I have received a few questions that fall under the category of discerning whether a particular friendship is good for you, and what to do if it isn’t.
We know from Scripture that Christ is pretty clear about loving your neighbor, and even loving and praying for your enemies. On the one hand, it doesn’t seem like a very “loving” thing to do to just up and cut someone out of your life completely. At the same time, Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians that, “bad company corrupts good morals,” and furthermore, Jesus says that, “if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off.”
From Paul’s words we hear that we cannot play the, “my friends do bad things but I’m still a good person” card. And Jesus’ command tells us what to do when the inevitable occurs if and when we decide to keep the bad company anyway.
All of that sounds pretty cut and dry in the abstract. But how do we apply it to our life? In other words: How do we know if we need to cut a specific relationship out of our life?
For starters, you know that friendship (or friendships) that popped into your head the second you started reading this post? I’m just guessing here, but they may not be the best people you could be hanging out with…
The way I see it, there is only one reason to cut someone out of your life completely. “If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off.” Translation: If you find yourself committing the same sins over and over again every time you hang out with a certain friend or a certain group of people, you need to lose those friends. And before you accuse me of being judgmental or of advising you to be unnecessarily harsh, hear this: those friends need to lose you, too.
This is a two-way street. The relationship is mutually detrimental if it leads to sin, no matter who introduced the sin in the first place. By choosing to walk away, you’re witnessing to the fact that sin is not acceptable, and that leading a holy life pleasing to God is worth any sacrifice. That is a great act of love, and it is one of the best things you could do for the other person. Staying in a friendship that centers on or leads to habitual sin is just going to continue to hurt everyone involved, and in a much more profound and potentially permanent way than bruised egos.
So you know you need to distance yourself from a specific person, or group of people. But it’s much easier said than done, I know. To help, here are some suggestions.
1. Be honest
Honesty is always, always, always, the best policy. Explain to your friends that you need some space, and be honest about why. Don’t blame them (use “I” words, not “you” words). Say that you’re trying to change ____ in your life, and that you need the space so that you are truly able to do that.
2. Try to Avoid the Last-Minute Promise to Change
It may be that your friend will hear what you’re saying and, in an attempt to keep you in his or her life, will make some sort of gesture to offer to help you beat this. This could be the most well-intentioned statement, but I would still advise to resolve to some distance. The reason being: the habits you have formed while hanging out with this friend, or group of friends, may be deeper than you realize. And despite best intentions to change, if the only thing separating last Friday night from this Friday night is a flimsy agreement to change, it will be all too easy to fall back into not-so-old [bad] habits. You need the distance. And, depending on how deep-seated the habits are, you need some drastic change to overcome them.
3. If You’re Convinced Your Friend Just Won’t Understand…
Then you just have to go cold-turkey. Cut off all communication, even if it has to be without explanation. Honesty is best, but if the relationship you need out of your life is so destructive that you do not even feel comfortable sharing your true feelings, then maybe they wouldn’t even be heard anyway. If your friend does care about you, they’ll seek you out and ask you what is going on. When you’re ready, you can tell them. If they’re true friends, they’ll understand in that moment.
4. Be Patient (and pray!) for New Friends
The bad news: this may mean your next couple of weekends are kind of boring. That’s really ok. Better to experience a little bit of boredom than placing your soul in jeopardy, right? God knows your struggle, and He’s with you through it. Finding good friends may not come easy. It may take an awkward young adult gathering (or 4), or putting yourself out there when it’s uncomfortable, but it will happen. God knows you need friends, and do not fool yourself into thinking otherwise. Just be patient in waiting to find the right ones.
5. Look in the Right Places for Friends
It’s kind of like dating. If you’re looking for a nice Catholic girl, don’t go looking in the bar at 2:00am. It’s not that you won’t find Catholics who like to have a good time, it’s just that you have a better chance of finding them if you first look for the “Catholic” part of the equation, and then narrow down your options from there. Likewise, with friends, first look for the ones who are “good”, and then narrow down your options. So start in places that have a high probability of “good” people, like church, school (the people that actually go every day), or even some sort of extracurricular activity.
6. Pray for Your Old Friends
It will help you through the lonely times, and the reality is that you will always care about them, even if you don’t speak. Praying for them is truly the best thing you can do for them and for yourself during this time. And who knows? Maybe in the future, after you have both had time to get over your bad habits, God will bring you into each other’s lives again.