Ladies’ Thursday: Friendships Between the Genders

11 Oct

Matthew 10:16, “Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves:  be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.”

The world has changed a lot in the course of my 54 years.

I was born just before the height of the sexual revolution.  When I was young, I became aware that many of my grandmother’s generation had been pregnant when they got married but they:  a) kept it quiet (it’s amazing how many people knew though, and passed the information along to my generation) and b) always got married to make their mistake “right.”

The sexual revolution (which came after the pill was invented when I was two years old) eventually set all of those former ways on their ear.

But the sexual revolution also “sexualized” many relationships that previously would be seen as innocent.  It gave people the tendency to assume that a relationship is sexual unless proven otherwise.  The precious old-fashioned concept of friendship which has been around since Bible days became the idea of “friends with benefits” that rules today.   

Remember that.  It has become the human race’s default setting to assume sex is taking place in almost any relationship where two people spend significant amounts of time together.  This is now the case even with two same sex people.  When I was a young naval officer, it was usual for two men or two women to buy a house together for the investment value (as junior officers, they needed to pool their money to afford a house, but they also knew that renting an apartment was throwing money away). 

Now, with the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” many single officers don’t buy a house with a same sex roommate because it will be assumed that they are a couple.  For two gals who are hoping to get boyfriends at their new duty station, being known as lesbians can be a showstopper!

So, turning to relationships with the opposite gender . . . let’s project that out.

Our society is crazy about sex and about putting a sexual narrative underneath every relationship, no matter how innocent.  So we need to be forewarned and forearmed with that fact or we will get ourselves into trouble by simply being naïve.

The above verse is very appropriate here.  We must be wise as serpents but gentle as doves.  People love to gossip and they find gossip about sex to be the most titillating of all.  They don’t really need to have any facts in order to accuse us of sinful behavior.  If we are not careful, we play right into their need to be entertained.

And, as Christians, Christ’s name can be slandered in these situations.

I have many male friends, both at work and in my church and Bible study circles.  I want to address, specifically, the friendship between a man and a woman who are married to two other people. 

When I was a young woman, those friendships didn’t happen very much outside of a group setting in which couples got together for fellowship.  That was, and remains, a safe place to have friends of both genders.

However, as I have gotten older, the advent of cell phones, texting, Facebook, and private messages on Facebook have brought about situations where conversations do take place one-on-one, sometimes in person, sometimes on-line.  Sometimes it is just a case of you and that other person having an interest that your spouses do not share.   

Let’s just say it.  It is okay to not share every interest with your spouse.  There is no spouse on this planet who shares every possible interest with his or her husband or wife.  It can’t be done.  If it happened, that couple would have found paradise on earth and wouldn’t even need to look forward to heaven. 

Only Jesus fulfills every desire of our hearts.

In humans, we will find that our spouse meets many, but not all, of our needs.  Friends will fill in the gaps.  Sometimes those friends will be of the opposite gender.   (Disclaimer:  To repeat, Jesus is ultimately the One who meets all of our needs.  He uses people to do that.  Just want to make sure I am not misunderstood as overly exalting any human being, including a spouse. Also, not everything we perceive as a need is a need. But God graciously provides for us all good things to enjoy).

So how do we safeguard our marriages so that they are not threatened by our friendships with the opposite gender?

I have a few specific ideas that have worked for me and have, most of all, minimized the opportunity for others to gossip about my friendships:

1) No being behind closed doors with someone of the opposite gender who is not my husband.  In fact, I travel a lot with my workmates and one time we were in Los Angeles on a very cold week.  One coworker, who loves to build fires in hotel rooms with fireplaces, bought three of those preformed logs, one for his own hearth and two for those of us who were sharing a car with him.  When we got back to the hotel, knowing that I didn’t know how to build the fire in my room, he went in and did it for me, while I kept the door open and stood halfway out on the sidewalk.  I reassured him that that had nothing to do with him, but everything to do with not wanting to attract gossip.

2) Making sure my husband knows about my friendships.  I believe this may have been what doomed the political campaign of Herman Cain.  Remember?  He had exchanged about 100 texts with a woman and given her money when she was down-and-out.  Because his wife knew nothing about this when questioned, everyone assumed that he was having sex with this other woman. 

My take on that was that he was perhaps just unwise.  He was on the road, campaigning.  He probably got out of touch with his wife for a few days.  It is not, in itself, a sin to exchange texts with people of the opposite gender.  You would find those on my phone. With some good friends, you would easily find 100 of them, over the course of time.  The difference is that my husband knows about them.

I have also given money to a younger male friend whose house was flooded out as a hurricane came through Virginia Beach.  The floor needed emergency repairs.  I think his wife was still out of town when I gave him the money but, again, my husband knew about it.  Hard for people to make an accusation there.     

3) Try to make it a foursome whenever possible.  If you and your opposite gender friend have esoteric interests in common (for me, read:  theology), the eyes of your spouse and your friend’s spouse may glaze over sometimes in the conversation, but make the effort anyway.  Find out what interests the friend’s spouse and talk about that, too.

I always remember that it is my husband’s strong interest in and talent for finance that gave me the mental space even to be able to study theology in the first place. If he had not been a good earner from the git-go, I would have had to work a lot more hours outside of the home over the years and would not have been able to homeschool (where my son learned to share my love for reading by reading good books with me) and attend seminary.

4) I highly recommend that opposite sex friendships not involve any touching at all. The way God has created us, our feelings tend to follow touch. Probably enough said about that. Be wise.

5) Stay above it when petty things intrude into your friendship, just as you would in same sex friendships. People may talk at some point. Prove them wrong. Be willing to listen to the folks who teach that opposite sex friendships are an impossibility after marriage. You don’t have to agree with them to listen. And you may learn something new that will help make your friendships safer.

6) As in all parts of life as a Christian, exceptions will occur where we just plain need to be Spirit-led. If I could write an exhaustive list of rules for opposite gender relationships, it would tend to make us think we could successfully do them without God in the picture!

An example of this from my travel with my job was I once found myself in a Burger King, sitting with a coworker and counseling him about an abortion that took place when he was young. If we had been home, I would never have gone alone with him to get lunch and, in fact, I don’t usually do that on the road either. I had thought several of us were going and then it turned out there were only two of us. I didn’t have my own rental car, so I went. But notice, we were in a public place, not behind closed doors. I don’t intend to ever make an exception of that!

Also, notice that there were not any Christian men readily available to counsel him. I think that would have been the ideal. But if someone needs Christian counsel and I can’t find a man to do it, by God’s grace I am going to do the best I can do.

We are all different. In my case, I have always had many male friends. I remember being 13 and feeling terribly awkward, thinking I had nothing to say to a boy who was trying to talk to me. Then I turned 14, a switch seemed to be thrown, and I have not shut up since in friendships with guys.

There were several men I dated, off and on, in college, remaining friends with them while dating others. The only way to do this is, of course, to maintain chaste relationships in the dating years. Once more than a casual kiss becomes part of the dating relationship, it opens up the possibility of jealousy when someone is back and forth between several relationships. We are created to desire exclusivity in the physical realm. That is why is it best to leave the physical part largely for marriage.

Just as I found myself able to maintain several chaste relationships with male friends in college, there is nothing stopping me from having chaste relationships with male friends now (and my husband from having chaste relationships with female friends). A desire to please God in every sphere of life and a core belief that we are to express ourselves physically in only one relationship, marriage, will help these friendships stay on course.

6) Realize that, if you are Christians, God fits friends together in a unique way.  Since no husband and wife share every interest in common, you will share some interests with your friend that his spouse does not.  Keep the perspective that you are one unique voice in his life that God has brought into place (as he is in yours).  We are all members of one another and need each other.  Don’t think of yourself as too important nor as too unimportant in that friend’s life.  You are one piece of the puzzle that enables him to be the person he is.  And he is the same for you.

As I write this, I am looking at two postcards recently sent to me by a friend who is an airline pilot.  He and I were in a Navy squadron together back in the mid-1980’s.  We were both single then.  He is still single, but is in a committed relationship with a friend of mine.  I introduced them almost ten years ago. 

When we were single, I traveled overseas with his flight crew.  We also got together as a twosome after hours a few times while we were home in Jacksonville (he was and remains an incredible cook!).  And we talked and talked during those times.  No romantic attachment, just deep friendship and good discussion (well, actually I am going to “out” myself here and tell him, if he is reading this, that I did have quite a crush on him in the early days.  Never let him know that because I didn’t want to take the chance of ruining a good friendship.  And I turned out to be right, as we have remained solid friends for thirty years). 

The thing that jumps out at me is the fact that there were certain things that we talked about back then that he still brings up every once in a while, on a postcard or when he sends me a foreign newspaper because it reminds him of something we once did together or talked about.  That is an amazing thing.  He remembers our discussions of Russian Orthodox icons and still sends me things to remind me after thirty years.  His partner understands that we share that interest and rejoices that he has someone to talk to about it.  It is really a beautiful thing to look back on, as we have grown thirty years into the future. 

Opposite gender friendships can be rewarding, if approached with the proper perspective.  I am not an expert on them, but just share what I have found in life so far.  I covet input by other people in the comments section down below.   

Great Plays: Death of a Salesman vs. The Glass Menagerie

23 Jul

I read quite a few great plays back in high school, along with other works of literature that got made into plays/movies at some point in their journey.

In fact, I may have read more solemn literature in my high school years than I have in the years since then, as I was quite a serious student who had not yet developed a sense of humor. No balance.

The serious 20th century playwrights definitely got my attention: Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams, and Eugene O’Neill, for three examples. Although, in all fairness, I didn’t see O’Neill’s Moon for the Misbegotten until college and I later read his A Long Day’s Journey into Night while serving with the Navy in Jacksonville, Florida.

While I used part of Miller’s The Crucible for my recitation in a high school forensics competition, my favorite play of his was Death of a Salesman. And I just now had the incredible treat of finding Death of a Salesman on Netflix with Dustin Hoffman playing the title role of Willy Loman.

Amazingly, Hoffman was made up as an old man while playing opposite John Malkovich as Willy’s son Biff. Magical.

Hoffman affected a crooked spine and the laborious walk of an old man so well that it took me a full ten minutes to convince myself that was really him. Of course, he carried off Rainman the same way, studying the moves and gestures of people with autism until he could convince us he was legitimately a part of that world!

Any movie that goes over two hours can’t be all sober moments, however (or the audience would become suicidal!!! LOL!), so the flashbacks to happier days between Willy Loman, his wife, and his two sons work very well to lighten up the atmosphere and to fill in parts of the Loman family history that might baffle us.

The classic lines about the worth of a man play with resounding power in this version of the play/movie. The scene where Willy Loman loses his job after 38 years, without retirement or severance pay, is heartbreaking, especially when Willy reminds his boss, the son of his original boss, that one can’t just totally consume a fruit, then toss the peel aside afterwards.

Brilliance.

On the other hand, I recently saw a Netflix version of Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie with Katharine Hepburn as Amanda Wingfield. That, too, was an extraordinary work.

The play was not nearly as sad as I remembered it, particularly as my aging process has given me a more philosophical outlook about the very fact that Amanda’s daughter Laura opens up to love for the first time with her “gentleman caller,” foreshadowing the idea that she will be able to love again (and maybe again after that!).

Amanda’s son Tom does remain nigh on hopeless, but then again he was a autobiographical twin of Tennessee Williams!

What a treat to see great plays done with great actors and actresses.

Endemic Lack of Trust . . .

22 Jul

http://samueljamesblogs.wordpress.com/2014/07/20/helicopter-outrage/

What do our culture of outrage and helicopter parenting have in common?

Why Asking Whether Bonhoeffer was Gay Misses the Point . . .

22 Jul

http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/trevinwax/2014/07/22/was-bonhoeffer-gay-and-other-adventures-in-missing-the-point/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+wordpress%2Ftrevinwax+%28Kingdom+People%29

We keep on insisting on reading history through a 21st century lens . . .

Watching Plays through the Filter of Autism . . .

19 Jul

Most of you who know our family well know my story first hand.

About ten years ago, we took Joey, our son with autism, to a high school musical–West Side Story–at Tallwood High near here. He would have been eleven or twelve. Our young friends from church, the Davises, went with us.

We enjoyed a great performance by the young actors. Joey seemed to enjoy it as well.

At least until the end. I looked over at him as we were getting ready to leave our seats and saw him crying inconsolably.

Since Joey is not usually a crier, I was alarmed. I went over and asked him what was wrong.

Joey asked me a question in return, “How are they going to do the play again tomorrow night with all those people dead?”

It was like an arrow through my heart. I had never thought to tell Joey in advance that the people who died in the play were only playacting their deaths.

Poor guy! He didn’t know. A wave of sadness washed over me, too.

Autism is so inscrutable. Just when you think a person understands things in a normal way, something like this happens . . .

So it is that last night, when we went to Regent University to see the outdoor Shakespeare play (Julius Caesar), I was very happy to note our son sitting on a blanket in the front row, taking the deaths of the emperor and various other combatants in stride!

In fact, since he knew one of the castmembers and it was an all female cast (college students), he was visibly entranced by the loveliness before him! Typical 22-year-old guy!

He did ask his friend afterwards whether her dagger was real–he seemed to be relieved when she let him feel for himself that it was rubber.

In any case, he knew that no one really died–that the fight scenes were staged.

Progress!

People with Special Needs Need Friends, Too

19 Jul

Today I want to address the hesitancy many have to befriend folks with special needs, usually out of a fear that the needs will be so deep that the new friend will be overwhelmed.

Let me just say that you don’t need to fear that. You *will* be overwhelmed. But isn’t that what *any* friendship is about? We are *all* needy people. For Christians, that is good news, for being overwhelmed is a condition that leads us to rely on Christ more!!! And that is a good thing.

Let’s do the math. People with special needs are, first of all, people like the rest of us. Most of them need and want friends, just like the rest of us.

If we conclude that only the people who are used to people with disabilities should befriend them, we exempt a good chunk of the human race from having any responsibility whatever towards people with special needs. But is that Biblical (or moral, if you are not a Christian)?

We parents of kids with special needs are usually pretty comfortable around others who have various conditions, not just our own personal child. But is it then right that we should be responsible for being their *only* friends and support system? The way I figure it, that would make me responsible for being the best friend of about 200 young people I know with disabilities.

That can’t possibly be my calling! I could not do that in 50 lifetimes.

So here is a practical hint. Don’t *let* the situation become untenable and overwhelming.

One young lady with disabilities who is just starting out on her career PM’s me every time she sees me on Facebook. We all know how that works. You can see when someone else is active. When she sees that, she shoots me a message. If I answer, I get another message ten seconds later. And then again. And again.

So I have told her we are working on rhythm. On how people can message each other throughout the day and still get their work done. I respond to her every couple of hours. That way, she knows I care. I get things done.

Not hard, is it? It is only hard if I allow myself to think that her feelings of wanting constant texts from me have to govern my behavior. They don’t.

People with issues related to OCD will always push you to give them more and more. For that matter, people without OCD will do the same. We *all* want to feel important to someone else.

The solution for those of us who love people with disabilities is to give them what we can, but to let them know that their loneliness, boredom, lack of structure, or whatever is currently going on in their lives is not going to be allowed to control us or guilt us into spending more time than we can afford to spend being in touch.

Still, it is good to be in touch with someone with disabilities. They need friends, too. And they have much to offer and teach those of us who don’t ostensibly have disabilities.

20 New Favorites among Latin Phrases

19 Jul

http://mentalfloss.com/article/57898/20-latin-phrases-you-should-be-using

Oh, there are so many good ones here. I can’t choose just one or two!

Marriage Myths: God Will Make Me Marry Someone Ugly!

17 Jul

This week I have been talking to my Sunday school class about the way we ladies in the U.S. have overlaid our Western view of things onto the Bible and made some really shaky conclusions about its teachings on marriage.

It is easy to do that, and not just for Americans. If we don’t consciously account for our culture, *everyone* ends up overlaying her particular culture onto the Bible.

One way that can happen is by us falsely dividing things into “spiritual” vs. “worldly” categories.

When we do this, we tend to place “sexual attraction in marriage” into the “worldly” category and to assume it doesn’t matter to God.

In other words, we overspiritualize marriage.

Now, don’t get me wrong, marriage is indeed an earthly picture of the relationship Christ has to His Bride, the church.

But that does not remove the delight of the one flesh concept God built into marriage. It does not remove sexual attraction from marriage. The one flesh concept was God’s idea, after all.

It is important to remember that. When I was young, I used to think that holding out for a man who made me all trembly might be sinful. I thought maybe God wanted me to be okay with marrying any guy who honored him. Even those whose body shape or personal smell turned me off.

I could not have been more wrong.

I firmly believe there is someone for everyone. Therefore, if someone “smells too musty” to me, there is another woman somewhere who will find that smell to be a turn-on.

There is no reason any woman needs to “settle” for marrying someone in whom she doesn’t absolutely delight in every way, including the physical.

Sure, his faith and his lifestyle matter just as much as the physical side of things. But they don’t make the physical side of things irrelevant.

When we teach it that way, we unconsciously teach that God is the “great killjoy in the sky.” Or rather, we make the Great God of the Universe into just another member of the pantheon of Greek and Roman gods, who were totally capricious and didn’t miss a chance to “teach human beings a lesson” by denying them the things in which they took delight.

Now, after twenty-five years of being married to a man who is a believer, as well as a warm and funny person, and one whom I find totally hot physically, I can say without reservation that God’s plan is for us to marry another believer, but one with whom we have fallen deeply in love. God never calls for us to “settle” for something short of that, just to be married or just to please God.

When I think back to my college self and the way I sold God short, treating Him as a killjoy, I giggle at my own foolishness.

I recall a friend who lived next door in the dorms whom I often used as my “test of spirituality,” assuming that I would be very spiritual if I were willing to marry him. He had been badly burned in a fire as a child and was of a very stout build (not really overweight, just non-athletic and flabby). He was also black but that would not have been an impediment to me, even then.

Thing is, as I befriended him and tried to lead him to Christ, I used the wrong lens, my Western culture lens. I personally did not find him attractive, but I also never saw him come to faith in Christ. He may have done that later. And who knows how Christ might have changed his actual appearance later, if he became Spirit-led?

My whole premise was faulty, as though God would use willingness to marry this man as a test of my spirituality. As though finding guys who appealed to me physically was something *I* had to do for myself, since God clearly didn’t care whether I liked how a potential mate looked or not.

Such silliness in a girl in her late teens and early twenties.

But how many of us are still there, subconsciously? How many of us, if we are single or divorced or widowed, still assume deep down that God wants us to “settle” for someone who falls far short of delighting us? And what does that say about that person for whom we “settle”? Wouldn’t that guy be better off being cut loose from us so that he can find a woman who truly *will* delight in him in the Lord?

Our silliness can not only trip us up, it can trip up good men, created in God’s image, who deserve to find the ladies who will love them unreservedly.

Yes, God does care about whom we marry. And, yes, God does care that the one flesh concept is lived out in our marriages accompanied by a feeling of delight, not a sense of repugnance.

He has made all things good. Especially marriage.

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