I was primping in the mirror at a party, powdering my Rudolph-red nose because I had been sick all week with an awful cold. One of my friends gave me a sympathetic nod, “Aww you don’t look that bad. I’ve seen you look worse.”
I laughed as she walked away. But, later that night as I was lying in bed in the quiet of my own thoughts, I wondered. Was she being funny? Or was it a slight dig?
As an unapologetic optimist, I used to assume the best about people which made me an unfortunate judge of character. Sometimes I honestly couldn’t identify fake friends from real ones. But the sarcastic words? The little insults? They were the hundred paper cuts that eventually made me bleed.
I had to learn the hard way that not everyone likes Ashley. And some people never will.
When the last seat is taken
It was freshman year, and I had chosen to go to a college small enough that I could know everyone. I walked into the lunchroom with lunch tray in hand and no apprehensions in mind, thinking I could sit anywhere there was an empty seat. I genuinely thought that if I wanted to be their friend, they’d want to be my friend too. But when the empty seat was with a table of male athletes, it didn’t feel so open. I quickly realized that only “flirts” or “awkward people” tried to sit at the varsity table, feeling my awkwardness creeping in like an uncomfortable loss of words.
It could just be chalked up to an embarrassing experience, but it set a tone for the next few years of my life. A friend who never returned my phone calls. A group of mutual friends who never invited me to hang out. A classmate who always had a sarcastic comment about my personality. It began to chip away at my confidence.
Trying to be someone you are not
“You can lie down for people to walk on you and they will still complain that you’re not flat enough. Live your life.” – Unkown
I wish I could have just told myself that I didn’t have to try so hard to make people like me. Just be yourself. Don’t try to fit in. But being myself wasn’t the problem. In fact, I never tried to fit in. I did the exact opposite. I was just being myself. And I made the mistake of thinking everyone would like me for being me. I thought that if I was kind, friendly, and genuine, they would be my friend too.
But some people didn’t like how bubbly I was. Some people didn’t like how much I loved my family. Some people thought I was too naive or too intense. Some people thought I was a dork and cared too much about school.
I couldn’t quite digest the fact that some people didn’t want to be my friend. At best, they’d give me the cold shoulder. But at worst, they’d be nice on the surface, and I’d later find out they didn’t like me at all.
I could have tried to change myself, but there would have always been something that someone didn’t like. Thank God we have a bigger purpose than living for man’s approval.
You can’t live your life for others
“For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.” (Galatians 1:10)
In the book of Galatians, the church had started following the Judaizer’s version of the gospel, promoting good works of the Mosaic law over faith in Christ. The Apostle Paul writes to them and he doesn’t tell them what they want to hear. He didn’t live for man’s approval because he lived in the security of God’s Word. And he lovingly shared that life with others. That is the Christian life. Living for God and lovingly sharing that life with others.
Our identity is in God because we live for God and God alone. And we share that life with others… even our enemies. Remember, God’s love is not confined to the people who like us. Even when someone is a fake friend, it is our responsibility to share God’s love with them.
Identifying a fake friend:
Here’s where things get complicated. Life isn’t caricatured between the “good guys” and the “bad guys” like it is in the movies. It can be hard to identify fake friends. Often times the “bullies” in our lives aren’t so obvious. They are the people who are against us instead of rooting for us. The people who don’t care about us. The people who gloat when we fail and are happy to take our spot in line. They look at us as an inconvenience instead of a child of God. Ultimately, they do not have our best interest in mind.
They start talking about you as soon as they stop talking to you.
“Do not drag me away with the wicked – with those who do evil – those who speak friendly words to their neighbors while planning evil in their hearts.” (Psalm 28:3)
They are negative about life and complain about everything.
“Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” (Ephesians 4:29)
They put you down and belittle your accomplishments.
They talk about their plans and never invite you.
They bring up the past
“Whoever forgives an offense seeks love, but whoever keeps bringing up the issue separates the closest of friends.” (Proverbs 17:9)
They aren’t happy for you when you succeed.
They don’t ask you about your life. They only talk about theirs.
They roll their eyes at your quirks or mannerisms.
They encourage ungodly behavior because it makes them feel better.
“For they cannot rest until they do evil; they are robbed of sleep till they make someone stumble.” (Proverbs 4:16)
They gossip about their other friends. Doesn’t that make you think they are gossiping about you?
“They visit me as if they were my friends, but all the while they gather gossip, and when they leave, they spread it everywhere.” (Psalm 41:6)
“A gossip goes around telling secrets, so don’t hang around with chatterers.” (Proverbs 20:19)
They are backstabbers
“Even my close friend, someone I trusted, one who shared my bread, has turned against me.” (Psalm 41:9)
Their words are crafty, complimenting you and insulting you at the same time.
“His words are as soothing as lotion, but underneath are daggers!” (Psalm 55:21)
Living for a greater purpose
Even with the fake friends I’ve encountered through out life, I’ve learned that I can still be secure in who I am. I know I have my quirks and character flaws. I’m a bad listener. I interrupt people when they are talking. I chew loudly. I get impatient. I don’t like wasting time. I have a hard time relaxing. And sometimes I’m hard on myself. I have annoying habits just like anyone. I’m not perfect. I’m not enough on my own. And I don’t try to be. I have a God who loves me, and I have a lifetime to live and learn.
The people who really love me will be there for me along the journey. Those are my true friends. They know I have flaws. And they encourage me to be the best I can be. They give me good advice. They cheer me on to live a larger purpose, a purpose that is bigger than people’s approval. They encourage me to live for God.
My best advice? Live for God. Live in love. And find friends who encourage you to live for a bigger purpose – not for man’s approval but for God.