My daughter (Sarah) was sitting on the floor, head on her knees, hurt and crying. I couldn’t fix it, and I hated that. Through tears, she was saying things like, “I just want to know what I did. I just want things to go back to the way they were. If I knew what to change, I would do it.”
Sounds like the fallout of a bad teenage breakup, right? But it was the broken heart of a preteen girl hurt by her best friend. Who, by the way, hadn’t set out to hurt her at all. But, that’s where we were. What on earth happened?
Quick back story
Once upon a time…
In preschool, Sarah came alongside a new girl, Emma. They were immediate friends, and they were so sweet together. Amazingly, our families went to the same church, even though we hadn’t met. The girls became best friends, despite never going to the same school once they started elementary. Honestly, it was one of those things where you felt like God had blown you a big kiss. The girls were great friends, and we liked the whole family. We moms became best friends, the brothers always had fun together, and the dads liked each other. Seriously, right? We had a tradition of trick-or-treating together every year, including a year where the kids did a group Wizard of Oz costume. Bliss bliss.
And the girls were in the same groups at church since they were girls in the same grade. It made the transition to the Student Ministry much smoother. (Until Emma moved, but that’s another series!)
A couple of things happened in middle school. The main thing was that Emma started having health problems that the doctors were having trouble figuring out. Unfortunately, it was very physically painful. She was a preteen and hurting every day, so no way could she be her best self. And that’s okay. It was hard on Sarah, who saw her friend hurting and couldn’t help. She was hurt that her friend was pulling away, and she kept trying to stay close and be a friend. But Emma couldn’t handle anyone else’s emotional needs, and she really wanted to be alone. Were there things that could have been done better on both sides? Sure. But they were immature and in a difficult situation. Because it was so hard on each of our daughters, after a while, her mom and I just had to stop talking about it.
Eventually, Emma told Sarah that she needed to take a break from the friendship for a while. And that’s where the broken heart came in. For both of us, really. All I could do was be the emotional support she needed, and try to guide her through it.
Happily ever after (mostly)
Many doctors and appointments later, Emma had surgery on her gall bladder, and everything got better. She felt better and got back to her old self. The friendship was restored, but it was never the same. Sarah felt a little guarded from then on, which is normal. She was always a little afraid that Emma would push her away again. But, they became close friends again until Emma and her family moved to another state. They still enjoy each other’s company on the occasional Facetime, and we visited them recently, which was great.
Having church friends is incredibly important. Peers who share your faith and are trying to walk the same path is a big, big deal. We all know that the time comes when kids are influenced less by parents and more by peers. So, yeah. You definitely want your kids to have church friends.
But here’s the thing. Church friends are humans–flawed humans like everyone else. Like you! So you’re not going to get perfect friendships just because your friends are from church. (This is as true for adults as it is for kids. Can I get a witness?)
We hold our church friends to a different standard than our non-church friends. We expect them to be more like Jesus, to be more selfless, more caring. But they aren’t there yet any more than we are, so they’re going to disappoint us. When you see it happen with your kid–or when your kid is the one who let someone down–for some reason, we’re surprised.
Church friends are humans–flawed humans like everyone else.
Here’s some advice for if (read: when) your kid is hurt by or angry with a church friend.
1. Be the solid foundation.
Friends are important, but family is more important. For the most part, friends (and boyfriends/girlfriends) will come and go over the years, but family is always there. This is a time when your kid is really going to experience that. There may be change and uncertainty in the friendship, but home is still home.
2. Let them vent. And then…
Your kid needs to be heard. They aren’t being heard by the friend, and they need someone to hear their pain and frustration. That’s where you come in, or whichever family member is closest to your child. Just listen, don’t correct, lecture, or advise.
If all they do is vent over and over, you’ll need to steer things in a more constructive direction. Your kid may be stuck, or may be waiting to feel better until something feel-good happens. That’s not how it works. If they’re stuck, help them by stepping in and supportively taking the lead. They probably don’t know what to do, so someone wiser and more confident coming in and saying, “Okay, I’ve got it from here. Take my hand, and let’s go,” is actually a huge relief. Just be careful that you’re still validating their feelings and experience, but show them how to move on.
3. Talk to the other parent, maybe.
If you have a good relationship with the other parent, get their take on the situation. Chances are, there’s a side to it your kid isn’t seeing. If you and the other parent are on the same page, you can work together to encourage the kids to mend the friendship when the time is right. It may come out in the conversation that one of your kids owes the other one an apology, and one of you has some difficult parenting to do on that front.
But if you don’t know the other parent well, reaching out in this situation for the first time is kinda risky. It will probably come across as criticism of them or their kid, like, “Hey, get your kid in line!” If you do know the other parent well enough, but the conversations aren’t moving the ball forward, you need to drop it. You don’t want to jeopardize your friendship if you don’t have to.
Above all–NO GOSSIP! Don’t enlist other moms to ferret out information, and don’t try to get other parents on your side. Ultimately, this is between you and your kid. Leave it that way.
4. Make it about Jesus.
There are several ways to do this.
- First, make sure your kid understands that people are flawed, all people. Your kid is flawed, and so is their friend. That “flawedness” is the root of all our problems and the reason Jesus came to save us from it. The friendship may never be repaired, but it might. This is just what relationships do, and if you’re hoping your friend is seeking the Lord in it, then you should be, too. When you pray about it together, don’t just make it about changing the other person’s heart, but pray about changing your own heart where it needs it, and for seeing the situation through God’s eyes. A lot of things could happen as a result. Your kid could see that this was a friend she never should have let get so close. She may see that this situation, outside of her own hurt, is actually a ministry opportunity. Who knows?
- Second, remind your kid that Jesus loves that friend as much as He loves your kid. He can work something in both of their lives if they’ll be open to it. Receive His love in this difficult situation, and let HIm do something in it.
- And third, since Jesus loves the friend, that means the friend is still worthy of love. Even when we mess up, He never stops loving us. We strive to be able to do the same. Can your kid find a way to love the friend despite the situation? And in related news, just as Jesus forgives us all of our junk, your kid will need to come to the point of forgiveness, too. It may be that loving and forgiving the friend leads to a full reconciliation, but it doesn’t have to. You can forgive someone and stop being mad and hurt without letting them back in your life the same way they were before. You can also love someone, but from afar.
5. Let them learn from it.
If it’s a big hurt, your kid isn’t going to be the same afterwards. Ouch. But okay, that’s how it works. Keep communication open so you know how they’re processing it, and point toward wisdom. For Sarah, she reentered that friendship with her guards up, and I told her I thought that was wise. She had always gone heart first into all of her friendships, but at some point, you have to learn to protect your own heart.
But you don’t get to decide exactly what they’re going to learn from every experience. What you do get to decide is how often you’re going to pray about it! Trust God with your kid.
So there you have it
Life is hard, and relationships are hard. They’re hard because, aside from our relationship with the Lord, they always involve flawed human beings. It’s inevitable that your kid is going to have something go sideways in a friendship, but it’s particularly difficult when it’s a church friendship. Just remember that the Lord saw it coming way before you did, and He knows exactly how to achieve His purposes in it if you’ll let Him. If the goal in our walk with Him is to become more like Him, this is one of the obstacles on the very long course to get there. Luckily, for now, your child has a coach in you.
What’s the worst hurt you’ve ever experienced from a church friend? Did it surprise you, and how did things play out?