For the first 23 years of my life, I was Little Miss Perfect who never made any mistakes (that were public). And of course, I didn’t associate with people who made those mistakes. You know, like good little Christian girls do.
It was a boring, lifeless, self-serving existence.
But also, God changed me when I became a Young Life leader. Being a Young Life leader meant that little old shy me, who didn’t know what marijuana smelled like, and never got drunk, and liked being safe and warm in my little dorm room, became best friends with a bunch of wild and crazy high school girls.
Young Life was the best thing that ever happened to me.
I learned many things. But one sad one was what it felt like to see someone you love self-destruct.
It doesn’t seem to get easier as I get older, either. Right now I have a friend, a dear friend, making some heartbreaking choices.
Honestly, I wish I knew more about how to love him. What I know is small, and often feels gapingly insufficient. But I thought I’d share some of my thoughts today – because if you, too, are hurting for a lost friend, my heart goes out to you, and I know you need all the encouragement you can get.
How do you show love to someone when you disagree with some of their life choices?
- Maintain the relationship. Not a fake one – a real, true, genuine relationship. I imagine this is true for any role – whether you’re a parent with a wayward child, or just a friend. That old saying is so true: People don’t care how much you know unless they know how much you care. Laugh together. Spend time. Make jokes. Compliment them. Do all of the “normal things” that sometimes seem like the last thing you want to do. Keep on being present, so if the walls come down and they need some guidance, you are right there.
- When you’re not sure what to say, just say something. This goes with the former point. It’s easy to feel afraid you’ll say “the wrong thing.” Be too pushy, too fluffy, too accepting, too judgmental…When I feel myself over-analyzing, I take a deep breath, say a prayer, and just engage the relationship. I would rather be more present then absent in my friend’s life, even it means I make mistakes sometimes.
- Pray your friend would experience God’s overwhelming love – and also suffering, if necessary, as these two things can wake us up to the truth. Praying for these things gave a structure to my prayers.
- Share your thoughts, but not frequently. No one wants to hear about their “issue” all the time. You wouldn’t, right? Neither does your friend. I keep thinking about an example I heard ages ago: you have to “make deposits” in the relational bank before you can “make withdrawals.” If I say something serious or convicting, I need to fill my friend’s “bank” up again and again, before I say another!
- Pray, pray, pray. When you’re sick of praying, gather some friends and pray together. This is obvious, but I would be remiss to mention it. Recently our church was planning a prayer meeting, and one man remarked, “You know, many people may not come…because the truth is, we don’t really believe our prayers are powerful!” Unfortunately, this is true. But how many times have you seen the Lord show up when his people pray? It does work. It is effective. Do not let the devil lie to you that it is not.
- Don’t forget the Prodigal Son. Don’t forget that redemption is possible. That the arms of the Father are always open. But also – don’t forget the older brother! No one is perfect. Seeing my friend struggle reminds me to come before the Lord honestly with my weaknesses, and to ensure I have accountability in my own life.
I would really love to hear from you wiser, seasoned Christians. How do you love a friend who has made poor choices? Or better yet, if you were one who struggled – how could a friend have helped you?