Growing up in a dysfunctional home, I always felt ‘different’–the odd one out. It took many years for me to understand that I felt this way, not necessarily because of how people viewed me but because of my perception of myself based on the abuse I lived with. However, I always understood that it didn’t feel good being the outsider in relationships so I made a decision at a young age to accept everyone and never join a clique that excluded others. In the process I distanced myself at a heart level and avoided bonding with anyone.
The advantage to doing relationships this way was that people could come and go out of my life without me needing to grieve loss or deal with loneliness. I would quickly fill the empty spot with a new friendship. The downside was that I never felt loved for who I really am, flaws and all, other than in my home after I married. To be loved that completely we have to let someone see our faults and imperfections–something that is hard to do in casual relationships.
Eventually I allowed myself to establish friendships at this level with a small group of women and for a few years we met every few weeks. Whether it was coffee and sharing heart to heart, or another social event, we seemed to have developed something pretty amazing. We shared struggles, prayed together, encouraged each other–it was a dream come true. And then, as is often the case in a clique, something happened and things deteriorated. The dream became a nightmare.
Two of the women who had become best friends ran into relational crisis that they were seemingly not able to overcome and, to add to the fallout, one of them decided she could no longer trust me. The way she handled this was to approach the others and exclude me, replacing me with a new friend, and occasionally excluding the other woman she was having difficulty with.
When I asked her why she no longer trusted me, she said it was because of how I had confronted an abusive church leader from my past. She was not there when I made the call but I had shared it with her in confidence. I was neither rude nor condemning in my confrontation, but rather chose an appeal, urging him to repent and take ownership for all the damage he had done, not only in my life but in many lives.
I told her I would do it again in a heartbeat, given the opportunity, because I would rather give abusers a chance to repent than to speak evil of them behind their backs without ever confronting their sin. I assured her that I could accept her more laid-back personality and asked her to accept me for who I am. After numerous failed attempts at connecting with her and restoring relationships, I told her that I would leave the ball in her court. She never made any attempt to reconnect, though she did ‘bless’ me in our final conversation, telling me that she had some personal issues to work through.
Initially it was very painful and the loss of what I thought we had developed was difficult to accept. One evening about 3 months prior to the fallout, we had met as a group and promised we would always be there for each other, be honest in friendship, stand together and help each other in areas of struggle. To abruptly lose this was one of the most devastating things I have experienced in adulthood. To learn that my friend had harboured her negative feelings for years, while pretending to care deeply, was an even greater betrayal.
I vowed I would never again let a group of women close to my heart. “Never again!” I declared to my husband. “I will continue to trust the people who have proven themselves to me but I will trust no one new. And if anyone betrays me, that’s it! No second chances!”
For several months I held to my vow. And then slowly I opened my heart but it was different. I cringed at having an inner circle or letting anyone too close so I erred on the side of caution and spread myself thin again, the same way I had earlier in life. At least no one could get close enough to betray me that way.
It was what I observed in how Jesus did relationships that helped me build more balanced relationships and see that a well-managed inner circle is a good thing.
Jesus asked 12 men to step into His life and invited each to have an intimate relationship with Him. These were the most personal, trusting relationships He developed while here on earth. I believe this served several purposes. By having twelve, rather than just one or two, there was balance in the group. Each disciple brought with him a unique personality and point of view, creating relational dynamics that one or two could not have brought. Jesus also did this so that He could equip these men to carry on the vision in His heart—the vision God had given Him. With no one to carry on after His death, the redemption story would not have spread across the earth and would have defeated the purpose of His death.
Like Jesus, our greatest visions are fulfilled through relationships. We were not created to do life alone. To realize our true purpose and accomplish great things, we need to invite a broad range of people into our lives and share our vision with them.
Within that group of 12, Jesus had an inner circle of men whom He invited into places the others did not get invited. And within that inner circle was one friend, John, whom Jesus loved with the greatest vulnerability.
It is important to allow a broad range of friends to speak into our lives and have an inner circle of friends that get to see the most raw places of our hearts: friends who are going to love us no matter what those flaws are, and who will help us grow. Friends who are willing to go through the ups and downs of relationship without the threat or fear of abandoning each other.
While Jesus did this, and did it well, there was one key to His relationships that is often overlooked. We misinterpret this inner circle concept and use His example to justify forming cliques that are all about self-preservation.
That’s where Jesus differs. His relationships with His disciples were all about the world around them, not about their own little world. Had their relationships been introverted and selfish, their ministry would have amounted to very little. However, by focusing their energy outward, Jesus and His disciples impacted the world like no one has before or since their time.
To be effective in relationships it is important to let people into our lives with whom we. There is strength and confidence in knowing that we will be loved no matter what and, if we are unselfish and reach beyond ourselves, we will be much less likely to fail and end in broken relationships.