WHEN A GOOD THING BECOMES A GOD THING

Hi. My name is Millie, and I’m a friend-a-holic.

I need friends. I’m confident that we all do. But like many things in life, some needs can become unhealthy and get out of whack if we don’t keep a close watch over the priority we give them. I confess that I have erred when it comes to being needy and giving friends too much of a priority in my life.

This pattern of neediness and imbalance became apparent to me many years after college as I found myself struggling with jealousy and fear when my best friend got engaged. Ever been there before?! All of the sudden you feel like a crazy person because you’re so excited for your friend, but you are also intensely aware of those ugly feelings that you don’t want to admit you have…crazy place.

As I realized how much our friendship was going to change because of marriage, I freaked out! My kind-hearted engaged friend did such a great job of patiently loving me through this wacky time and assuring me that she wasn’t bailing on our friendship. Bless her heart…I know I was not easy to love at that time because of my irrational outbursts on too many occasions! Those outbursts were full of the fear of losing her friendship and thinking that I just couldn’t handle that.

It was during this time of my life that I reflected over previous years and could see that since high school, I usually had one friend who had become very important to me and with whom I often lost a little of myself in order to please. I was able to look back and see some unhealthy patterns of relating that I had not noticed before. Most clear to me was my desire to please a friend over my desire to please the Lord.

Friendship is a gift and I believe God graciously provides this gift. My problem is that I have often allowed the gift to become more important than the Giver. That’s certainly not the way it’s supposed to be! God gives us the special gift of friendship but I think He does so to help us experience Him in a more personal and real way. But when I put more importance on my friendships than on my intimacy with the Lord, eventually I wake up to the reality that I’ve gotten it backwards again.

Over the years, I’ve identified with the Old Testament Israelites in how they continually forgot to keep God #1 in their worship. I want to say, “You dumb Israelites! When will you learn?!” But as soon as I point a finger at them, I have to notice the three pointing back at me! I’ve allowed friendships to take the #1 place in my heart more than once. I have let friends become idols in my life.

Paul David Tripp is one of my favorite teachers and authors and he speaks to this topic in an excellent devotional called, Whiter Than Snow.

“Essentially, what the Bible says is that the heart is the steering wheel of the human being. The heart controls, shapes, and directs everything you choose, say, and do. What controls the heart will therefore exercise unavoidable control over your behavior…Impurity of the heart is really about love for something in the creation replacing love that I was only ever meant to have for the Creator.”

That last part is the best definition I know for what an idol looks like today. My idol of friendship has been a struggle as I constantly battle the tendency to love people more than I love the Lord. My admittance to being a friend-a-holic comes from realizing that I have a tendency to allow my love or “need” for a friend crowd out my love and need for Jesus. I would’ve said with my mouth that Jesus was enough and that he alone met my needs. But in my heart – I often didn’t feel the truth of that. To be honest, Jesus didn’t “feel” like enough when I just wanted someone to talk with; he didn’t “feel” like enough when I needed a shoulder to cry on; he didn’t “feel” like enough when I desired companionship. But I continue to learn that God’s Word will always be truer than my flaky feelings and that sometimes I have to claim those truths by faith.

Here’s the thing. We are made for relationship – with God and with others. That’s what makes Christianity so unique – God loves us and wants a personal relationship with us! God wired us for relationships and they are good, but an idol is when a good thing becomes a god thing. Friendships aren’t bad and God certainly wants us to have them. The trouble creeps in when we allow a person to take the #1 spot in our hearts that is reserved for only Jesus.

I still battle with allowing people to take the Lord’s place in my life. I think this will always be a struggle for me because it’s the thing that the enemy knows I will default to when I’m not getting my life-source from the right place – Jesus! But I’ve had years to identify this struggle and learn what the early warning signs are so that I don’t go there as quickly.

So how does one do that? How do you fight the battle of allowing friends to become idols, robbing Jesus of his rightful place in your life? How do you recognize when a friendship is unhealthy or headed that way?

Over the years of investing in many friendships, I’m so grateful for people who loved me enough to tell me hard things. My character has been shaped by conversations laced with grace, love, and truth! I can pick out specific times when different friends loved me enough to approach me with their concern over a relationship and what appeared to be unhealthy or moving that way. I can never thank them enough for having the guts to move towards me in those times and for being God’s mouthpiece to warn me to get my priorities straight again.

I want to share a few warning signs of unhealthy friendships. My hope is that you will open your heart for the Lord to shine His light of conviction into areas of your life that need to be acknowledged and dealt with. But also let this be a challenge to you if you have observed any of these in another friends life. Love her enough to move towards her and share your concern. It IS your business. We’re in this together and we need each other to constantly point us to Jesus!

Warning signs of unhealthy friendships:

TIME: When the majority of your time is spent with only one friend, there is a lack of balance. This can lead to an unhealthy relationship in that you both start getting all of your relational and emotional needs met by one another. You know you’re in dangerous territory when either of you obsess over where the other one is or what she’s doing or when you over-analyze what she meant when she said or did that…

EXPECTATIONS: These will get you in big trouble. I’ve heard it said before that “unmet expectations lead to resentment.” When you catch yourself reacting with thoughts or statements that contain the word, “should” a lot, it’s time to take note. For example: she SHOULD text me NOW; she SHOULD call right now; she SHOULD’VE _______________! You fill in the blank. Unrealistic expectations in friendships are dangerous. If not handled, resentment will set in.

JEALOUSY: the best definition I’ve heard for jealousy is the fear of being replaced. I think you can recognize jealousy in your friendships when either one of you denies the other the freedom to pursue and spend time with others. We are healthier when we have a variety of friends in our lives.  Exclusivity is dangerous between two friends. No one person can meet all of your needs. God just didn’t make us that way.

SPEAKING AS “WE”: this is a subtle warning to heed. It can sneak up on you and before you know it, you and your friend are sharing everything, speaking for each other and making decisions together. A friendship shouldn’t look like a married couple. There is a healthy “we” as a couple – there is an unhealthy “we” in a friendship. If you find others always referring to you and a friend together – this is a time to stop and evaluate how much time you’re spending together.
[For more on this, check out this great resource]

GOING TO THE PHONE BEFORE THE THRONE: Marian says this in relation to praying to the Lord before venting or sharing with a friend! I think it rings so true for this topic. I have certainly been guilty of doing this when I want the instant feedback or empathy and understanding a person can give. However, in my healthy state of friendships, I know I will be a better friend when I take things to the Lord before I go to people.

I hope those are helpful for you to become aware of and to be on the alert for. There are many more but those seem to be most common ones I’ve observed. It has become clear to me how much healthier I am as a friend when I keep friendships in their rightful place. When I try to suck life from friends as opposed to getting it from the Lord, I’m not doing well in either relationship. In the “Wrecking Ball” podcast, Marian says that idols lie to our hearts about where we will find salvation, life, completion or joy. Only in Jesus are those things truly found.

Hi. My name is Millie and I’m a recovering friend-a-holic.


Millie Welsh, Director of Development 

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