If You’ve Ever Been Bitten By Friendship (And How to Face It Again)

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It was ten years ago when four year old Ethan, his brother, his baby sister and I trekked across the street in our little desert neighborhood to feed the dog of our good friends who were out-of-town. We walked inside the house to find their happy beagle, an excitable but adorable dog we’d been around a hundred times. Ethan, a lover of all animals, immediately began petting and talking to the dog while I found the food bag and poured a cup of it into the dog’s bowl. As the dog began scarfing down his breakfast, I placed the food bag where I’d found it. When I turned back around, I saw Ethan on his knees, head dropped level with the dog’s as he giggled and stroked the dog’s neck and back . Immediately I opened my mouth to remind him we don’t play with dogs while they’re eating, but I never had a chance to say the words. In a moment that felt both like a flash and years long, the dog jumped on top of Ethan and planted his teeth in my terrified son’s face.

I screamed and quick as lightening scooped Ethan up from under the growling dog, laying him on the kitchen counter. I grabbed a wad of nearby paper towels and clamped them down on the side of Ethan’s face while reasurring him, his wide-eyed brother, and crying baby sister (and myself) that everything will be okay.

And indeed, everything was. Ethan’s bites required stitches, but as we got on our knees that night to pray, we thanked God the bite marks – mere millimeters from his eye – didn’t injure anything permanently. It had been an awful thing to experience, but I couldn’t help but see all the ways God had been awfully gracious to us throughout the ordeal.

As I woke up the following morning, I had one prayer-thought that wouldn’t leave me alone.

Lord, don’t Ethan’s one bad experience with dogs awaken a fear of dogs in him.  And then I realized what I needed to do to remove – or at least lessen – that possibility.

I called my friend Rebecca who lived across the cul-de-sac. After relaying the events of the last 24 hours, I asked if we could come over and let Ethan hang out with their gentle black lab Casey. She said yes, I think you should. So we took another walk across the street in our desert neighborhood to find Casey, tail wagging, at the door of Rebecca’s house. We walked inside and Ethan hesitated only a moment before exuberantly stroking his back and smiling with the words Hi Casey, you good boy! You’re a good boy, aren’t you!?”

I smiled at the scene and exhaled, just a little.

*****

I’ve never been bitten by a dog but I’ve been bitten more than once by friendship. And let me tell you, those kinds of wounds don’t hit millimeters from a vital body part but square on the heart, and it’s a whole lot harder to stitch up broken muscle than broken skin. I cross my arms and want to nurse the wound for just one more day until the days become months and years and I start to wonder why in the world I feel so lonely.

No, time does not heal all wounds. On occasion, time makes wounds worse.

Eventually I looked past my crossed arms, up to the blue sky and hear the words,

Don’t let your bad experience with one friend keep you away from all women. 

Yes. I know I shouldn’t. Really, I do. But how does one take what she knows and move it to what she does? When it feels like throwing caution and all my protective instincts out the world’s window?

I remember these words from Psalms,

“God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”

I don’t always feel it but I do believe it, and my belief propels me forward with this prayer:

Lord, I believe you are my strength as You provide my portion.

Armed with this prayer on my lips, I uncross my arms and walk across the street – or across the school parking lot or down the church pew or up my neighbor’s driveway – all while asking God to be my strength as I look for my (friendship) portion. I remember that through Christ, there is no such thing as permanent injury because in the end, life’s stones roll away and hope always rises.

Yes, I have been bitten by friendship, but I can face it again because first I believe He is my strength as He provides my portion and then I walk forward and try again. 

Today my handsome son still bears faded scars from the dog bites, but he also bears greater wisdom and respect for dogs (although he admits to wanting to retell the story with a German Shepherd rather than a beagle). The awful experience wasn’t a wasted experience.

I’m learning not to let my own scars go wasted, either.

“None of what they’ve done is wasted; God blesses them for it all in the end.”  ~ Revelations 14:13 The Message

 And with this promise, I smile and exhale, just a little.

This weekend, I’m walking over to my favorite coffee shop to meet with friends. Are you?

Question for you: Have you ever been bitten by friendship? How did you face trying again?

**Related read: Twenty-Five Ways to Be a Friend, A Friendship Prayer-Reminder and Manifesto.

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  1. says

    Yes, Kristen, I’ve been bitten and it can be hard to start over, but I am learning to do it. You, my friend, are such a beautiful writer in this sea of many. Thank you for sharing your heart in this space.

    This weekend is never a good time for me; it’s my son’s birthday. He’ll be 26 this year…maybe someday I won’t be celebrating with him, but as long as he is near me and wants to celebrate, then I will be here. So…I will not be participating in an in(RL) meet-up. But I clicked your link…Ruth Zschoche’s son was in my son’s class at USAFA, assuming it is the same person. My son only stayed a year, but I remember interacting with Ruth in an online parent group. Please give her my best.

    • says

      Oh girl, if my kids as grown-ups are close enough to celebrate birthdays? Then I’m ditching anything and everything else to do just that. Bravo to you, good mama!

      And I know Ruth’s son is an academy grad, so I believe you have the right person. I will give her your best when I see her next!

      Much love to you, Mary, always and forever.

  2. says

    Wonderful post & life lesson. Yes, I have been bitten. And yes, I go back for more :) Because somehow I need them & they need me & the love of God compels me to go back. Blessings!

  3. says

    What a great tie-in with the dog bite and the wounds of friendships. What a sweet mom you are to pray instantly that your son not be afraid of dogs! So love that peek into your heart! The worst wounds for me were the ones done by people in the church. The thing about being in the “body of Christ” is it is a BIG body and it has to work together to function. You can’t really cut one part off and still be able to walk. That was an important lesson.

  4. says

    For me, I think it’s been more that I was scared of friendships. Scared of not being liked. I’m sure I’ve been bitten by them but no memory stands out. Just fear. But God has been breaking down those fears. I’ve been so blessed by community during this time apart from my husband. And on Saturday I will actually take an hour drive to join and INRL meetup. OH MY! Don’t let me back out, God! Always a delight to come visit you. Did you hear Karin Madden is my new co-leader for the (in)Courage Military Spouse group?!?! YAY!

  5. says

    Beautiful post, Kristen. After many, many “bites,” I found myself kinda scared of other women. I remember specifically where I was when I asked God to help me love women, and He answered. He’s made me brave, healed my heart. I find myself seeking out friendships, pursuing them, and learning to love how each friend is uniquely crafted and delightfully weird. And in the process, I’m learning to love myself, too. :)