Shelly and Deborah had been friends for years. Shelly’s marriage to Ben wasn’t without the normal challenges married couples face: communication differences, financial stress and Ben’s seeming commitment to advancing his career over time with the family. Deborah, a divorced single mom in her late 30’s, enjoyed spending time with Shelly’s family and was called “Aunt Deb” by the kids.
Over time, this friendship hit a hard spot. The root cause was the difference in how Shelly and Deb communicated about relational stuff in their lives. Shelly was quick to speak openly about issues between her and Ben while Deb kept concerns about her ex-husband, Rick, primarily to herself. Deb became wearied by what she felt were sarcastic complaints about Ben while Shelly’s frustrations with Deb’s tight lipped seeming denial of Rick’s failures grew.
Shelly believed she was being open; Deb thought she too often put Ben in a bad light through gossip. Deb was trying to protect the already tarnished reputation of her daughter’s father who left home for a co-worker; Shelly felt her silence trivialized the pain she and her daughter were experiencing and shut Shelly out of her life.
Two women, both Christians, had completely different perspectives on the part speech should play in the relationship. Both wanted to be well known but they were going about it very differently. Their friendship, like many, came to a crossroads. Would Deb start opening up more, letting Shelly into her struggles, pain and disappointment so their relationship could deepen? Was Shelly gossiping about Ben or just being the kind of transparent friend she hoped Deb could become? What needed to happen for this friendship to continue and thrive?
Resolving this would determine whether a prized friendship would grow…or slowly become distant.
As in most cases, both ladies had things to learn.
- Shelly learned to more wisely investigate her motives for talking to Deb about Ben. With God’s help, she started to learn the difference between transparency and sinful complaining. Some longstanding bitterness toward her husband for his lack of care and leadership were discovered that she saw had been affecting her attitudes and speech. She also saw that complaining about her flawed but faithful husband to her divorced friend was sometimes insensitive and thoughtless.
- Deb grew to understand that withholding common struggles and pain over the adultery and divorce was unhelpful to both her and her daughter. While she thought she was trying to avoid the gossip she felt Shelly regularly gave in to, she realized that genuine openness about heart struggles was needed for her own benefit and to learn to enjoy deeper biblical fellowship with others. She also realized that honesty doesn’t always equal gossip.
Being well known requires opening our hearts and lives to others. But that’s when it gets messy. When is openness nothing but sinful whining and complaining to gain sympathy or vent bitterness? Can we be known without ever exposing the flaws and weaknesses of others? Is it always wrong to be honest about the sins of people in our lives with friends, pastors or co-workers — especially when we’re being negatively affected?
Is it always wrong to air someone else’s dirty laundry?
Our lives are entwined with others. When you meet me, you meet Benny and our seven children and our grandchildren; my parents who are both with the Lord; and dozens of people who have left their signature on my life over decades. You also unknowingly come face to face with both painful and joyous relationships I’ve encountered over the years — circumstances and people that will now affect how I now relate to you.
So if we become friends, how much of all of that do I share with you and when is my sharing sinful or redemptive speech?
More on Shelly and Deb’s lessons tomorrow.