In the last few weeks, I’ve had three close friends start separate unrelated conversations with me with the statement, “Hey Shegz, can I be completely honest with you?”
While I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that all three of them genuinely care about me and are as vested in my future as I am, I also happen to be ridiculously human. This means, upon their requests, I immediately became defensive because I had no idea where or how they were going to come at me. Though I responded with an affirming “Sure, you can.” to each of them, internally, it came with a caveat. I thought to myself “Sure you can be honest all you want, but it better be what I want to hear, otherwise I’m gonna reject it, then I’m gonna throat-punch you in my mind!”
As it turns out, each had a different helpful perspective on separate subject matters that turned out to be incredibly insightful, though it hurt to hear. These difficult conversations brought to mind the words of Proverbs 27:6, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend.”
There are a handful of people I’ve given full permission to speak into my life whenever they observe me living out of character, the aforementioned three are not a part of that inner circle, yet I gave their words plenty of weight. Why?
I did so because (in the words of pastor and author, Tim Keller), I know we are "journeying towards the same horizon."
This is the filter I’ve used (and the same I believe you should use) when navigating through the storm of criticisms that will inevitably come your way from well intentioned friends and sometimes ill-willed people. I believe it was C.S Lewis who once observed that the essence of true friendship is the exclamation, “You too?” In other words, a true friendship is a situation where two people stand side-by-side looking at the same destination in the future, and are mutually stirred and entranced by it. In such a scenario, when a friend has something important but difficult to say to me, I’m more inclined to give them an ear because they fully understand what my end goal is (because we're headed towards the same horizon).
The author of Proverbs (27:17) says, “As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend.” There needs to be a mutual final destination toward which friends push themselves; a similar end game for which they're continually sharpening themselves. Heading towards "similar horizons" can be something as common as a mutual love for outdoor obstacle courses like ‘Tough Mudder’ or something more substantial like a mutual life calling to see the people far from God in a particular city come to saving faith in Jesus Christ.
To be clear, none of this implies that you should only be friends with people who are doing exactly what you do or are heading only in the same direction you are, but it does mean that your friendships should have some common end goals built into them. It’s these mutual points of connections that deepen your love for one another. It’s why you fight for each other and then actually fight each other. It’s why you provoke each other, but then also encourage each other. It’s for this very reason that honest, but painful words can be spoken into each other’s lives when one friend begins living out of line with their commitments.
Those three individuals I mentioned in the beginning share with me a mutual passion for the creative and artistic expression of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I had produced some content in each instance that were out of sync with what they each believed I was capable of. In other words, I was heading towards a different horizon, and they, as friends who were heading in the same direction, needed to call out to me loudly to correct the trajectory of my path (sorta like when the British-accented GPS lady tells you, “recalculating”).
Now of course there are, unfortunately, too many instances where harsh criticism comes from a source/person to which you have no mutual connection. What are you to do then?
I’ll defer to the wise counsel of Michael Hyatt at this point (Hyatt is like the Michael Jordan/Jackson of leadership blogging). In a blog entry titled “Friends, Critics, and Trolls”, he writes about distinguishing between three kinds of critics.
- There are the “True friends” who are in your life to save you from yourself, and you need to create (for them) safe environments for dissension.
- There are the “Honest Critics” who mean well, but unfortunately choose to disagree with you publicly. That’s okay. Allow for diversity of opinion, engage them and learn from them.
- Then there are the “Unhealthy Trolls.” These folks are the ones who have an agenda and are essentially out to hurt you. Your best bet is to ignore them because in the words of Taylor Swift, they are essentially the “haters who just gon’ hate hate hate hate hate.”
Criticism and difficult conversations are inevitable in every relationship, (if you’ve never had a disagreement with a “friend”, then you’re not even in the game!). The key to navigating those conversations is to consider the source of criticism; are they friend or unhealthy foe? If the latter, you know what to do. If the former, ask yourself, "Are we heading towards the same horizon?" If so, then you should seriously give heed to their words, however difficult it may be.
The truth sometimes hurts, but when it comes from a fellow sojourner who's heading towards the same horizon, O how faithful are the wounds of a friend!