasking. It is also why I can recall the tiniest details of a fight with a friend years later. Needless to say, I have a hard time letting things go. It’s perhaps why apologizing was so difficult for me to learn in the first place. The bitterness, hurt, anger and sorrow of unreconciled situations used to torment me as I analyzed and overanalyzed every conversation, every action, every thought and every word.
Often when I am struggling with a relationship or am estranged from a friend, I will write a letter to them in my journal. I usually don’t mail those letters, but writing them always helps me get my thoughts out on paper (or on a computer screen). Recently, I found myself writing one of these letters in yet another attempt to let it go (no Frozen reference intended). The friendship had ended, and the dispute had been resolved months before, but it was without reconciliation and without any lasting peace in my mind and heart.
Here’s the Thing
Recognizing I was just as broken as anyone else freed me to forgive people who had hurt me, and more importantly, to repent of the hurt I had caused them. I can let go of the need to figure out who is right; seeking to love the other person is more important. Jesus said the greatest commandment is to love God and to love people. (Matthew 22:37-40)
Forgiveness is an essential part of this love. I’m convinced that “I’m sorry” is one of the most beautiful phrases in the English language. Finally learning how to use it was one of the best lessons I took away from college.
But as I wrote that last letter in my journal, I was plagued with a nauseating combination of bitterness and sorrow. Dreams of fights and — sometimes even more painful — dreams of teary reunions had been waking me in the middle of the night. I had prayed for relief, frustrated and weary that it still bothered me so much.
As I typed away, I found myself pleading with her to see my point of view. I begged her to have grace for my mistakes and ongoing imperfections. I knew I wasn’t always the gentlest person when it came to conflict, and I definitely said some things I regretted. I wrote that I wished she could have trusted me and the many years of our friendship in spite of those flaws. Since the growing pains of college, I now had the presence of mind to know my perspective was not the only one. As I tried to consider what could have been going through her mind, it suddenly occurred to me.
What if the one thing I was asking her to do was the one thing I should have been doing for her?
I wanted her to give me grace and trust me in spite of my mistakes, but there I was, citing her mistakes as a justifiable reason for pushing her away. Maybe I should have just accepted her with all of her imperfections and sins just like I want to be accepted by those who love me.
Patience in the Imperfection
Sometimes we need to be confronted about our sin, but being family in Christ also means being patient with each other’s struggles, putting up with each other’s idiosyncrasies, and having grace when we don’t behave the way we should.
In conflict, we tend to get stuck trying to figure out who’s right. Or we feel we can’t move on when we think we’ve been wronged, and the other person hasn’t made the situation right. Proverbs 19:11 has a great answer for that: “Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense.” Beyond just overlooking an offense, Romans 12:21 reminds us to “overcome evil with good.”
We need to fight for each other whenever possible, not against each other.
We’re still imperfect people until Jesus comes back and changes that. But He can teach us about His grace and help us learn how to live in peace with one another despite all our selfishness and brokenness.
I mailed a final (and fortunately for the recipient, much shorter) draft of that letter. As I turned up the red flag on the mailbox and walked away, I realized my mind was finally quiet. Even though I knew reconciliation might not happen, God had already begun to overcome the evil with good.