It has taken me decades to embrace the beauty and benefit of failure. I did not embrace it as a high school student, young engineer, or businesswoman. I didn’t believe then what I believe now; failure is not final. Failure is refining. Failure is formative. For so long it has held such finality in my life, that I have been almost acrobatic in my avoidance of it. I would only come to learn later, that a perfectly prescribed life is devoid of freedom. Perfection is a myth. Today I am free and yet failure abounds.
I have grown skilled at bouncing back from failure in my career, but last year left me in a quandary when many of my friendships began to fail. When my friendships failed, they most certainly reflected a host of unmet expectations. Again and again. This was unfamiliar territory. Most of 2020 left me with a lingering feeling of disconnected Sundays and disloyal Mondays. I was surrounded by people who were unable to care/support me, but repeatedly expressed care/concern for me. In a move to find peace and interrogate my heart, at the end of 2020, I halted all communication with those friends and questioned whether these failures were final. This was not a moment of cancellation in a time of discomfort, but rather a pursuit of clarity in a time of chaos.
It is near the end of 2021 and I have still not spoken to many of those friends. The time hasn’t come. This year long interrogation of my heart allowed me to see something which only becomes crystal clear in adversity; there was an idol among us called friendship. In western culture it is common for youthfulness and marriage to be idolized. People go to great lengths to appear young and unavailable. As a single woman who isn’t trying to reverse the clock and isn’t sprinting to the altar, I found myself unknowingly exalting the “strong friendships” I’ve held for years. The idol of friendship came tumbling down in 2020 when adversity hit hard.
Meriam Webster defines idol as a representation or symbol of an object of worship; a likeness of something; a pretender, imposter. In earnest, I knew idolization was present when I began to subconsciously link their success or failure (as a friend) to my own success. I didn’t picture a reality where these individuals would deeply disappoint me, but they did. I didn’t picture a reality where these individuals would cause me such sadness, but they did. I definitely didn’t picture a world where I would willingly disrupt communication with them, but I did. I didn’t imagine a world where they would fail me. Idols are to be worshipped not humanized. In His sovereignty, God continues to use friendships to make me more like Him.
God will use what we idolize to sanctify us.Preston Perry
When friendships fail – I can grieve
The year 2020 nearly broke me and my relationship with the church. Although I don’t love God less, I am less likely to trust “his people.” This is a statement of grief I held over dismantled friendships with some christians. I recognize that trust will take time, but it is not impossible. When I thought failure was final in friendship, I packed away my grief and moved on. Time away from these friendships allowed me to grieve what was lost without the pressure to pretend all is well. Grief helped me see their humanity and tear down the idols.
When friendships fail – I can begin again
I am beginning the journey of rebuilding some of those friendships. It is strange to me, but I am beginning again with people I’ve known a long time. I’m learning that failure doesn’t have to be final in friendship. I’m also learning that sincere forgiveness is more powerful that superficial reconciliation. I don’t know that future of many of these friendships, but I do know that seeing them through a human lens changes everything. I don’t know at which point in life I moved away from that concept, but I’m getting back to humanity. Leaving the idea of perfect friendships behind hasn’t been easy, but I am confident it will be worth it.