I didn’t have many friends in middle school, but I had Jeffrey Mitchell, and I needed him.
Some of the popular boys had started making fun of me, so I was growing increasingly uncomfortable in my own skin. Jeffrey didn’t seem to care.
We spent time at each other’s houses, hung around each other during recess, and sat next to each other when we had the same classes. This included Mrs. Silkman’s seventh grade English class where unfortunately, our friendship came to an abrupt end one day.
Death of a friendship
My seventh-grade year, Petal Middle School adopted a zero-tolerance policy for even the slightest infractions–being 30 seconds late for class, whispering to a classmate, chewing gum. The consequence: Detention. Detention. Detention.
Detention involved staying after school to sit in Ms. Thompson’s class and stare at a chalkboard for 30 minutes. That was bearable, but what was much less bearable was the additional consequence for me: After-school detention meant that I missed my bus, which also meant that my dad had to come get me. This meant that I was likely to get a spanking.
One afternoon in English class I was hiding a piece of gum in the back of my mouth, knowing it was a detention-worthy offense. Nobody noticed–at least they didn’t until Jeffrey raised his hand and asked, “Mrs. Silkman, are we allowed to have gum in class?”
“No,” she said.
“Then why does Josh have it?”
I sat there, stunned. My best friend had just sold me out for gum possession.
“Josh, do you have gum in your mouth?” Mrs. Silkman asked.
“Yes,” I reluctantly admitted, hoping Mrs. Silkman would spare me. She didn’t.
My face got hot as I stared at Jeffrey. I was horrified as the thought sunk in: Jeff isn’t my best friend–he isn’t my friend at all.
Within seconds, the thoughts and feelings got tangled into knots of bitterness, and I made a rash decision I would regret for many years: I cut Jeffrey off.
My girls have recently been disappointed by their closest friends, who sometimes don’t play with them on the playground. Last weekend I decided to use the story of Jeffrey and me as an example of how friends sometimes let you down.
After I finished the story, my seven-year old said, “If my friend does that, I’m going to be sad, but then the next day I will forgive her and we will be friends again.”
That stung just a little–it certainly wasn’t what I had done to Jeffrey.
“Did you and Jeffrey become friends again?” my five-year-old asked.
“No,” I said, and then I paused, realizing something for the first time: “Actually, I never spoke to him again.”
My oldest daughter’s chin began trembling.
“Daddy, he was your best friend. You can’t just stop being friends like that.”
“Well, sometimes that’s what happens to friends,” I said. “Now y’all go to sleep.”
“Why don’t you text him?” my five-year-old said.
“I don’t have his number,” I said, getting uneasy.
“Can you find it?”
“I don’t know.”
The tears started running down my oldest daughter’s cheeks.
“Daddy,” she said, “will you text him tonight? Please do it, Daddy. He was your best friend.”
“Well, his wife is my Facebook friend.”
Both girls lit up with excitement.
“So you’ll talk to him through Facebook,” said the youngest.
I can’t believe this is happening, I thought.
“Okay, I’ll try.”
They both cheered. I took a deep breath and felt a tinge of joy.
Gathering the kids
I messaged Jeffrey’s wife, Lauren, and asked for his number without explaining why I wanted it. She sent it the next day, which provoked a flurry of insecure thoughts in me.
What if this is totally weird? What if he doesn’t even remember what happened? How awkward is this going to be?
It was too late though. My girls were invested and I couldn’t let them down.
Since they were the impetus for the whole thing, I told them I wanted them to be in on the call. And with them sitting next to me in the living room, I dialed the number. Someone picked up.
Even after 25 years, I recognized the voice: It was Jeffrey.
Girls, meet Jeffrey
I started awkwardly: “Hey Jeffrey, it’s Joshua Rogers–I bet you’re wondering why I’m calling.”
“I am,” he said curiously.
I told him my daughters were there (be nice, Jeffrey!) and said that I had them on speakerphone because I wanted to teach them a lesson.
“So anyway, I don’t know if you remember this, but when we were in seventh grade, we were best friends. One day, I was sitting in class, and I had a piece of–”
“I remember,” he said. “I know what I did and I’ve thought about it many times since then.”
He stammered a little bit and then said, “You know what happened? I was mad at you because a few days before, we were sitting in choir and I was joking with you. I whispered that I wished I could be an opera singer. You told Ms. Nagy, and she made me get up in front of the class and told me to sing opera for everyone. I was really embarrassed and I decided to get you back.”
I hadn’t remembered that part.
Redeeming the time
“Listen, man,” I said, looking at my girls, who were sitting on the floor next to me. “I want you to know I’m sorry for shutting down our friendship, and I’m also sorry for embarrassing you in choir.”
“I’m sorry for telling on you in class that day,” he said. “Right afterward, I sat there thinking I couldn’t believe what I had done, and then I was surprised by how you shut me out and our friendship was over. You were pretty much my only friend, so it was a big blow.”
“That’s the sad thing,” I said. “You were pretty much my only guy friend. I couldn’t afford to lose you. And I know we can’t change that, but do you want to be friends again?” I said.
He said yes, and I asked if we could pray together. After 25 years of silence, it seemed appropriate to for us to have a conversation with God.
When we got off the phone, I thanked my girls for helping me get my friend back.
“God just worked through you,” I said.
My oldest daughter’s eyes welled up with tears and she said, “Maybe that’s why I was born.”
“It’s definitely part of the reason you were born,” I said.
Make the call
In all likelihood, you’ve had a break in a relationship that used to be a source of comfort to you. Think of that person. Do you know where they are? Do you have their contact information? If you don’t, could you find them through Facebook?
I wonder what would happen if you reached out to them–if you got their phone number and had the chance to apologize, to listen to their voice when they said, “I remember” and maybe even “I’m sorry.”
I’ve always liked that quote where Jesus says to His disciples, “I have called you friends.” He initiated it. He called them friends even though He knew they would one day let Him down when He needed them the most.
I don’t know what your old friend will do if you call him or her, but that’s not really the issue. The question is whether you’re willing to call the person a friend again, no matter what they do in response.
It may take some time to decide whether to call or if it’s even wise to call. But let’s assume it’s a Jeffrey Mitchell situation–just a bygone misunderstanding that outgrew the circumstances. Listen to the cry of a couple of little girls: Call the person. Send a text. That person was your friend. You can’t just stop being friends like that.
I know it’s risky and scary to put yourself out there after all this time, but at least consider it. Call that person your friend again, then pick up the phone and just go for it. You never know what it will mean to that person–more importantly, you never know what it will mean to the One who calls you friend, regardless of what’s in the past.