I felt like I wanted to hurl. Or scream. Or find the nearest closet to hide in for the rest of the night. I certainly didn’t want to be there, with her, the woman who invited me as a friend but soon turned catty. Worse than catty; more like mean. Her words, whether spoken casually or in frustration, cut deep. Deep enough that it left me wincing well into the awkward silence that followed them.

Though I smiled and tried to mask my emotions, my queasy stomach refused to settle. I felt judged. Attacked, and unjustly so. This triggered a “fight or flight” response: flight—to retreat within myself, raising walls of self-protection, or fight—to react in anger.

Luckily, my friend and I were close enough that my desire to remain friends overrode my initial reaction.

But that didn’t mean those words didn’t hurt. The more I thought about our altercation, the more upset I became. Until one morning, the Holy Spirit got my attention.

In essence, God asked me, “Will you allow your friend to be imperfect. To say and do unkind things on occasion? To have times of callousness and selfishness, as you have?”

Ouch! It was the last part that got me, because I’d been longing for a close, transparent, authentic relationship. One where I didn’t have to pretend, where, if I acted like a jerk—which I can do on occasion—the relationship would be strong enough to withstand my failings.

Isn’t that what we all want? For people to accept us, remain close, despite our quirks, character flaws, and poor behaviors? Someone who chooses to see the best in us, even when we act our worst?

Because we will.

Grace. Why is it so much easier to receive than it is to give? And yet, we experience such freedom relationally when we allow our friends to behave like the imperfect people they are.

Close, authentic relationships take work, and most often, that work must begin with us. The first step is understanding our own failures.

According to Tracy Wainwright, director of the Abundant Life Conference for Women, this realization makes us more able to both give and receive grace. “It also helps us realize friendships aren’t just to serve our purposes and desires, but give us opportunities to pour love into other’s lives.”

Because according to the Bible, it’s not about us. It’s all—every game night, potluck, and girls’ night out—about knowing Christ and making him known. We do this, in a large part, by loving one another, for as Jesus said in John 13:35, “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples" (NLT).

As followers of Christ, our love for one another should look different than that which we often see in the world around us. It should be intriguing and contagious. Alluring. It should be patient, kind, humble, and self-sacrificing.

Even if our love isn’t reciprocated.

Philippians 2:3 tells us, “Do nothing out of rivalry or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves” (HCSB).

Imagine how our friendships would change if we consistently lived out that verse. So many problems arise when we get this flipped—focusing on our needs and desires to the exclusion of everyone else’s.

Consider the example I provided earlier. My first reaction was entirely me-centered. I thought about how painful my friend’s statement had been, wondered why she made it, and contemplated the injustice of it all!

Not until God did some major heart-cleansing did I pause to consider what might have been going on within her or what she might have needed from me. (It’s hard to think of the “offender” when we’re busy being offended.)