The Silent Departure: When Your Friend Walks Away From God and Out Of Your Life

You might have recently sent a Facebook invite to a close-ish friend you remember from that church revival four years ago, and then you get this kind of response:

I’m sorry bro, but I haven’t gone to church in a long time. I don’t know about all that anymore. But thanks for inviting me.

You’re not sure if you should follow up, ask what happened, drop a verse, dig in a little, or revert to small talk.

Most times though: we back up and move on. It’s not because you don’t care. It’s because it feels like that story is done and over, and maybe you’re supposed to give them a lot of room so you don’t look like a religious window-peering creeper, and you feel like they will come back if they really want to and you can just keep sending them invites in hopes that they’ll come out to one of your sweet, hi-tech, modernized church events.

Or maybe: your former friend is just waiting for you to press in.

Maybe their head is barely above water, they’re suffocating in a world of secret hurt, and you’re the only lifeline who’s come close to discovering the shipwreck below the surface.

During the winter season, I remember certain faces who used to come around church and I just start to miss everybody: the way it used to be, the raucous ragtag Sundays and senseless giggling and fist-pumping during praise and getting lunch in a giant group to talk afterward in the parking lot for hours.

Sometimes now I still see them online and they haven’t exactly gone prodigal, but they’ve just moved on. Graduated from church. Onto “real life.” It was another lifetime ago.

At Starbucks I’ll bump into them and I try to make them as comfortable as possible: but it’s always one of those high-pitched, twitchy, very quick hello-and-goodbyes, and I know the sight of me already shames them. I want to say, “We really miss you, and you can come around any time, and I know you’re so busy, and I’m still praying for you” — but even that sort kindness just piles on guilt. The whole thing is just sad and awkward and hurts.

And you know, I also confess that I just don’t have the heart to reach all of them. I’m busy, too. They want to be left alone, I tell myself, and I have to focus on right-now. We didn’t do anything wrong and they walked away, is my little mantra. It’s their fault, is what I believe. I want to be angry at them.

But dang, do I miss them. And maybe, just maybe, they actually miss how it used to be, too.

We could be the voice that is always ready to welcome them back in: not because of what we say, but because we kept that door of grace wide open. Not because we got up in their face, but because we met them halfway, with all patience and humility and messy gritty love. Because you can be the one who cares when no one else does, and you become the one lifeline to the shore.

I imagine Heaven as this big crazy reunion where all the pressure and anxiety and distance is finally stripped away, like one of those weddings where the food doesn’t stop and the young dance with the old, where we can laugh and sing loud and reminisce all day long, where I can look you in the eye without regret because now we can catch up for eternity. We don’t have to say goodbye anymore. We won’t be in a such a rush to move onto the next client, the next dollar, the next stop: and it’ll be a raucous ragtag Sunday everyday, with both nostalgia and future-hope rolled into the same moment, where looking back and looking forward won’t sting, where the joy of Jesus inviting us to his party is always a thrill, and you can tell me everything you were always afraid to say before, and I can tell you I never stopped praying for you to be here with me.

I’m leaving the door open, because you’re always welcome inside.

8 thoughts on “The Silent Departure: When Your Friend Walks Away From God and Out Of Your Life

  1. It’s funny. I was thinking of posting a poll today: Would you sell out your best friend for the sake of the gospel? Just to see what ppl would say. Because I feel like that’s what I did. I had a BFF for the past 15 years who professed to be a Christian but lived a lifestyle that was perpetually antithetical to the gospel. I loved, corrected, encouraged and exhorted her all those years only to be met with more and excuses and justification of blatant, reckless sin. So finally, a couple months ago I distanced myself and I feel about 1 inch tall for doing so. But the Bible dies say to avoid those who call themselves believers and yet participate unashamedly in the works of darkness,right? Idk. Everyday I miss her and want to pick up the phone. But I don’t think it’s a healthy relationship. I don’t know if it ever was. So, did I sell her out to obey God? And should I still be trying to buy her with the Truth? Or is enough, enough? Stuff like this wrecks my heart.


    1. I think there’s definitely a fine line between stepping into the world or being part of the world, but for most of us that line is very obvious. I don’t know many Christians who walk into a party and then accidentally end up drunk on a table an hour later. As if it just happens automatically. So really I feel like the “slippery slope” argument is an easy way out for us not to love people.

      But then your case sounds like you’re doing the right thing. Distance can be necessary. Sometimes for people to return to God, it almost has to be an act of rebellion to come back. I suppose an email or two wouldn’t hurt either. There’s also the possibility that this particular chapter is over, and God has someone else for them to bring them back to the fold. But I would never completely give up.


      1. Yeah. I’m not afraid of being pulled into the world by her (although there is something negative to be said about having a one-way relationship where you’re the only one encouraging, exhorting, correcting, etc.) I’m more concerned with throwing pearls before swine. I guess that seems harsh, but I feel like it’s the truth. How many times do you have the same conversation? It’s insanity to do the same thing over and over and expect different results…especially for over a decade. There is a point where you have to recognize that other people are going to live the way they want to, biblical or not, and you have to respect their right to choose for themselves if for no other reason than respecting their human dignity. I won’t ever give up or stop loving her as a person. I just think it’s time for me to hang up my gloves and chalk one up to God’s sovereignty. Thanks for your reply….always helpful to hear your take.


        1. Totally agreed. Actually I just wrote about that on my Tumblr today here. Had almost the same exact experience and we poured our lives into this guy, but it never helped. I believe nothing is outside God’s sovereignty and I can’t stop loving, but love also doesn’t mean we enable someone or destroy ourselves.


        2. I know this is very old but after reading your posts. You basically gave up on your friend and sound very contradicting. In one sentence you said, you will never give up on her and that you love her. Then you say it’s time to hang up the gloves and chalk one up to god. Does god chalk it up when we repeatedly sin against him? No! He graciously accept us with open arms, the wretch that we are, broken and wounded. I suggest you read up on true forgiveness and god’s commands about love (unconditional love).


          1. I didn’t give up on my friend. I distanced myself for a short time because the relationship was one-sided and unhealthy. It killed me to do so. A few months later I reach back out to her still trying as always to love and admonish. A year and a half later she tried to destroy my life. Knowing I was having problems in my marriage, she began to talk to my husband behind my back and do all she possibly could to get him to leave me for her. This was a person I considered my best friend and loved with all my heart for more than 20 years. lol After my husband told me about her propositions and the Lord redeemed our marriage, I still forgave her. I tried to talk to her about what she had done. To this day, four years later, she has never apologized or even admitted what she did. I have reach out several times, sent flowers, and told her I forgive and love her. She avoids me as though I did something wrong to her. I did nothing but love this girl even despite the most deceitful and hurtful betrayal anyone has ever done to me. I still love her and pray for her. My husband says she is never going to be welcome in our family life again . I agree. He is protecting our marriage and our children. But if she wanted to talk or be my friend again one on one I would still oblige her and try to share the gospel. Don’t presume you know me and pass judgement on something you know nothing about. If you were in my situation you would understand how it feels to genuinely love and long for someone who simply is not willing to repent.


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