Real Friends Show Tough Love

Susan Narjala   |   April 7, 2020 

The toddlers played on the carpet as we caught up on the week. We were a group of stay-at-home moms, enjoying a temporary breather while commiserating about everything from meltdowns (the little people) to muffin tops (the moms).

The conversation turned to the topic of a common friend who was going through a difficult marriage.

“I told her that she should definitely leave her husband. He hasn’t held down a job in years. There’s really no point if she is unhappy,” said one of the moms.

The others in the room nodded their “Yeah’s” and “Absolutely’s”.

My heart plummeted. Everything in me wanted to assert that maybe the friend needed a different perspective. Maybe she and her husband could seek counselling. Maybe leaving him is not the solution, I wanted to say.

Yet, I stayed silent.

I simply didn’t have the resolve to share a view that seemed “unsupportive” of the woman who was, clearly, extremely unhappy in her marriage. I backed down because I knew I would appear judgmental.

We’ve become a culture fearful of appearing critical of women. In an effort to counter mom-shaming and the unrelenting (and often unfair) judgment heaped on women, we have over-compensated with rhetoric that’s one dimensional and, honestly, a little patronising.  In order to be supportive and empathetic, we often brush the inconvenient and uncomfortable truth under the rug.

Women’s blogs and magazines have become an echo chamber where the same message is bounced around: You’re awesome. You deserve so much more. You’re in the right, especially in your marriage. You’re fierce and independent and don’t need anyone. And if anyone tells you otherwise, they’re unsupportive haters.

But, what if that’s a narrow narrative? What if that perspective has stopped truth abruptly in its tracks because saying anything else seems judge-y?

What if we shared something less “nice,” but more truthful instead? What if we said:

"Yes, you’re awesome. But you and I are also works in progress that God is still fine-tuning."

"Yes, you may be unhappy in your marriage. But is marriage always about our individual happiness?"

"Yes, you’re doing it all and that’s brilliant. But have you and I made room for depending on God in our lives?"

"Yes, you’re enough. But you and I are enough because of Him who completed His calling on the Cross."

"Yes, you have the freedom to ask God hard questions. But are you and I also looking to Him for answers?"

Of course, I’m not advocating that we sit in judgment on our friends. We absolutely need to steer clear of demoralising someone with unfeeling instructions or holier-than-thou speeches. Clearly, we’ve never walked in their shoes and don’t fully know their story.

But, if we truly value our friend, then sometimes that requires speaking up, even if it goes against the tide of popular opinion.

In Proverbs 27, Solomon writes,

“Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.”

“Wounds from a friend” seems to be a contradictory turn of phrase, especially in today’s culture. Do loving friends really wound each other?

I would venture to say they do – at least temporarily. Authentic friendship is demonstrated when we speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15) because we know a verbal Band-Aid of a nice-ism won’t help with a broken heart.

This is a calling we can’t take lightly. We absolutely need to use Scripture as the plumb line, we need to examine our motives under the most exacting lens, and we need to pray like crazy.

We need to approach the friend with vulnerability because (goodness knows) we’re not beyond reproach ourselves. We need to humble ourselves and wrestle with the truth that all of us have fallen short of God’s standard of holiness. And, most importantly, we need to speak the truth in love. Love should be our motivation. It should seep from our every word and our every pore.

More often than not, we ought to put a muzzle on our mouths (Psalms 39:1) because there are way too many words out there. But when we see a friend walking blindly towards the edge of the cliff and notice others cheering her on because that’s the popular thing to do, we are called to step in front of her.

Let’s not allow cowardice or niceness to become our allies. Let’s not hide behind self-deception or self-preservation or fear of judgment. We are called to come alongside friends with godly counsel. We are exhorted to sharpen each other. We’re compelled to be authentic in our friendships by showing tough love.


Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

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When she's not smuggling chocolate past her kids or drinking gallons of coffee, Susan Narjala can be found writing, baking and (thinking about) working out. She grew up in Chennai, lived in Portland, Oregon, for the last ten years and is now back in India with her family. She finds nuggets of humour in the everyday, and writes about it on on her blog,

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