Thumbing on my phone through Instagram stories I pause on a trending video. It’s a lady, ranting about adult friendships, about how no one prepares you for the pain that comes with losing friends. This video went viral on social media, at least in Uganda. And like a flu, many people caught and shared it. As it turned out, her pain wasn’t unique. The heart-wrenching breakdown of friendships is a tragically common experience among adults.

The heart-wrenching breakdown of friendships is a tragically common experience.

Below I want to explore a few related questions. They are: why do friendships break down; because relational breakdown seems inevitable, should we even bother with friendships; and how do we keep going in the wake of hurt and conflict that even the best of friendships create?

God Made Us for Community

One dictionary defines friendship as a state of enduring affection, esteem, intimacy, and trust between two people. It goes on to say that across cultures, friendships are vital relationships throughout a person’s life.

God wired us for community.

Though this definition appears to exaggerate the significance of friendship, this should come as no surprise for Christians. For God created us that way. It’s who we are. We are created to be in community, to coexist with one another in this world. That is why it causes us such great pain when friendships are lost. God wired us for community, relationships and therefore friendship.

Why Do Friendships Break Down?

Very simply, friendships breakdown because we are all sinners, inhabiting a broken world. This makes coexisting in harmony a challenge. I will rub you up the wrong way. And you will do the same to me. No matter how much we like each other. When it comes to cultivating intimate, lasting friendships, we are up against the world, our own sin (the flesh), and the devil.

And the troubling truth is this: there are few places where our sin is more exposed than in relationships. Flawed people in a fallen world will inevitably hurt each other.

Flawed people in a fallen world will inevitably hurt each other.

Reflecting on that Instagram story I realised that our desire for perfect friendships is part of who God made us to be, yet will always be frustrated by our imperfections. Sin pervades all of life. And, in addition to sin potentially ruining friendships, it also means we can sometimes idolise them. This too results in disappointment and hurt.

So should we even bother? I mean, if friendship is riddled by sin that often tends towards devastating breakdown or idolatrous disappointment, aren’t we better off just avoiding it?

Is Friendship Even Worth Pursuing?

If you’re anything like me, in the wake of conflict or even in the midst of it, you want to run. You want to run not only from the situation but also from your own sinful self, with pride and ego in-hand. Thus we often forget that right there in the hurt and pain God is testing and strengthening our faith, so that we might be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing (James 1:2-4).

Friends will hurt you. You will hurt your friends. But because God has wired you for friendship you ought to work it out. Jesus seems to say that we must sort out our disagreements because they hinder our worship to him (Matthew 5:23-24). This is why he provides guidelines on how to resolve conflict (Matthew 18:15-17). Jesus’ teaching was no doubt the backdrop to Paul’s exhortation: “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” (Romans 12:18).

In Christ, God demonstrates loving and unasked for action, which makes reconciliation possible.

From those verses it’s pretty clear that we shouldn’t sit on our porches, with our ego in hand, waiting for the other party to come along seeking reconciliation. They might even be in the wrong. Yet, in Christ, God demonstrates loving and unasked for action, which makes reconciliation with those who’d sinned against him possible. We would do well to imitate him, especially in our friendships.

Now, I’m in no way disregarding the tumultuous feelings that accompany losing a friend. Nor am I making little of the hurts we easily inflict on those closest to us. But in the gospel we learn how to navigate those hurts and pains, failings and imperfections. The result of such reconciliation is more often than not richer, more robust, and God-honouring friendships.

What a Friend We Have in Jesus—So Imitate Him

Whether it’s because a friend has passed away or a friend has deserted you, we can all take comfort in Jesus. Why? Because he is the friend that never leaves.

One writer gives an impeccable description of losing those we love saying: “You can replace almost anything. But it’s impossible to replace a person—at least not one that you’ve shared a meaningful relationship with. Describing the ‘heart of those who love and are loved,’ Augustine says is, ‘to long with impatience for those absent, to welcome them with gladness on their arrival.’ But there is unending absence, departure without return, and the unfulfilled longing for someone we have lost. For someone we have left behind.” All friendships possess incredible potential for suffering, loss, and heartbreak.

We need a friend who never fails: Jesus. And knowing him should transform other friendships.

Knowing this we need a friend who never fails: Jesus. And knowing him should radically transform other friendships and also moderate our expectations for them. The same writer quoted above says this, in another article: “True Christian friendship is costly. Conversely, it doesn’t keep a relational check and balance. Christian friendship demands that we absorb one another’s failings and foibles. In friendship, we get to imitate Christ by showing mercy to those we love, offering grace instead of judgment, acceptance rather than accusations.”

May God help us all to do this for his glory and our good.