You had a great time, but later start replaying some of the evening’s conversations. You torment yourself with things you should not have said—resolving next time to do better, talk less, and be more godly.

Female relationships can be tricky, even among Christians. They can be one of the most encouraging and enjoyable treasures on earth—if only we could stop trying to control them. We desire transparency. But that desire is stifled by worry about other people’s opinions. We fear we might offend someone, become offended, or say something that will be misconstrued. Questions race through our minds. Do I appear godly? Have I said too much? Too little? What must so and so think of me?

Many women long for close friendships but shy away from their complexity. What is the solution for the day-after-girls’-night-out regret?

Oh, No! I’m Exposed!

These problems in friendship stem from self-absorption and fear of man. Some try to manufacture an image that will not be rejected. But navigating the fickle opinions of others is an exhausting and self-centered job. At the end of the day, fake people can only have fake friendships. To have real friends, you must be willing to let people in to see and accept the real you. This is risky. Once you let them in, they can hurt you.

Whether we talk too much or quietly hide ourselves in the crowd, the root of our turmoil is the same. We desire to be perceived a certain way. Our failures don’t bother us when they remain hidden. But when everyone sees them, we fret, withdraw, and justify ourselves. Many women try to avoid hurt and regret by resolving to never be vulnerable again. But the Bible gives a joyful alternative to isolation: “If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin” (1 John 1:7).

My closest friends are those women who enjoy deep conversations and are open about their failures and flaws. With them, I am free to do the same. These are the same friends I feel most comfortable being lighthearted and laughing with. We know each other well. We love each other much and extend grace, knowing each other’s weaknesses. These friendships still come upon rocky times, but real friendship is so rare that we cherish it when we have it. Conflict is addressed only after self-examination shows that no pettiness or imagination is involved.

We assume the best. Ultimately, confrontation is rare. But when it occurs, it is done privately with gentle humility and deep love.

Expectations can kill friendships. I have met many people who became frustrated when friendships did not develop quickly enough, but intimate friendship cannot be forced or rushed. They require trust to build slowly and safely. Not all friendships can be intimate. No one can manage very many.

Friendship becomes idolatry when we move from enjoying it (at every stage) to controlling it. Friendship never blossoms when one person depends on another for happiness and validation.

My first day of fifth grade, I was seated next to a boy known for being mean. It didn’t take long for him to start teasing me about my red hair. “Hey carrot-top!” he said. I could feel my face and ears turn red.

“Why don’t you shut up, stupid!” came a voice from across the table. I smiled at my defender and from that day forward she and I became best friends.

Gina defended me a lot. I felt safe with her. She was bigger than most of the kids in our class and wasn’t afraid of anyone. For the next five years, we did everything together. We shared a locker all through junior high. We stayed at each other’s houses on the weekends, sang into our curling irons, talked about boys, put on makeup, and other typical girlie things.

Gina was content to have just one friend—me. In exchange for my friendship, she protected me from mean kids and went along with whatever I wanted to do. I, on the other hand, became increasingly restless. I wanted to make other friends and meet new people. She resisted that and hindered other girls from getting to know me. I felt trapped.

I was not mature enough to handle it well. I tried acting aloof to get her to seek other friends, but it made her even clingier. I tried to be honest with her and tell her that she was smothering me, but that hurt her feelings. I finally did what any other fifteen-year-old would do—ran away from the problem. I convinced my parents to let me switch high schools for my junior and senior years. I called her a week before school started to let her know she would have to find a new locker-mate. Our friendship dwindled after that.

Trying to possess a person burdens her with an occupation she cannot fulfill.

I am not proud of how I handled that friendship. But trying to possess a person burdens her with an occupation she cannot fulfill. The flesh is never satisfied with human attention—it will never be enough. If we require certain actions from friends, we will be devastated when they fail to meet our expectations. If we are ruled by another’s opinion, we will resent them when they don’t continually affirm us. If our friendship is about being served, then we are pursuing an idol—not a friendship. Love does not suck everything to itself. It is free or it is not love.

Sometimes adult relationships don’t move beyond junior high maturity. We need to recognize when to let go or give space. If we pursue a friendship that is not reciprocated, we need to set that friend free from our expectations and believe the best. Maybe she doesn’t have time for one more intimate friend. Perhaps she is enduring a private trial that makes it difficult for her to engage in a new friendship. For whatever reason, she hasn’t made time for you. Give grace and let her go.

Any kind of relationship becomes an idol when we pursue it for what we believe it can give us—but can’t. This is classic codependency. When we convince ourselves that we are serving others unselfishly, but we are really trying to please people so they will like us, or accept us, or give us praise, that is selfishness in disguise. Codependency leads to bondage—the kind of bondage that makes you dependent on other people.

The gospel frees us from the fear of man. It liberates us from unnecessary rules and expectations we impose on each other. There is no time for pettiness between Christians (Ephesians 4:1–3). Selfishness forces the gospel into dormancy while we squabble amongst ourselves, defending our preferences and looking out for our own reputation. Friendship begins with humility and is fueled by the love that Jesus demonstrated toward us.

Don’t miss Marci’s article, Don’t Rot the Gospel in the new digital Key Life Magazine.

Excerpt from Grace Is Free by Marci Preheim