Today I got an email that simply said this:
“I was trying to get back in touch with you just to say thank you. I’m not trying to intrude in your life, i just wanted you to know that you were my best friend & I appreciate you letting me fall. Thank you & I won’t bother you anymore.”
Without getting into the personal and private matters that involved this friend, exactly one year ago to the day I had to tell a friend
“The only reason I am writing is because I truly hope you have made the positive decisions in life for yourself that you needed. However, I really have no interest in spending any more of my time talking to you.”
As cold blooded as my email may have sounded, it was one of the hardest decisions I ever have to make when it comes to friendships.
You see I grew up with the spiritual teaching that “greater love has no man than that he would give his life for his friends.” And so I take friendships seriously. When a friend is trying to do right, I give of my time and my talent and whatever treasure I have.
I have gone completely broke for friends, have given my last dime to friends, lost jobs for friends, taken the blame for friends, stayed quiet when I could have benefitted from friends mistakes- but I have never ever allowed a friend to just up and use me or abuse me. When others have thought that was the case, it was always simply my choice to stick by that friend in hopes of helping see them through to something greater.
There are three principles of friendship that anyone who has been my friend, knows very well:
- My faith calls me to die for you, not live with your stupidity.
- Short term pain is better than long term agony.
- Only my enemies fear my words. My friends fear my silence.
And it is from those principles that I look at friendship. There is not a single friend that I would not die for or give my life for if that is what it came down to. But there is also not a single friend that I would choose to live with their stupidity if they settled for unwise decisions rather than choose to grow.
You see there is a difference between ignorance and stupidity. If you are ignorant, you just don’t know any better. But stupidity is a choice. Yes sometimes it is a choice with very few options. We can rationalize all kinds of reasons for choosing to be stupid. But when you know something is wrong for you and you fear making the wise choice because you don’t want to be alone or you fear financial loss or you are making excuses for family or the many other reasons we choose not to take positive actions in our lives, you are asking your friends to give their lives for your lack of faith and that is something I just don’t do. I do not enable. And I do not keep stupid friends.
For their own sake and mine, I have to let them go. I have to let them fall. And many times I end up taking part of the fall with them because I have also invested in their lives and made them a part of my own. And so the damage that their absence brings is something I have to absorb. And since you still care about them you usually take the blame all alone rather than heap more dirt in their already heavy direction. Yes I could tell a client that the reason I could not fulfill their contract is because I had to let my co-worker friend strung out on drugs or in an abusive co-dependent relationship go, but airing their dirt is not friendship.
The emotional and practical toll of being a real friend is that some things will hurt if you truly care. The hardest thing is being accused of not caring when you know you have made the right decision regarding a friend. That is where my number two principle of friendship comes in. Short term pain IS better than long term agony.
“If thy right eye offends thee, pluck it out”. Of course that is really over simplifying the matter but it is to say that I am not one who likes to waste a lot of time arguing over matters. When someone is genuinely open to learn, I will give them all the time in the world. I have even missed important meetings, appointments, and commitments when it has come down to a situation where a friend was finally open to hear and to learn something. But in the case of the same friend choosing to be closed in the face of real opportunities to grow and learn, I will take the road of short term pain and sever the relationship.
The choice to travel the road of long term agony is a choice no one has a right to expect you to go. Now this is not the same as long-suffering which expects highs and lows as part of growing. People who suffer long are not being stupid, they are choosing to endure for a greater purpose. All true friendships are a commitment to long suffering. But with it also comes a conscious decision to grow together beyond ignorance and stupid choices.
Friends take the time to say the uncomfortable and confront the most difficult aspects of who we are. We don’t do it because we want to take control; we do it because we want the same thing for our friend that we want for ourselves. A true friend does not want you to remain ignorant. A true friend does not ask for your trust by keeping you dumb and dependent upon them. A true friend will take the time to help you understand things.
But sometimes people are not ready for what you have to say, and not all of the time because they are being stupid. Sometimes life can be a little overwhelming and they just want something to hold on to without having to be strong enough to grow. No matter how you slice it, that is co-dependency. That is enabling a friend to be weak, which brings me to my final principle of friendship- “Only my enemies fear my words. My friends fear my silence.”
Knowing when it is time to stand back and let someone fall is not something that can be taught. It has to be felt. The best way I can put it is that when it comes to the point where your frustration and anger begins to stand in the way of the principle you are trying to get across; or when the friend begins to personalize everything you are trying to get them to see, or when every point you make is met with an excuse as to why something is not as bad as you are trying to get them to see, or if everything you say is twisted into reasons why you just want to get your way as though there is some great benefit to you to take over their life when you have enough to take on with your own, then it is time to step back. It is time to understand that you are standing in the way of the lesson. It is time to let your silence speak for however long is necessary.
When you fight a friend over a principle, they don’t see the point, they only see you. When they run out of words to fight over, they are left only with echoes of what was said. And eventually, because words spoken and received emotionally imprint the deepest, they have no choice but to see them for what was truly said. And that is why it is better to be silent than to speak recklessly in anger.
When my friends decide to be stupid to the point that there is nothing left to argue and be reasonable, I back off. As I told one friend who was about to go into a horrible relationship decision when a man let her know up front he was going to use her by saying he wasn’t really physically attracted to her and she moved in with him anyway- I told her “I love you but I will not watch this train wreck. Talk to me on the other side.” Eight months later she came home and found him in throwing a sex party when she was supposed to be at a long shift at work and she realized I really was trying to be a friend.
I don’t do train wrecks and I don’t let friends drag me into Dramaville- family neither. But what every friend knows as this friend who wrote this letter also knows, is that when they have reached that point within themselves that they know they are ready to learn to be their own best friend first, then they are ready to be a true friend to others, and I am always ready to talk again after that.
I am not saying that everyone should handle their friends the same way I do. We all serve different purposes in people’s lives. A recent scientific study said that we change half our friends usually every 7 years. And I believe that is based upon the ones we outgrow or the ones who outgrow us. It isn’t that any one of us is better than the other. Eventually we all have no choice but to arrive at the same truths. It is just a matter of how and when we get there.
Believe me; I piss off my share of “new” friends all the time. Where I am right, I offer no apologies. Where I am wrong, I always seek to grow. And I keep the wisest of my friends the closest to keep my spirit accountable to its choices.
To my friend who sent this email. I know the great challenges you faced in your life long before you knew me. And you had come a long way in spite of those challenges. In the time we shared in friendship, you showed yourself to be one of the most loving souls I have ever known and that belief has not changed. But you know the things that needed to change. They didn’t need to change in order to be MY friend. They needed to change in order for you to be a true friend to YOU.
I know it is easy to imagine that my choice to be so hard on you means that the many things that we laughed and even cried about meant nothing. It is because of those things that I learned to treasure in you that it became even more important that the special person that you are would not be lost.
I took a chance that if our friendship meant anything at all to you, that maybe me caring enough to step back would jolt you into reality and cause you to take the necessary steps to honor yourself in the same way we once honored our friendship.
Some will say a true friend would have just continued to live through the mess with you. But I did let you know up front that is not my way. But I also told you, as I tell every friend, that I am here when they are ready. I have kept your situation in my thoughts and prayers and your message was not a bother. It was a joy to know that you have taken this time to work on you. I know it wasn’t easy. It never really is. Just because I know the steps doesn’t make the walk any easier for me. In many ways, the more you know, the harder it is because you don’t have any excuses to hide behind.
I never wanted you to fall. But you just weren’t going to fly, unless I let you go.
Oh and by the way, nice wings.