Childhood friendships were easier. “You’re seven? I’m seven too! You like purple? So do I! Do you like to swing? Me too! Let’s swing and hold hands together! I can sing for us!”
Something happens as we get older though. Relationships get complicated. Sometimes we get hurt. Sometimes we can’t meet our friend’s needs. Sometimes our friends expect more than we are capable of offering. Maybe we grow apart or outgrow one another. Sometimes friendships end and we don’t even know why.
Over the years, I have “lost” friends and I wracked my brains trying to figure out why. I eagerly met their needs, I maintained confidences, was always available to listen and encourage, even when I observed areas of unhealth and foolish talk. I did not confront or oppose any disturbing attitudes or actions.
But I wonder if that might have been part of the problem. I did not speak into the spaces of their lives that were in desperate need of truth. In retrospect, I believe that quite possibly we can lose friends not only from what we do, but what we do NOT do.
“Better is open rebuke than hidden love.” Prov 27:5
Open rebuke is better than hidden love. When I first came across this verse years ago, I didn’t really “get it.” How is love “hidden” in a friendship? When you love someone, isn’t it evident in your actions? And why would open rebuke be preferable to anything at all? I don’t like being rebuked. And I don’t like rebuking others.
Yet the Proverbs say it is better than hidden love.
Clearly, an open rebuke is being straightforward with disapproval. It is calling someone on the carpet for a blatant error in attitude or action. I admit, it is risky to say to a friend “you are in the wrong” because we all know how it hurts to hear it! We overlook these errors in the name of grace, feeling like it is the “loving” thing to do. But is that best? Is that real love?
When someone is clearly in harm’s way, and we see this but do nothing to warn or draw attention to this danger, are we acting in love?
Love takes action. Author and attorney Bob Goff says, “Love Does.”
I believe our inaction at these critical moments is the hidden love described in the Proverb. “Hidden love,” avoids the issue at hand. Hidden love ignores the poison spewing out of the mouth of a friend, the attitude that is negatively affecting everyone in the room, or the abuse heaped on others in their lives.
Hidden love is self-preserving; it keeps us out of the crosshairs, safe from the destruction of a friend careening toward disaster.
Hidden love trades short-term peace for long-term tension.
Hidden love avoids and destroys.
I have withheld speaking truth to friends when their hearts, actions, and circumstances were crying out for it. I always waited for the invitation to speak into these matters, but it never came. Cautious that I may offend or wound my friend already clearly in pain, I held my tongue. No, I bit it to near bleeding. Thinking to myself, “Don’t judge…You’re just being critical…They are just coping the best way they know how.”
Yet, as their struggles multiplied and the stakes increased, the fear of speaking into those problem areas also increased. So I shrank back and said nothing.
I have been a poor friend. I have stood by, paralyzed in this minefield, shielding myself, not my friends. I did not engage those critical conversations that were heaping greater stress and pain in their lives. I did not want to trip on a wire. I did not want to be wounded or possibly wound them myself.
But Proverbs suggests:
“Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.” Prov 27:6
Wounds from a friend can be trusted!
Speaking the truth is sometimes hard. It can be uncomfortable and create tension, which most of us avoid at any cost. It must be done with love and in the interest of our friend, not our self. And yes, it hurts. It may set them off. It may wound them.
But wounds from a friend are pinpricks, healing quickly and wholly through the Holy Spirit at work in our hearts. These wounds are trustworthy…evidence of genuine love.
An enemy multiplies kisses. It is an enemy that sees danger ahead and does not warn or slow you. It is an enemy that pats you on the back saying “you are right, you deserve better, give ‘em a piece of your mind, you showed them…”
I don’t want to be the enemy.
I want to love my friends and be brave enough to point out the danger ahead. I pray that others will do that for me too!
It’s risky, I know. They may not accept your caution or appreciate your foresight. They may even write you off altogether. It’s possible.
Yet, saying nothing may cost you as well. Short-term peace brings long-term tension as the elephant in the room grows bigger, stronger, and more destructive. Hidden love avoids and destroys. An enemy multiplies kisses.
We still need to show grace. And patience. And understanding. We must pray for the Spirit to give us discernment.
Again, the aim must be to benefit our friend, not our self. It is looking to their interests, not our own, and praying that with help from the Holy Spirit, they may heal quickly and find that our friendship is ever more loving and trustworthy. I need that from my friends. And our friends need that from us!
So, what do you think? Do you value friends who are truthful and honest, even if you don’t always like what they have to say? Or do you prefer friends who only say what you want to hear?