I wouldn’t say I’m great at friendships and relationships. In all honesty, I hold back from many friendships because I know I will eventually fail them, or that they will fail me, and I don’t want conflict. I’ve concluded that conflict comes from unmet (or uncommunicated) expectations, and that this conflict is inevitable because I cannot expect anyone to meet all my expectations, nor can I fully meet others’ expectations of me. Because of this, I have very low expectations of those around me, and low expectations of myself in friendship. My own low relational expectations of myself that are rooted in self-protection create distance in past, current, and even future friendships. I see what this does and I can feel myself building little walls around me to buffer the friendships I could have. Ultimately, I recognize that it is a certain fear of intimacy that keeps me from pulling others closer to the real me.

I have noticed that there is much fear in me when it comes to friendships. My self-awareness has shown me that this fear shows up in most of my friendships. I recognize that I am afraid that they will see weakness in me, sense the fear of rejection that marked my growing-up years, and eventually grow tired of me because I was not x, y, or z. I fill in these blanks for myself as to what those around me expect, and I enter into a losing battle before it even begins.

I am positive I am not alone in this. Perhaps you can understand—you’ve been hurt by friendships, you’ve been overwhelmed by unhealthy expectations in a friendship or relationship, you’ve experienced broken relationships often enough to give up on the idea of close friends at all. As humans, we deeply desire intimacy, to be fully known and to know fully, and if you’re shaking your head “no,” I would suggest that there is a fear there to which God wants to bring freedom. (After all, His burden is light… if you’re feeling the weight of your own burdens, there is an even further letting go conversation that needs to happen so you can walk in freedom!) When we walk in full freedom, completely confident in Christ and fully ready to love others, something changes within us and with our friendships.

A brilliant woman in my life taught me much about the movement from fear and toward love. She said that when the pain of being lonely is worse than the fear, we listen to the pain and shift how we operate. If the fear of intimacy is greater than the pain, then we stay in the fear. She asked me what I was afraid of in friendship. I told her rejection by people/friends. She asked me, very simply, “What is the worst that could happen?”

Facing our fears is part of growing up. To move beyond self-protective fear and toward arms-open love means that maturity, health, and restoration is happening and will continue to happen. Have you noticed that God’s relational economy is an economy of investment? The more love invested, the more love that gives a return, and not simply to the giver, but it pays forward in more love being poured out.

This same woman challenged me to be interruptible, to repent of the self-protective ways that I distance others from myself and myself from others, and to decide to risk loving and being loved.

This is the decision I am making today, and will have to make every day, as the Spirit leads me to love. The movement toward my own freedom to love fully means that the Spirit gets to pour out more boldly, and that is the kind of Spirit-filled life that God is calling me—and you—to live.