I'm Not Trying to Change You

I'm Not Trying to Change You

Written by: Joseph Koh (Photo by: Zann Lee)

Meditations on friendship and reconciliation

Friendships are hard work.

I’ve lost friends over the years, whether a result of the sifting of time or simply because people change. As we swivel from one life transition to another, with schedules that shift like the wind, it is easy for us to get accustomed to the growing chasm. “We used to be good friends” becomes a common refrain.

My mind still simmers with specific friendships which I wish I’d hung onto longer, fought harder for, instead of letting the cord slip through my fingers like running water.

When I look at my “inner circle” of friends — companionships that have outrun change and people with whom I’ve outgrown social civilities and the fear of judgement — many of us were not “instant” buddies. It was mostly apprehension at first sight. Many of these friendships were forged through years of communion, conflict, and compromise.

The scary thing about any relationship is: As we inch closer toward others, our multitude of flaws become more apparent, glaring like coffee stains on a crisp white shirt. Our idiosyncrasies and tendencies threaten to repel others from us. Even with friends whom I’ve known for more than a decade, there have been moments where I’ve been left frustrated, making it difficult for me to stretch out my hand in love.

Sometime last year, one of my confidantes had reached out to me with the intention of meeting up and to resolve certain issues that had crept into our friendship. We failed to see eye-to-eye, and this resulted in a harbouring of disappointment and negativity. The air was hazed with distance and things left unsaid.

The dinner was mostly pleasant, but when we raised our divergent convictions on these matters and made valiant attempts to explain our perspectives, the conversation did not head in the desired direction. However, midway through the meal, I felt God tugging at the hard places of my heart.

His light that was hanging over me exposed the darkness, which left me asking: “Is the whole point of this dinner about mending a friendship or to prove that I’m right?” Immediately, I caught a glimpse of the Father’s heart for community: Reconciliation is much more valuable than correction.

Too often, we allow our self-righteousness and pride stand in the way of our friendships. Whilst growing up, I admit that I have desired for my friends to be more like me, as if I had embodied all the necessary attributes of a great companion. I did not understand God’s design for “philia” relationships. 

Fighting for friendships

At 27, I have learnt first-hand the significance of putting my hands to the plough and striving for relationships that matter to me. Life has this rabid way of pulling us in different directions, akin to the rushing tide. Furthermore, as carnal beings, we have to continually fight against our imperfections in order for us, people, to stick together.

Traversing the craggy terrain of companionship has been such a lesson of Grace for me. It has revealed that all of us are really just creaky automobiles rambling towards restoration and redemption — none of us is exempted from making wrong turns in life and we have a susceptibility to expel emissions which choke others.

I’ve uttered words to others that shouldn’t even have sprung into my mind; I’ve been presumptuous and overly critical at times. We are products of exuberant grace, lavished with something that we’ve done nothing to deserve. In turn, we ought to extend this same unmerited favour to others.

It is incredulously easier said than done, but I believe that our goal as friends is to see others as God beholds them — seeing rightly means us not fixating on somebody’s misgivings but believing in the person’s potential and future, and buckling down to steer them towards their destination. I wouldn’t be the same person today if not for the constant prayers, encouragement, and votes of confidence from those around me; SELAH wouldn’t exist today if not for the profuse support from ones who dared to peer into the future alongside the team.

Finding out the hard truth

Friendship is so much more than deepening the joys of life and sharing the sorrow. We all need a band of brothers (or sisters) to assist us with our blind spots, through the compassion (Galatians 6:1) and honesty (Matthew 18:15) they bestow to us. This is something that hasn’t changed in my life all these years: I cannot do without friends who would share the “flipside” with me, bringing clarity to my stubborn skull. They always remind me that there are two sides to the same coin, with no one side that is greater than the other.

When I think about the fortitude of friendships, the bold comrades of the paralytic come to mind (Luke 5:18-19). Just so that their immobile friend could meet Jesus, they went to such great lengths — undeterred by the crowds, they “went up on the roof and let [their friend] down with his bed through the tiles into the midst of Jesus.” It was not only ingenious but such an act of dedication to their friend.

None of us is immune from the struggles of community, and we’re all learning how to better get around the winding bend with each day. If you’re currently wrestling in a particular relationship or group of friends, may your eyes catch a fresh vision for the strength and wisdom that friendship lends to our lives. The ties of godly fellowship hold us safely in our keep; may you fight to keep.

JOSEPH thinks that Nasi Lemak ought to be Singapore’s national dish. He is passionate in discovering how faith can collide beautifully with urban culture, and believes in mentoring the next generation. He also wishes that a singular Singaporean accent will emerge in his lifetime. Follow him @firesandtimbers

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