When Your Friends Don’t Understand You, Do You Need New Friends?

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You’ve probably heard of “church hoppers” who change congregations every few months. Often, their reasons for “hopping out” are insignificant if not ridiculous:

  • “They never played my favorite hymns.”
  • “I was getting bored.”
  • “The formality got on my nerves.”
  • “People dressed too casually.”
  • “No one ever offered to shake my hand.”
  • “I hated being told to shake hands/hug my neighbor during the service.” (Blogger’s note: I have to admit this one still tempts me!)
  • “They served cheap coffee.”

What it adds up to is an attitude of, “The church exists to serve me in the ways think best.” So much for our responsibility as believers to serve and edify the body.

Some people hop between friends or spouses in the same way. The first time someone isn’t immediately available, says something thoughtless, or shows an annoying habit–that relationship is history. Maybe the perfect friend who never misunderstands is yet around the corner. Of course, that ideal person never appears; life becomes an increasingly cynical search for the perfect happiness one wrongly feels entitled to.

“But My Friends Really Don’t Understand Me!”

All that said, it does sometimes happen that a relationship is a poor fit. A friendship may be running on borrowed time if:

  • A friend doesn’t speak your “love language” and disdains your attempts to explain your needs–e. g., continues to greet you with a slap on the back and laughs at your requests to stop, saying you should accept it like “normal” people.
  • A friend shares no real interests with you. A classic trouble sign is when someone starts complaining, “We always do what she wants, even though I hate it.”
  • A friend habitually interrupts you, is aggressive in attempts to convert you on points of disagreement, or insists on giving “help” you don’t want or need.
  • A friend can’t be trusted to keep secrets and promises.
  • A friend never wants to listen when you have a problem–or dances around sensitive topics in general.
  • A friend is constantly on the down beat. Especially if you’re battling depression or a bad attitude, it’s often a good idea to put distance between yourself and chronic grumblers, lest their “nothing good in this world” talk poison your own thinking.
  • A friend is all take and no give–or vice versa.
  • No matter what you do, you always feel drained after spending time with a particular friend.

(If any of the above seem to describe all your friends, past and present, consider talking with a therapist: you’re likely doing something to attract the wrong people for you.)

Are You Trying to Understand Them?

However, if you can’t charge a friend with any of the above faults, yet still are feeling they don’t understand or that you’re just tired of them, consider the following before you give up:

  • Are you expecting more of them than they can give–due either to their human limitations or their own personal struggles?
  • If they have some specific mannerism that annoys you, have you actually told them so? There’s a big difference between callous and clueless, and no one should be blamed for not reading your mind.
  • If they seem to have changed without cause, might there actually be a cause? Could they be nursing some hurt you’re unaware of? Might you have hurt them without realizing it?
  • If you’re just plain bored with them–especially if you’ve been “too busy” to enjoy the together times of old–could you plan an outing or new experience together?
  • (This applies to every circumstance.) Have you bothered to confront the problem and talk about it? Running from a secret grudge is the coward’s way out, and is likely to lead to the problem recurring with your next friend.

And remember, even Job found reconciliation with his friends eventually!

Positive Thinking vs. Godly Comfort

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How do you tell a “dark night of the soul” (a period of spiritual desolation God uses to test your reliance on Him) from plain old clinical depression? Support from strong spiritual mentors is helpful both in discerning the difference and in getting through either. But what many Christians get instead is “Job’s comforters” advice:

  • “Just snap out of it.”
  • “You must have done something wrong; fix that and everything will be fine.”
  • “If God seems far away, you’re the one who moved.”

My all-time favorite is, “You’ve got to think positive,” often phrased as “Look at all God’s given you; don’t be such an ingrate,” or “Complaining is a sin.” Like Job’s friends, you started out to make me feel better and wound up kicking me with blame-toed boots while I was already down.

Confession time: Studying at Wheaton Graduate School twenty years ago, I regularly heard, “How can you moan about your problems when God’s so good to you?” from one fellow student. When she had to return home because of her father’s severe illness, I silently gloated over the thought that she wouldn’t find it so easy to be perennially cheerful now. I know that attitude was nothing to be proud of and wouldn’t pass the “What Would Jesus Do?” test. There are more Christlike ways to deal with “positive thinkers,” even when you’re at your worst emotionally.

Choose Your Companions Carefully

If someone never shows a trace of unhappiness and can’t understand why you aren’t like that–which leads you to feel jealous and resentful–don’t feel guilty about limiting contact with that person. As St. Paul notes in 1 Corinthians 8, sincere Christians are entirely capable of doing blameless-in-themselves things that can exert bad influence on fellow believers. Your spiritual growth will be better nurtured among less cheerful contacts.

Let me quickly clarify that neither should your contacts be gloom-and-doom types who are all too eager to join you in one pity party after another–that really is the sort of complaining God hates. What you need to look for are empathetic and insightful people who are good listeners, genuinely sympathize with your pain, and dispense advice in small tactful doses. If you have trouble finding anyone, try visiting a Celebrate Recovery or mental-health peer support group.

Be a Giver

If you’re really in an emotional pit, you may not feel like associating with anyone at all. Withdrawing into self-pity, however, will just bring you down lower and lower. By contrast, voluntarily doing something for someone else has a surprisingly uplifting effect on your feelings. Not only does God comfort us so we will have comfort to share with others, He uses the comfort we share with others as a channel to provide fresh comfort to us.

You can join an organized volunteer program or just look for opportunities to offer a kind word to someone who needs it. (And if someone who’s told you to “Snap out of it and cheer up” hits a rough patch, I hope you’ll be more mature than I was as a graduate student, and treat them as you’d want to be treated.)

Remember the Source of All Comfort

You can also help others by praying for them. And keep praying daily for yourself, even when you can’t feel God’s presence or see any obvious change. Fill your mind with comforting truths from God’s Word. Be patient and trust He will yet bring you through to true joy.

And yes, accept that this is not likely to be quick and easy. Like Paul, you may even have to live with this “thorn in the flesh” indefinitely. Often, all that’s kept me going is inherent stubbornness and a lack of alternatives.

Whatever else happens, cling to this: God cares, He treasures a personal relationship with you, and He can use the most surprising tools to lead you into the most amazing blessings.

  • A blog for naturally melancholy Christians tired of being told to "snap out of it"; for Christians who struggle with mental-health issues and long for assurance God delights in them nonetheless; and for naturally optimistic Christians who want to understand their "gloomy" loved ones.

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  • About Me

    I am the go-to writer for people with tough stress issues and special emotional needs—and for those who love them, organizations that serve them, and anyone who just wants to better understand the world of mental/emotional struggles. Or who just wants to pick up some good stress-management tips! Visit my main website at www.PositiveContentFactory.com.

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    Bible quotes used in this blog are from the New Living Translation or the New International Version (1984). See http://www.biblegateway.com/ for copyright details.
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