Lament for a Bad Friend

I’ve had my heart broken three times in five years by girlfriends.
Theirs is a subtler rupture than the romantic kind. Because you can have more than one friend at a time, the need to “break up” so that you can “move on” isn’t there. You just stop calling. You return her texts slower. You don’t include her on group e-mails. One day, someone asks about how “so and so” is doing and you cock your head, look left, and say in a kind of dreamy way, “Huh. I guess I don’t really know anymore.” It’s a leaky kind of loss, and one we don’t often lament.

The Christian season of Lent is a ripe time for lament. During the forty days before Easter (not including Sundays) we harvest our grief, our longings, our questions wrestled in dust, our dust. No spec of human experience is too small to rub between our folded hands.

The psalmists knew as much. Although the title for the Psalms in Hebrew, Tehillim, means “songs of praise,” scholar Hermann Gunkel identified two of the five major kinds of psalms as lament, one group being individual laments and the other being communal ones. The message is that we need to go public with our collective heartbreak. But so too are there private heartbreaks that may be too bitter, too unformed to share. There are heartbreaks no one else can hold for us.

This week I was invited to offer a mini-sermon inspired by the individual lament of Psalm 41. It was verse 9 that grabbed me in the litany of complaints:

Even my bosom friend in whom I trusted, who ate of my bread, has lifted the heel against me.” 

The individual laments of the psalmists are frequently about verbal assaults from others, about the kind of words that wound honor and pick at shame. I know something about this pain. Sometimes when the name of one of those fallen friends comes to mind, my stomach turns a little, first toward anger, then toward the small voice of wonder, “I wonder if I gave up too soon. I wonder if I wasn’t a bad friend too.” If not to her, then surely to someone else. Surely to God. 

And so we lament the subtle ways our hearts have been broken, yes, but we lament the ones we broke too, through inattention or over-attention, through selfishness or cloying-selflessness, on purpose or without thought. We dust off our history of human error.

We thank God that those who need the most forgiveness are the ones able to receive the most love.  

You can listen along with my 30-second piece above, by clicking the title below, or over at where each day of Lent the brilliant Jim Kast-Keat is curating a new sermon based on more psalms of lament.

Lament for a Bad Friend

A close friend, someone I trusted, who shared my bread (and cupcakes too), has stomped my spirit into the ground.

This is a lament for bad friends everywhere.

For the one who makes us feel small.

And the one who doesn’t call.

For the one who’s always busy,

And the one who’s frickin’ needy.

For the one who asks bad questions

And the one who hardly listens.

“Could you,” Jesus asks, “not stay awake with me one hour?”


Oh, Lord, I want better for you too.

3 responses to “Lament for a Bad Friend

  1. This resonates with me. I have great difficulty trusting Christians, both men and women. With men, it’s the emotional abuse I went through at a Christian college and later, the putdowns in a Christian singles’ group. With women, it’s the number of times I’ve been stabbed in the back and/or abandoned during moments of crisis. It hurts. And I know I’ve done my share of hurting, too, but I’m still trying to process the college experiences, even though I’m 37. So, yeah, this really resonates.

  2. Thanks for your honesty, Laura. If anything, I’ve found friendships to get harder – not easier – as I age. But I’m also heartened by Jean Vanier’s words that “community is a continual act of forgiveness,” Christian or otherwise. It’s a lesson I’m continually learning.

  3. What a perfect and timely reading for me this morning thirteen days later from when it was written. As we age, perhaps it’s not so much that friendships get harder, but that we recognize friendship is too valuable to treat like a wild park and we protect like a sanctuary and restrict it’s entrance. Thank you Erin for helping reflect on friendship! It is exactly what Jesus must have done as his death neared and he reminded his disciples, “I call you friend.”

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