2003. I still remember the first time I met her.
We were both 11-years-old when she transferred to my class. Her hair was tied into a tight ponytail. With her fringe pinned up, every single strand of her hair was slickly cordoned off to the side.
Ramrod straight, she sat tall in her seat. A model student. A prefect.
And then there was me. A rough mess.
Who would have thought she’d be the one I’d introduce to others as my best friend for the next decade of my life?
2007. “I don’t understand why Christians have to tithe. Why can’t it be like other religions where you give out of free will?” she questioned over a flurry of SMSes.
She’d never had a good experience with Christianity because of a hypocritical Christian relative. I had only recently become a believer. So I did my best to put a message together, explaining how we tithe and why we do it.
She wasn’t convinced. More questions came flooding in.
I had all but run out of words. I sighed and put the phone down.
2008. “I can’t take it anymore. Please stop telling me about him,” I begged her through a text.
She’d gotten into an ambiguous relationship with a guy from work who already had a girlfriend. We both knew he wasn’t a good guy. On multiple occasions I cautioned her against the relationship, but it was to no avail. She didn’t want to listen, and I couldn’t bear to helplessly watch the disaster unfolding before me.
As I waited for her reply, I began to regret sending that message. I had acted out of frustration. My phone vibrated.
I think that was the first time I realised just how much we had changed. She was no longer the best friend I knew in primary school, just like how I wasn’t the same rough mess. Our values, belief systems and worldviews had shifted over the years. There were but a few things we still saw eye-to-eye on. And while we remained friends, we weren’t nearly as close as before.
8 years later, we ended things on a bad note. Our friendship was marked with scars as the years passed, slowly fraying until it all fell apart. Where did it all go wrong?
3 LESSONS FROM LOSING A FRIEND
1. RELATIONSHIP REQUIRES INTENTIONALITY
Upon graduation, we went to different schools. We kept to ourselves except during birthday gatherings where we caught up with each other. But in those quick meet-ups, we always had to condense what had happened to us over the course of a few months into quick summaries.
We thought this arrangement worked fine. But the truth was we weren’t present in each other’s good and bad times. Like watching a rerun of a familiar series, we lived through each other’s lives in fast-forwarded highlights.
The less we invest in our relationships, the less both parties get out of it.
Looking back, I’ve learnt that it isn’t enough to simply “update” a treasured friend. Personal involvement is crucial too. There is a difference between being present and simply being aware of the ups and downs in a friend’s life. And sure, even if you don’t get a lot of time to spend with that person, intentionality is required in maintaining any relationship. The question is how much is it worth to you?
Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously (2 Corinthians 9:6).
Even the oldest friendships require effort to sustain them. The less we invest in our relationships, the less both parties get out of it.
2. DON’T JUST DWELL ON PAST GLORIES
When I look back, I realised a lot of our conversations revolved around the good old times. We kept going back to our after-school shenanigans: How we would wrestle with each other, the boys we used to have crushes on… It was fun reminiscing the old times.
But it was pretty much all we ever did.
Nostalgia’s sweet, but constantly living in the past may also mean that we’re missing out on the present. So instead of building something new and meaningful, we let a friendship go stale.
I was reminded of this lesson when I watched an episode of Black Mirror titled “The Entire History Of You”. Set in an alternative reality where people can have implants installed in their bodies to record and play back everything they see and hear through their eyes, the main character obsessively rewinds footages from happier times – from before his wife left him.
Trapped in his own memories, he was miserable and unable to move on.
WARNING: Slightly disturbing scene starting from 3:20
While admittedly the show is an extreme depiction of dangerous nostalgia, it still holds a poignant truth: When you’re so stuck in the past, you let go of the present and are at risk of living in denial.
And I now realise how detrimental that was to my friendship.
For the past 10 years, we called each other “best friends” but we were close only in name. In reality, we barely knew each other.
We weren’t really best friends. We had stopped being best friends a long time ago.
3. OUR FAITH IS ALSO A FRIENDSHIP
Drifting apart in a relationship doesn’t happen overnight. It is a subtle process. How I wish I had known that earlier. I wish I didn’t have to learn this lesson through losing a friend.
But it’s the exact same with our relationship with God.
Jesus said that there will be people who claim to know Him on Judgment Day, people who He will have to dismiss because they never truly did (Matthew 7:21-23). It’s a sobering reminder that our faith is evidenced in a living, breathing, evolving relationship with Jesus – not a one-off meeting (Philippians 2:12).
“Jesus spoke to them again in parables, saying: “The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come, but they refused to come. “Then he sent some more servants and said, ‘Tell those who have been invited that I have prepared my dinner: My oxen and fattened cattle have been butchered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet.’
“But they paid no attention and went off—one to his field, another to his business. The rest seized his servants, mistreated them and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.
“Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. So go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’ So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, the bad as well as the good, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.
“But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. He asked, ‘How did you get in here without wedding clothes, friend?’ The man was speechless.
“Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
“For many are invited, but few are chosen.” (Matthew 22:1-14)
If we think our relationship with God is rock solid and needs little attention, we need to think again. The moment where you think you’ve arrived is the moment where pride has won.
Are we in true, continual fellowship with God or are we just living lives of denial?
For those who aren’t believers yet, the invitation to the wedding banquet has been sent. All that’s left to do is to add your name to the guest list. But just as there’s a time to invite – there will also come a time when it’ll be too late to RSVP.
Come. Come before it’s too late.