I met my best high school friend as a freshman, and by the next year we had dreamt up adventures together well into the future. With the type of friendship where we were both comfortable being ourselves, we even had a shot at making them happen. But a few years in, under circumstances outside either of our control, our friendship ended with the close of my junior year.
A Space to Fill
When I lost my friend, I lost the one person I could text at any time; even if I didn’t know what to say, we would start a conversation. I lost the one who understood when I was sad but would also make me smile, and I missed the way we could communicate with just a look. But mostly, I lost the person who stood with my goofy self, my tired self, my dreaming self, my uncertain self, my laughing self, and my sad self – and from my perspective, I didn’t see how anyone else would possibly be willing to do the same again.
That following summer, I had plenty of time to think about this and wonder if I would ever feel better. I started working more and when I was at home I began biking or running in my neighborhood. I focused on volunteering at my church and attended a Steubenville conference. Doing each of these things in themselves were good ways to cope, but in the end, they simply kept me distracted from the hurt I had to feel. It took me a lot longer to find what actually filled the empty spaces inside: love.
Perfect love can only be found in Christ. As Love Himself, it is God our hearts seek when we feel a need for relationship. Nothing else in this world can fill that, and that is why in any difficult moment it is so important to turn first to Him. We always have a listening Father who wants to hear what is on our hearts – even if for one summer, it’s simply hurt and confusion. But because we were created in the image of the Trinity, we were also made to be in communion with other people. Just as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit share love, we too were designed with this in our very nature. Desiring to form friendships and coming to care about people is natural, necessary, and very good.
There is remarkable freedom to become your best self when someone loves you for all you are in the moment, and also sees that you were made for more and is excited for you to grow along the journey. At first, I didn’t know how to accept that; when making new friends and strengthening existing friendships the next year, I was afraid of uncertainty because it was still painful missing the person who had known me best over those years. I was worried about becoming close to people again, especially when time came for me to think about moving. But the remarkable thing about people who truly love you is that they love you through all the confusion. They love you both when you’re happy and when you’re scared, and if you talk to them, they’ll listen. Losing a friend is certainly a reason to be afraid to make more, but that fear won’t heal you. As paradoxical as it seems, reaching back out into the world with your love and friendship – and the immense comfort of accepting love in return – is what will ease the hurt.
It certainly takes time to heal from losing someone who once knew you so well. It’s not something that will come immediately, but as you navigate new friendships moving forward, here are a few things that I’ve found to be helpful things to keep in mind as you begin to heal:
Be genuinely you: When you lose a friend, it’s natural to miss that sense of fitting in just right with someone who knew you so well. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to find that again, but don’t change or hide who you are because you think people will accept you more. Friendships like that won’t be genuine, and you’ll always feel something missing – more likely than not, it will be the piece of you that you don’t want to show. But the right people will love and value that piece just as much as the best you have to offer if you have the patience to wait for them.
Love grows: For a long time into my senior year, I worried that if I cared as much for others as I had for my friend it somehow meant that I didn’t miss her, and if so that I had never truly cared at all. But as I received love and then the more I gave it, an interesting thing happened – I found that love isn’t limited by space. There’s not a set amount before you run out; instead, as Mother Teresa said, “if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love.” Continuing to give love to others doesn’t take away from the love you’ve given or received in the past, nor does it mean that love wasn’t genuine.
Prayer transcends time and space: Something else that became important to me is still praying for people I’ve cared about, even if they are no longer in my life. Because I still love them, I still want the very best for them. Every night I keep them in my prayers, and sometimes when people ask how they can pray for me I still say their name. Not seeing or speaking to someone anymore does not mean you’ve stopped loving them, and love constantly wishes the good of the other. One of the best ways to continue that, then, is to still pray for someone and trust that God will work healing and good in their life, as the Ultimate Good Himself.
Presence in the present: One more thing that I have learned is an immense sense of gratitude for the people I do have in my life. Knowing how much it hurts to lose people can help remind us how valuable their presence is (and we should let them know we appreciate them!). It can help us focus on the present, and not dwell on the past or worry about the future. Especially not knowing how the future will play out, gratitude for those we have in our lives right now can be an immense source of comfort.
Since that summer, I’ve been blessed to realize I have friends that I cannot imagine life without. They laugh with me, love me even through my mistakes, and most importantly challenge me to grow – and grow closer to Christ. Different seasons of your life bring different needs, and very often friends can come and go. That isn’t to say you’ll lose people with every season; sometimes the friendship just looks different depending on what you both need. Some people are meant to be in your life for a time, and that’s all. Others, you may grow apart and then find each other again when you’re ready. And some friendships will have the strength to remain despite challenges, even if they look a little bit different than you imagined. As you grow, your relationships will look different, but God will ensure that the people you need in your life are there when and how you need them. You have only to let Him show you.