Faith & Culture,  Relationships

The brave friend – who you need when life gets hard

I’m taking a deep breath and am going to be real with you. This is a hard topic for me.

Over the course of a failed marriage, church falling outs, parenting issues, career changes and a whole gamut of unexpected life obstacles, I’ve tasted the joy and healing of healthy friendships – I’ve equally swallowed the searing sting of  painful ones.

This blog comes from both a painful and joyful place.

But before I offer you words of wisdom in the friendship department, let me set the stage for my perspective.

I am a former pastor. I’ve listened to countless stories of people’s hurts in this area. I’ve written a book on forgiveness.

I’ve been through divorce. I’ve been kicked out of a church. I’ve experienced abuse. I’ve been gossiped about, betrayed – I’ve been judged, outcasted, un-friended, etc. simply because I took a stand for what I believed or because I made a personal decision they didn’t approve of/agree with. During some of the most painful parts of my life “friends” walked out or gave me the worst treatment of all: silence.

On the flipside, I’ve felt the love of the most incredible friends who stood right beside me (some for over 20 years) through my successes and failures. I’ve also been amazed at the people I least expected, who showed up on my front door with dinner or with a listening ear when my life felt like it was crumbling.

When life gets hard, I’ve learned to pay attention. Pain and heartache are some of life’s greatest teachers.

So, I know a thing or two about what friendship is.

Inside of church, I was taught what defined a good “Christian friend”.

The list was pretty simple:

  1. They hold you accountable and aren’t afraid to call you out on your sin stuff
  2. They love Jesus more than they love you (meaning if they feel you are going against what God would want, they have no problem cutting you off and being loyal to God instead of you)
  3. They don’t gossip (unless it’s in the context of prayer. Talking about me in the sense of prayer is something I have to be okay with)
  4. They know the Bible – and you talk about it – a lot.

(Anna rant: And, we wonder why Christians seem to be fake and struggle with vulnerability?? OF COURSE THEY ARE FAKE. THEY HAVE TO BE. Rant complete.)

Over the years I eventually threw out that list out and worked out a new definition of friendship – real, honest friendship that shows up when life gets hard. Really, really hard. The kind of friend I want when everything is falling apart.

I heard a quote the other day that I absolutely fell in love with. It said, “friends are simply two people not playing God”


This was from a night I promised myself I would not forget. I had been hit hard that week; so had they. I sat with these three love warriors and we listened, we cried and we loved. That was it. You don’t get much holier than that.

In essence, real friends do not believe it is their job to “fix” eachother, “convict” eachother or whatever. That isn’t our job description and it never was.

Our job is to love.

Love means this: I accept you and I embrace you just as you are. It is not my job or desire to try to change you.

But, ANNA! God doesn’t love like that! He loves us too much to leave us the way we are and we have to love people the same! And I also want someone to love me enough to correct me!!

If you are looking to people to constantly check with for approval or for correction, you have positioned them in a place they were never designed to be.

Humans cannot be God. They cannot be the Holy Spirit. And they never will be. A good friend will sit with you and gently direct you towards hearing God’s voice on your own and will champion whatever that voice says to you.

And, when you feel like you just want to love someone enough to try and change them, remember they don’t need you to be God. They need Jesus. That’s it.





I feel I may be ruffling feathers. But before you throw me out, hear me on how I landed here.

There is a beautiful story in scripture (John 20:19-23) that describes Jesus’ encounter with his “friends” (ie: disciples). He had just re-appeared to them after being dead for three days, after the crucifixion.

And remember the context: his friends had left him in his time of need, rejected him and completely forgotten what he had told them. If there was ever a time for Jesus to call out his friends on their perceived bad decisions, THIS WAS THE TIME.

What stands out in this story (and what I love) is what he said and what he didn’t say.

His first words to them were: peace be with you.

Notice what he didn’t say.

He didn’t say:

Ummm, hello??? Where were you on FRIDAY WHEN I WAS LITERALLY BEING KILLED?


Why are you hiding in here? Why aren’t you out there telling people to get saved???


Did you not listen to a SINGLE WORD I SAID TO YOU? I told you a MILLION times I would RISE ON THE THIRD DAY! Repent for your failures so that we can have a restored relationship.

No. No. No. No.

In this moment, Jesus didn’t shame. He didn’t condemn. He didn’t correct. He didn’t “fix” his friends into being better followers of him, or to be better ambassadors of his message.

Peace be with you.

He wanted them to be at peace.

Even in their mistakes.

Even in their failures.

He then did something we rarely do: He exposed his wounded parts; he invited them to come close to touch and feel them.

This was in part to show them it was really him, but I also see a beautiful moment of vulnerability. Instead of exposing their brokenness, he exposed his own. He exposed the human parts of him that were still healing. And then, in the perfect moment, he spoke to them about forgiveness.

His focus was to:

  1. Bring peace to his friends
  2. Be vulnerable with them
  3. Extend forgiveness

He did not:

  1. Shame/condemn them
  2. Correct their behavior
  3. Expose their failures


In our greatest moments of failure or shame, this is the response we long for from our friends.

This is where we feel the most loved and the most safe.

Can you imagine what a difference our churches would experience if instead of frantically trying to fix and save each other, we simply embraced this??

Jesus was about freedom inside of our messes. Grace without limitations. And the beauty of being loved and chosen when we don’t deserve it.

It’s easy to condemn.

It’s brave to extend grace.

It’s easy to shame.

It’s brave to listen with an intent to understand.

I don’t know how we’ve gotten so far from this message…regardless, I’ve resettled there.

Through all of life’s valleys and mountaintops, this is now my definition of a brave, holy friendship:

  1. They are not afraid to sit with me in my pain, grief or failure until I find my way out
  2. They do not try to fix or correct me – they trust God to do that
  3. They protect/cover the areas I am vulnerable in
  4. They guard my story
  5. They are vulnerable with me and I am safe to be vulnerable with them without fear of judgment or shame

When you are hurting, this is the kind of friend you want and need.

And, when you extend this kind of friendship to others, you are crafting something sacred; people may just feel a little bit like they encountered Jesus after being with you.

Love bravely. Love fiercely.



Author. Blogger. Speaker. Momma to 4.


  • Sherry Mendez

    I love this and agree so much – especially after going through many of life’s horrific challenges with good friends and friends who left a lot to be desired, but my question is in regards to where you said “THE GOAL OF THE GOSPEL IS NOT TO CHANGE PEOPLE”

    What is the goal then? I’m not disagreeing, I just think maybe a little more clarification is needed. If we believe that the gospel is “to bring or announce the good news of Jesus Christ” or “love” or “the saving truth” or any variety of those definitions – would you presume those things all inherently change you?

    Thank you for this beautiful message – I am going to share it with my brave friends!

    • Anna McCarthy

      Hi Sherry! I believe the goal of the gospel is the good news that God’s crazy, abounding love is for everyone. No matter our background, choices or behavior. God is love. And his love is for all. “For God so loved the world that he gave…” He gave a lot to show the wild, extensive reach of his love – a love that is bigger than institutions, culture, laws and religiosity. THAT IS GOOD NEWS. So, our goal if we follow Jesus should be to share that love with everyone – just like he did. And, just like with Jesus, sharing that love can’t help but change those around us.

  • Isaiah6510

    Love and truly appreciate this truth, which I need in abundance at this very moment! Thank God, and thank you for being faithful and serving us well! X x

  • Kate

    Love this!!! I needed to read this. I have been wrestling with a friend situation. This confirms what I need to do.

  • Christina

    What a beautiful article with wonderfully loving insight. I loved it. I did disagree with just one sentence. The purpose of the gospel absolutely IS to change people. But I agree with you whole heartedly that this change is to be left to Jesus. That’s His job, not ours. I could not agree with you more that our job is simply to LOVE one another. In fact those were Jesus’s last words to the apostles before ascending into heaven. If we all learned to just do the loving and leave the changing of hearts to God, we would in fact be helping with that change in the way He intended us to. Thank you for being so open and vulnerable in your blogs. I believe that these honest conversations are how we heal and move through our struggles together. I love that you are brave enough to be so open. Thank you.

  • Chañel Robe

    Love bravely, love fiercely. I love the way you end it. It takes deep courage to be vulnerable and real but it truly worth it when you are surrounded by people who are not afraid to be vulnerable and real with you.

  • Tammy

    Isn’t part of loving someone, though, being brave enough to “speak the truth in love” without condemnation? And then leave the changing up to God? It doesn’t always mean giving them a hug, praying for them, and then watching them self-destruct in their sin, right?

    • Anna McCarthy

      Hi Tammy! There has been a lot of emphasis inside the church to “speak the truth in love”….the real question is: what exactly does that mean?? There are a lot of different angles on this – sometimes I think we can WAY over complicate scripture….

      Most of the emphasis in Paul’s letter was on how to treat each other. He speaks to how everyone has different gifts and that we to use them to focus on building unity in the faith. He says to “put off falsehood and speak truthfully”. He speaks against gossip and to be an encouragement to those around you. And says to not allow anger to consume you.

      He ends the chapter with these words: “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you”. When you look at the overall picture he is painting, correcting each other doesn’t seem to be the idea. But, love, forgiveness, compassion and kindness are.

      None of us want to watch someone self-destruct. I get that. Being honest with someone about their choices where their safety or the safety of others is at risk can often times be the most loving thing you can do. But, judging someone’s choices (that do not bring a safety concern, but are more of one’s own opinion as to what is “right” or “wrong”) can be a dangerous road. Often instead of building bridges, we build walls. And the LAST thing we need are more walls.

      Not everyone will interpret scripture the same way. Not everyone shares the same convictions. AND THAT’S OKAY. Using that verse as a mean’s to validate pushing one’s convictions onto someone else (even if the motive is loving) often has an adverse effect.

      I think the most important point in that passage of Paul is exactly how he ended it: Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

      Having that said, I wrote a blog about when to “speak the truth in love” here:

      Much Love,

  • doveeyes4

    This is my favorite post yet. Like some of the others, I grappled with “that one sentence” myself, but once it was clarified, I got it. I used to have that second savior of the world syndrome really bad, but once I finally got it through my head that playing God was ineffective and depleting, I learned to just take my place with the other mortals and let God do whatever He needed to do…sans my assistance. Works out better for everyone that way. Now all I have to do is rustle up some of those fierce, brave, loving friends. Sometimes they seem to be in short supply.

  • Nehemiah Project

    Love at the nucleus, grace and mercy branching out from that and all surrounded by the attributes of love…patience, kindness, etc.
    We cannot truly love under our own steam. We need His Spirit to teach us, guide us, nudge and remind us as to Who He is. Let His love and compassion work through us. Let us see people as He sees them. We should take our reminders from what we read of Jesus.

    I really can’t believe you have already been through a divorce…you must have been 12 when you got married. Just guessing by your photo.

    My wife and I have been virtually shunned by a former congregation that we left. We had solid reasons for leaving (not because of the color paint used or because we didn’t get to do this or be in charge of that). That was more than eight years ago and not one person has ever called or emailed to ask what the deal was/is. We have come to accept this, of course. But, it still has a mild sting to it.

    You, young lady, have been through much. Yet, you boast how the Lord has done much. Keep sharing your testimony.

    • Anna McCarthy

      Ha ha! Oh, I feel like I’ve lived a thousand lives. BUT thank you for your sweet words 🙂

      I am heartbroken to hear of your painful experience. OF COURSE IT STILL STINGS. Healing from those kinds of experiences can take a long time…shunning was never Jesus’ message. NOT. EVER.
      Yes, I’ve walked through much in this life – but it sounds like you have too. Happy you are outta there 😉

      Hugs to you and your sweet wife.


  • The Comeback Pastor

    I too am a divorced pastor. I resigned the church where I served and all hell broke loose. I was lied about and mistreated by so many people I thought were supportive of me. I am now remarried and left my denomination because of the overwhelming stance that I have no business fulfilling my calling that God did not take away. I planted a church in January and am living out a delay of what God started in me several years ago. I would love to read your book. It sounds like God has taught you much and given you a great sense of His power and presence amidst difficulty. Thanks for sharing your journey!

    • Anna McCarthy

      OMG. I am literally shouting YES! I love your tenacity. Not many would “come back” (love that) as you have – but you did. And you’re still walking confidently in the purpose you were designed for. I LOVE THAT.

      There is always a crucifixion before a resurrection. You definitely lived yours. And now you’re walking out of that tomb – stronger than ever. There isn’t a more beautiful picture of freedom than that.



  • -

    I just want to say AMEN Sis! I have experienced much through my life that has left me wanting for even one true friend who wants to spend time with me. I grew up with people in our church thinking that my dad was a super strong Christian man and even invited him to be a deacon on multiple occasions. At home he verbally and emotionally abused my mom and I and even twisted scripture to use it against us. All the while I was small for my age growing up, 2 years behind in my hormonal development, suffering with the emotional side of a learning disability, and ostracized entirely by my peers because I wouldn’t conform and tried to life for God as much as I possibly understood how to. Oh, how hard that’s been for a tenderhearted guy who craves affection, companionship, and quality time… Ten years ago I moved my mom in with me and a horrid 3 year divorce ensued with my dad dragging me (his totally grown adult son and only child) through the mud and then spreading horrific slanderous lies about my mom and I.

    This 10 years has been a refocus and reawakening for me with my relationship with God. It was during the beginning of this part of my journey that my pastor issued me a challenge with “Grow your faith to understand who God is, not the shadow of God that you see from those around you.”
    That had to be the most loaded challenge ever. One that has not only stripped my faith and beliefs to their core but one that has left me looking at God in ways that I may never have otherwise. Life is messy, we are all horribly broken people and God is the only one who can change us for the better. I like your comment that the Gospel wasn’t meant to change us. It was meant to be the catalyst of change, the trigger and way for us to come back to a place where God can work on us and begin His work within us again but not the element of change itself. It’s the total surrender to let God work that’s the struggle sometimes…

    Anyway, sorry for rambling… Your post is a good reminder for me today that I’m not alone in suffering and loneliness…

  • coni

    BeenThereDoneThat– where do I begin – I love ur article and all the comments . it’s good to hear how we all survived. God is good.

  • Shattered in Him

    I have sincerely missed you, J, and C. That picture gave me the feels. I’ve kept you and the ladies in my prayers very often. I myself went and retreated from the world at large for a while and nearly abandoned social media altogether (quiet time in the wilderness, much needed). Wanted to stop in here just to say I hope God blesses your journey greatly.

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