Al is my best friend. Well, “Al” is not her full name, but that’s what we’re calling her today. Al and I have been joined at the hip since the 7th grade. What really bound us to one another is that we met the Lord on the same day in the same place and have been each other’s primary support system ever since. Over the years, when one of us was stumbling in the darkness, the other came to kick down the door and let the light back in. When one of us was love-drunk with a silly crush on some jerk, the other was there to splash on the cold water to sober her up. We have the tough-love thing down to an art and have never been afraid to have hard conversations or say what we felt.
For most of our friendship, we were both single. It was less of a moral choice and more of a braces and frizzy hair situation. But, both of us were graciously spared the experience of having boyfriends until a few years after high school. Al had a particularly tough set of experiences, and her faith in a man who could both love Jesus and be emotionally healthy was dwindling. Her standards for the kind of man she wanted to date had been beaten down after being disappointed in men who called themselves Christian but weren’t all that great as human beings.
She called me out of the blue one day to tell me about a date she had been on with a new guy. I’ll never forget the pit in my stomach, growing as she told me about how their first date went down. She shared that the day that they met, she invited him over to her place. My insides screamed “ON THE DAY THAT YOU MET?! ARE YOU CRAZY?!” But, I kept my cool. Sort of.
She said that they moved a little too fast physically that night, but she wanted to see him again. You can probably guess how our conversation went.
Me: “That sounds a little sketchy. Does he love Jesus?”
Al: “Well, I mean, I don’t know. I don’t think so.”
Me: “Okay. So, What are you thinking here?”
Al: “Well! He just… He seems cool so, I don’t know.”
Me: “Yeah, this doesn’t sound like a very healthy thing. You know that.”
Al: “He’s REALLY funny.”
Me: “You know what I’m gonna say…”
Al: “’He doesn’t love Jesus.’”
Me: “Yep. I’m sure he’s great, but be careful.”
He’s not a Christian. They moved fast physically on the first day that they met. Alarms were going off in my head and fear started to creep into my heart. We had always wanted the same things. We both wanted to marry funny, smart, music-loving Christian men who would eventually become best friends and we’d all live happily ever after. This was NOT a part of the plan.
Al and her man dated for a couple of years. She brought him down to meet all of her friends, and sure, I got it: he was a charismatic, good-looking guy. However, when I looked in her eyes I could clearly see the part of her that she had shut off. I could see beyond “No! Trust me! I’ve really prayed about this.” I could see beyond “Seriously, I’ve never felt more like myself.” A few months into things she began sleeping with him; a first for her. She blissfully ignored some major red flags, which she wasn’t telling anyone about, and of course, the fact that he still didn’t love Jesus.
This wasn’t Al’s first relationship that I had questioned. She had a history of “Beauty and the Beast” dating. You know the story. Belle, a gem of a woman gets trapped in the Beast’s castle where he perpetually mistreats her, but she knows deep down he has the potential to be a good guy. Sound familiar? If I had a quarter for every time I’ve heard “But he really has an amazing heart!”, well, sisters, I’d be rich.
Because I had made my opinion known about previous relationships, Al often avoided telling me what was really going on. We lived on opposite sides of California at the time and our phone conversations started becoming sparse. With a friendship as close as ours, it’s virtually impossible to fake anything. We couldn’t talk about her relationship without getting into a tough spot because she could hear right through my diplomatic responses to her choices, and I was tired of her trying to sell me on this guy. Once every few months we’d get into a brutal blow-out fight about it. I knew she was sleeping with him, not because she told me, but because of how blind she was to all his flaws, how deaf she had grown to her own voice, and how attached she was to him.
Truthfully, I thought she was lost forever. I thought she would never come back to her faith, never want the good things I believed God wanted for her, and that our friendship was permanently broken. When I thought of her my chest grew tight, my heart would start to ache, and I would start to spin my wheels, rehearsing arguments to her reasoning in my head over and over again. I had no control over her life, but my whole being was tense as if I were holding onto it with all of my strength.
One day, I was thinking about her, grieving where things were at, when I sensed God calling for my attention. I was stopped in my tracks when He said “Do you really think I’m gonna let her go? I will never let her go, so you can stop trying to do my job now.” I burst into tears as I realized that I had been trying to do what only God can do: change her heart. It didn’t matter how right I was. The part of her that kept running back to a guy who didn’t deserve her wasn’t my responsibility to heal; it was God’s.
In the book of Ecclesiastes, Solomon writes “There is a time for everything…A time to embrace, and a time to not embrace” (3:1,5).
With Al, I found myself only practicing the second half of that statement. Not embracing things is my specialty. If I’m honest, I sometimes see things as black and white, and when things get a little gray, I don’t always handle it smoothly.
All at once, God convicted my heart to rest in the truth that He cares about Al more deeply than I can perceive and that I hadn’t been trusting Him with her. I had already spoken my opinion boldly, and it was time to let it go and embrace her.
I needed to stop fighting with her and trust God to fight for her.
My inability to embrace the place she was in wasn’t only pushing us apart, but it wasn’t effectively changing anything for the better. What she needed from me wasn’t a voice of condemnation but an open door. I did my best to just be there for her from that point on. I struggled, but still fought to remember that God wasn’t abandoning her, and I didn’t need to try to control the pace of her journey.
About an hour after I decided to let it go, she called me to tell me they had broken up. No joke. It took a while before the break was clean, but that phone call reminded me that I am terrible at being God, but I can truly rest in knowing that He knows what He’s doing. I can relax the part of me that wants to control, and allow myself to just love my friend right where she’s at.
One of the most convicting moments in the process was when after they had broken up, she confessed to me how hurt she had been by this season in our friendship. She told me “Honestly, my biggest fear is that if I marry someone who isn’t a Christian, that you won’t even come to my wedding.” That crushed me, and was a wake-up call that I had allowed my opinions to cause my best friend to question whether or not I would be there for her on the most important day of her life. I had let being right become more important than being kind.
There’s a time to say what you think, to tell hard truths in love, and there’s a time to stop arguing, raise up a white flag and throw your arms around people. When your opinions about someone or their choices start to prevent you from loving them well, it’s time to check yourself.
There must come a time after you’ve said what you needed to say when you are able to entrust the heart-changing stuff to God and for you to just do your job, which is to love. That is the time to embrace.
Embracing is hard when you can clearly see friends making destructive choices, but an embrace is what they will need after they’ve come to their breaking point. Al knows she made some unwise choices; she doesn’t need me to remind her of how right I was about that time in her life. We joke these days about how crazy that season was, and we praise God together that He brought us out of it.
After a long season of hardship, Al is now dating a wonderful Christian guy who’s a good friend of ours from church. She’s learning that God really does have good things for her. Most importantly, she’s learning all of that because God moved in her life over the past couple of years to bring her to this place. It wasn’t because of my input that she got here, and that was important for me to learn. God really did have her in His hands, and I’m thankful He has each of us in them, too. I’m deeply grateful for His grace as I stumble through learning how to love like Him, and pray that I learn to trust in His timing better than I did with Al.
May we, as we seek to love like Love, Himself, learn when the time to embrace is and is not. May we embrace others like He has embraced us, and may we rest in the knowledge that the work He began in us will be carried to completion (Phil. 1:6) even when it feels like all hope is lost.