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.   

Post-Racial America, Part III: Focus on Ferguson

21 Aug

Quick, name five hotspots in the world right now:

1) West Africa, with the ebola outbreak. Heartbreaking, too, when people who have not received an adequate education react to an epidemic by storming medical facilities and freeing quarantined people, as they did over the weekend in Monrovia, Liberia.

2) Gaza, with the violence between Palestinians and Israelis. Tension in the U.S. because we arm Israel. And Egypt, on the other side of Gaza, for that matter.

3) Iraq/Syria borderlands, where ISIS has declared itself to be a new country (IS=Islamic State) and wishes to set up a caliphate to enforce Sharia law as the law of the land. Where U.S. journalist James Foley was just beheaded on Tuesday.

4) Ukraine, with the violence between Ukrainians and Russians. Tension in the U.S. because we just convinced Eastern Europe that they no longer need our help against a Russian threat!

5) And finally, Ferguson, Missouri, where our post-racial sensibilities have surfaced again in very stereotyped reactions to what is going on. I post Pastor Thabiti Anyabwile’s latest thought piece on Ferguson, above. And I agree with it.

Remember, there was an alleged incident of an officer in New York putting a black suspect in a (prohibited) chokehold recently, with the suspect dying during that incident. Yet, New York has not erupted into protests or racial incidents. What is the difference there? How did one situation get handled in a way that was perceived as transparent by the black community and the other did not?

I don’t have many answers but I do know that we need to have the racial conversation and not just keep our heads in the sand. We aren’t talking to each other, even now in the post-racial era. We are especially not talking to each other as Christians should.

I need to be able to wrap my arms around another mother, a black mother, who has lost her son for whatever reason, and mourn with her. We all know of times when someone dies in terrible circumstances. Suicides, drug overdoses, etc. We don’t lecture mothers at those times. And we don’t do it even if it turns out that Michael Brown’s last act was stealing cigars. We just love on the grieving mother.

May we Christians have the grace to get to where we need to be as Americans together, filled with compassion and Christ’s love.

A Few Words on White Privilege . . .

21 Aug

Please, please, please try to read this post before judging it. No one is negating personal responsibility. However, if we don’t know that life can be different for a black teen in America than it is for a white teen, then we can have a huge blindspot that does not aid the gospel in going forth in our society.

We are all humans and we can all understand each other. No one is talking reparations here, just understanding. It goes a long way . . .

Post-Racial America, Part II: The Prophetic Voice of a Black Pastor asking, “How Long, O Lord, How Long?”

21 Aug

I greatly respect Thabiti Anyabwile, who just moved back to the U.S. to plant a church in one of the poorer neighborhoods of Washington, D.C.

He has been a missionary for almost a decade in the Grand Cayman Islands, where most people look like him and he is not seen as “African-American” but just as “Pastor Thabiti.”

He is Baptist like me. I agree with his doctrine and conservative stances.

And he fears for his young son, a black male in post-racist America, where we have to admit that “driving while black” has never gone away. I have had moments of fear for some of my son’s black friends over the years, too.

So, even if you don’t agree with *everything Pastor Thabiti says here, do try to hear his heart and his concern for young people who come under a higher level of scrutiny merely due to the color of their skin.

It is like I taught my son, as a young disabled man whose autism often clouds his perception of the world: if you ever interact with the police, make sure your hands are down and you do not walk toward them.

For a disabled youth or a black youth, that has to be openly taught. Be very docile when the police arrive. Otherwise, you could be mistaken for one of the aggressors, even if you are innocently on the scene.

Mistakes happen. May they never happen to those we love and those whom Pastor Thabiti loves. May we learn a way to minimize mistakes for all.

The Birth of Shame . . .

21 Aug

This post tells a story about how shame in born in us. Some people get more of it than others. But, in the end, Jesus came to redeem us from our sin *and from our shame.

Fake It Till You Make It (IBTR #41)

20 Aug

Mary Gardner Martin:

I love this post but it needs at least two qualifying statements, just because we humans tend to run to extremes and to always take statements too far to the left, then too far to the right.

1) First of all, there is a statement that keeps showing up on various pages around the Internet that goes ” . . . Well, at least I am not fake.”

This statement implies that the author, alone, of all the people she knows, is a real person and everyone else is a fake. That is terribly, terribly presumptuous.

I prefer the Internet meme that starts, “Everyone you know is fighting an invisible battle on some front . . .” I love it because, in my experience, it is true of everyone I know.

So what does it profit us to imply that every other person, battling things in her life we can’t see, is a fake while only our own personal battles are real?

As a mom who has faced breast cancer and who has a child with high-functioning autism, I don’t find it particularly edifying to be called a fake, especially when I may have used my entire day’s supply of energy to come to church with ironed clothes and makeup on. I realize I am acceptable to God without those things but . . . sometimes I just work so hard to have some semblance of normalcy. And to be called fake for not bleeding all over my local church body every time I enter the door appears to be a cruel misjudgment of me. Life is not always so bleak, but when it is, I sometimes just want to dress up and appear normal for an hour. That is not too much to ask, is it?

2) The other part is that I *do believe in “fake it till you make it” when it is in regard to a person who seems to be a “prickly person.” In that case, I have learned to be very real with God and to admit that the person seems prickly and that I cannot, in my flesh, love that person. I make it about me and my lack of love, not about that person and her qualities. And, while I struggle in prayer to learn to love that person, I do believe in *acting lovingly toward her, knowing that God always, always answers the prayer that asks for help loving someone we can’t love naturally.

I believe, in that case, being “real” and admitting to that person that we can’t love her would not solve anything, even if we admitted that the issue was on our own side of things. Better to respond in a loving way, trusting God to give us that “warm, fuzzy feeling” later on.

In fact, isn’t that what love is, doing what is in someone else’s best interests? The warm fuzzy feeling is great, but not necessarily where we start . . .

Originally posted on The Reagan Review:

Have you ever been given this advice–fake it till you make it? Or have the words been unspoken, though the pressure just as real? On some level this problem runs rampant throughout Christianty, but my up close and personal experience, including my own forays into it, have been in the Independent Baptist world.

You do know what I am talking about, don’t you? This necessity that I appear to have it ALL together? To be human must not be admitted. The admission that my sanctification is not complete must never happen.

We have been led to believe that all good Christians have continually awesome Bible reading, an incredible prayer life, no personal struggles with any particular sin, and unbroken victory and joy. Then we are asked to believe that all the Christians around us (at least in the key group) are those type of good Christians. Finally we are told…

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Post-Racial America, Part I: The Heartbreak of Being a Black Father in America!

19 Aug

Don’t miss this. Thabiti Anyabwile is one of the most profound pastors of any ethnicity whom I read.

If we can’t hear his heartcry about raising a son black in America, we may only be letting ourselves relate to some, not all, people in our path as we seek to share the Saviour.

Church Attendance, or Maybe the Research is Not Tightly Controlled . . .

19 Aug

The conclusion here might be due to a logical fallacy which I learned in college. We called it “correlation does not imply causation.” In other words, when two things are related statistically, one cannot always know for sure the backstory of how that came to be.

Sure, people *might have a tendency to be less honest in a personal interview than online.

Or, it might be that phone interviews sweep up people who still have landlines while online interviews sweep up millennials who are wired more than the average older person . . .

See how that works? We have statistics. We don’t have an automatic explanation as for why they fall the way they do.


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