My dearest Little –
You are not so little anymore. I know that I keep saying that, but it’s true. You are three months old, wearing 3-6 month clothes, and have the greatest baby rolls. You love to laugh and smile, and you are trying so hard to talk and roll over. You love school and are doing well , except for getting cranky around noon each day. They tell me you are a really great baby and I completely agree! Since you started school, you have been learning how to be around other babies. You pick up on the emotional cues of others. When one of your friends cries, so do you. When your Dad or I laugh, so do you. I love your sensitive spirit.
As you get older, I pray that you always engage in empathy rather than sink in sympathy. I have been thinking about your budding personality and your future friendships. I pray that you grow up to be a safe friend and choose to invest in safe friendships.
What does it mean to be a safe friend?
A safe friend is a friend that loves others well, treats them with honesty and respect, speaks truth and life, and does not manipulate others to get their own way. A safe friend chooses not to wound when they are wounded. They strive to honestly communicate their needs, wants, hurts and thoughts in a loving way. Equally, they are receptive when confronted and hold your heart in high esteem. A safe friend invites you to freely be you in relationship. They strive to honor you, rather than belittle you or put you down. A safe friend desires your best and strives to encourage you towards your God-given potential. They will be the first to tell you that you did not hang the moon, all the while pointing you to the God who did.
Unsafe friends, however, are easier to come by and leave havoc in their wake. These friends will not be safe with your heart. They may belittle you, make fun of you, and communicate in various ways that you are not enough. They will discourage and distract you from the potential and purpose God has placed inside of you. They will encourage that which is of their own gain every time. Sometimes these behaviors are obvious, like the stereotypical bully stealing lunch money, or the kids throwing the insane parties that you will one day see in the movies. They promise fun, excitement, and an adventurous life, but deep down you will know that they are not life-giving. I pray that you always choose that which brings genuine life and joy.
Not every unsafe friend behaves so obviously; some are much more subtle. Manipulation, coercion, gossiping and lying can be more difficult to see. These may look like friendships in which you have no voice, or no value to your voice.
For example: Johnny is your friend. He always decides what you guys play, and he always decides which toy you play with and which toy he plays with. He loves playing with your favorite train car, and you are sweet enough to share with him. However, one day you ask Johnny if you can play outside with your new ball. Johnny says no and declares that you are going to play with the trains. You pull out your favorite train car, but Johnny demands he play with it or he will no longer be your friend. To avoid hurting Johnny’s feelings and losing a friendship, you hand Johnny your favorite train car. He is magically happy again but refuses to share with you as you both play.
Did Johnny value you in this scenario? Did he care about compromising with you so you could both enjoy playtime together? When you kindly used your voice, did he honor you?
Not only was Johnny unwilling to compromise, he manipulated you by leveraging your relationship. Johnny played both the role of the victim and the bully, all the while scapegoating his own selfishness onto you. I hope that you never pull a Johnny.
Unsafe friendships are, at best, 50/50. They are dangerous because the individuals’ responses are conditioned upon one another. Did you live up to your half? If not, they will not be required to live up to theirs. They will justify their poor behaviors based on the other person’s mistakes, perpetuating a cycle of disrespect, selfishness, and entitlement. Instead of outdoing one another in giving honor, they strive to gain the most while expending the least. Unsafe friends are leeches, and they will suck the life out of you every time.
Safe friendships, like your future marriage, will never be 50/50. They will require both parties giving their best to love and honor the other, independent of the other person’s action or inadequacies. Safe friends are like IV tubing; a conduit by which God can pour life into you.
This is why the house of friendship that we talked about before is so important. Healthy boundaries are crucial in helping us to lovingly engage with both unsafe and safe friends. While you are called to love everyone, you are not called to invite unsafe folks into intimate relationships that will undermine your entire house. This is why it’s so important to engage in empathy but guard against sinking in sympathy.
Empathy is defined as the ability to put yourself in another person’s place, understanding and feeling what they are experiencing within their frame of reference.
Sympathy goes beyond empathy and adopts those feelings and misfortune as though they are your own. Sympathy will make you sick by weighing you down, stealing your joy and sapping the life from your bones.
Empathy will empower you to walk in compassion towards others, without adopting their circumstances, attitudes, or emotions as your own. Empathy enables you to love, serve and engage with unsafe friends without sacrificing healthy boundaries that are necessary for the growth of both parties.
You will never be a perfect friend, nor have perfect friendships, but you can always be a safe friend.
My prayer for you is that your empathetic spirit continues to fuel compassion and grace in your friendships, as you learn to invest wisely into safe, healthy, Jesus-centered friendships.