Do you ever feel like you contribute more to your relationship than your friend does?
Friendship expert Shasta Nelson asked this question in a survey, and the response was overwhelming: “Only 26 percent [of survey participants] feel the giving is shared equally, and a whopping 60 percent of us believe we do most of the giving in our relationships. Even the 26 percent who view their relationships as mutual tend to believe other women are more likely to be takers than givers.”
So, over half of women believe they are contributing more in their friendships than their friends? This disproportionate conclusion leads me to believe it is very likely some of us are giving a lot to one friendship while also taking advantage of another.
We’ve all heard the cliché “it is better to give than to receive” — and yes, it’s exhilarating to see a smile on someone’s face and to know you did something to make your community better. But when it comes to the economy of friendship, giving more than you receive can feel terrible. When you feel like you’re in a one-sided friendship, it’s easy to believe your friend doesn’t care enough about you to contribute equal effort.
Maybe you make the effort to initiate time together, but she never sends the first text. Or perhaps you helped him move into his new home, but when it was your turn to move, he was too preoccupied with a work thing to help.
This feeling of painful imbalance causes unforeseen damage to a friendship.
When our efforts and intentionality aren’t returned, we may want to give up on friendship entirely.
- If our friendship isn’t important to them, then it is no longer important to me.
- I just can’t give more than I am already giving.
- I am quitting this friendship. It’s their turn to put some energy into our friendship and show me that I matter to them!
I get it. It can be exhausting to extend ourselves over and over. My heart hardens when I feel like a friend doesn’t care much as I care or initiate like I initiate. But ultimately, we have the choice of whether we’re going to carry the self-imposed burden of I do the most in this relationship.
When we live with our bitter frustration long enough, we start to distance ourselves from our friend—the opposite of striving for togetherness. We wonder if we can trust her enough to continue investing in a friendship that feels unequal. The solution seems clear to us: Our friends need to recognize our value and put in more effort.
But will that really solve the issue at hand? What if the issue is less about tracking who gives more to the friendship . . . and more about our approach to friendships?
When we come into friendships expecting to get back exactly what we put in, we create an unsustainable relational dynamic. No friendship will ever completely balance the scales, so we need to find a different way to measure trust in our friendship, one outside of who is giving the most.
When we look at our first friendship, we see disparity in who gives more to the relationship. God is merciful, compassionate, sufficient, and generous . . . always! He is never not on the side of His people. He is working out all things for our good. He delivers us from our sin over and over as we stumble along, and He never severs relationship when we fall short. We forget God; we reject Him; we demand He give us what we want.
And yet God is never stingy with His love and care. The apostle Paul reminds us: “Though he [Jesus] was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.”
We receive this blessing in our first friendship . . . and then what do we do with it? Do we love our friends generously? Or do we, with bitter and unchanging hearts, expect our friends to match everything we’re putting into the friendship? God calls us to charitable love, but we’re tempted to be miserly toward our friends when we believe they’re taking our love for granted.
But God’s economy shows us that sacrificing for others is a priceless act of love. He calls us to consider others above ourselves, not because it’s the right thing to do but because we are to emulate Jesus who “did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant.” Thankfully, God’s economy of friendship does not depend on our will but on God’s power to “equip [us] with everything good that [we] may do his will.”
With God’s strength, our friendships can be marked by these characteristics:
- We give to our friends without holding “interest” over them. When a friend is in a bad place spiritually, physically or emotionally, we are to support them without keeping a record of what they will owe us in the future. How do we accomplish this? God will supply us with a heart that is ready to give: “God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.”
- We give to our friends because we love them. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son.” This verse, which beautifully explains the Gospel, also communicates something about God’s generosity. Love pours out from a full cup. Fully satisfied in God’s love for us, our hearts are moved to give to others without keeping score.
- We give to our friends out of God’s abundance. It can feel scary to give what we don’t have, but God works in our giftings and seasons so we may have an abundance of what our friend lacks. As 2 Corinthians 8 says, giving should not be a burden, but “your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness.”
You will find yourself in seasons where you have more to give—more time, more hope, more prayer, more money. And other times, you will find yourself in need of your friend’s generous love.
We don’t have to judge the value of our friendships based on who can give the most. Instead, when we focus on giving our life away, we find that life is given back. God’s economy proves rich in relationship.