It happens in all kinds of ways. One friend just slowly backs off from liking posts on Facebook, waves at a distance from across the sanctuary, stops texting to check up on me.
Another observes complete radio silence as soon as she walks away from the graveside.
Still another hangs in for a few weeks-calls, texts, even invites me to lunch until I can see in her eyes that my lack of “progress” is making her uneasy. Then she, too, falls off the grid.
Why do people do that?
Why is it, when we need them most, many friends-and I mean really, truly FRIENDS–just can’t hang in and hold on?
I admit in the early days I didn’t care WHY they did it.
It broke my heart and enraged me all at the same time. I felt abandoned, judged, forgotten, pressured to conform to some unwritten standard of how I was “supposed” to do grief and utterly, completely forsaken.
It took me months to begin to even consider their perspective and years to come to a place where I could forgive them.
Here’s what I’ve figured out this side of devastating, overwhelming, heart-shattering pain about why some friends run away:
- I represent their greatest fear. I am a billboard for loss. My life screams, “We are NOT in control!” And that is scary. Most folks run away from scary if they can.
- I remind them that faith is a living thing, tender and vulnerable to trials and testing. We love to tout Sunday School answers that follow like the tag lines on Aesop’s fables when asked about anything to do with Jesus or how God works in the world. But it’s just not that simple. The Bible is full (FULL!) of untidy stories where even the giants of faith got it wrong for a season. I think people are afraid that if they follow me down the rabbit hole of questions they might never come back out. Better to stand outside and hope I emerge safe and sound without risking themselves.
- My situation is messy and they don’t want to get involved. I will need ongoing, intense investments of emotional energy and time. Who knows where it might lead? Who knows how many hours might have to be given to come alongside and support someone whose journey looks more like slogging through a swamp than a walk in the park? These folks are just not going to risk entanglement.
- Some friends and family are genuinely afraid of doing harm. They feel my pain so deeply that they are frozen, unable to do or say anything because they fear they will make things worse. These are the hearts most easy to forgive and the ones most likely to jump back in when I assure them they cannot make it worse but their support can make it better.
- Some people were going to disappear anyway. We don’t like to admit it but many friendships are only for a season-we go to the same church, live in the same neighborhood, our kids go to the same school-and as soon as circumstances change these people fade away. Well, circumstances certainly changed! They leave because our differences outweigh our similarities and it requires too much effort to maintain the friendship.
Understanding why people run away has helped my heart.
It doesn’t undo the pain inflicted by abandonment of those I felt sure would stay close by my side, but it puts it in perspective.
Truth is, I’m not sure how many people I would have stalwartly supported for the long haul either before Dominic ran ahead to heaven.
None of us possess infinite emotional, mental, physical and relational resources. It’s only natural that we portion them out according to our own priorities-even when that means abandoning friends who really need us.
Rehearsing offense only ties me in knots.
It changes nothing.
I have limits as well.
Forgiving those that chose to walk away frees me to use my resources in more fruitful ways that help me heal.