I grew up with love stories.
When I was younger, it was about how true love made a mermaid abandon her home for a prince. When I was older, it was the Korean dramas which showed how true love perseveres in spite of disapproving parents, illnesses and rivalries.
I’ve had my perception of love shaped since I was a child: Patient, selfless and forgiving. And that’s great! Selflessly loving others is a good thing as long as we exercise discernment in doing so. That was my problem: Story books and dramas never taught me about discernment.
So I loved like a high-speed ambulance without brakes.
I met Tim when I was in school and clicked with him almost immediately. He shared his life with me, gradually letting me see how broken his family was. His real life was a stark contrast to the facade he put up for others to see, to convince everyone that his life was put together.
It didn’t take me long to realise that he was running away from the emptiness in his heart. To rid himself of loneliness, he worked his way up the social ladder. And to feel better about his self-worth, he took care of his appearance and won girls’ hearts.
But these were just temporal pleasures. What he truly needed wasn’t the love of men – but the love of God.
As I disagreed with his actions and perception of life, I rebuked him and tried to point him to a better way. I struggled to love him as a friend because he was a ball of depression and anxiety, frequently lamenting how not even God would love him.
He pinned the blame for his brokenness onto his broken family, and guilt-tripped me for not being loving enough to stay. He was emotionally manipulative, threatening me with his suicidal thoughts whenever I wanted distance from the friendship.
I often shared about my friendship with Tim to friends and mentors who also knew him. But because I thought I would be gossiping, I left out all the parts where he was toxic or emotionally manipulative. I didn’t want to taint what they thought of him in case he ever decided to come to church.
Because of the partial truths I had shared with my peers, they were unaware of the severity of the situation. So their advice was generically encouraging – not what I truly needed to hear because I was never transparent with them. And so I continued to invest in my friendship with Tim.
I continued to suffer for months until I told my friends the truth, who immediately persuaded me to get out of the friendship.
Selflessly loving others is a good thing as long as we exercise discernment in doing so.
I was heartbroken. I knew how much he needed God and had believed it was my duty to make every effort in showing Christ’s love to him. I cried as I told my mentors how I felt like I’d failed as a servant of God. But a friend shared a verse with me.
“”I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” (Matthew 10:16)
I didn’t realise that what I thought was long-suffering love, was actually me just blindly remaining in a toxic friendship.
But I don’t want this article to discourage anyone from showing love to others.
“And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.” (Philippians 1:9-11)
That’s from Paul’s letter to the Church in Philippi. I could use that prayer myself: God, help me to love others wisely.
I’ve learnt to know when a friendship has turned toxic, and how to be more accountable. I am heartened to hear from friends that Tim is doing well and pursuing a deeper understanding of God now. I know that God wants to minister to Tim – maybe just not through me. And that’s OK.
I just want to serve the Lord, who sees plainly our hearts.