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.   

Serving Him in joy . . .

23 Oct

http://www.9marks.org/blog/cheerful-confidence-after-christendom

May we be confident, witty, and cheerful Christians.

Sweet Essay on Handholding by a Widower . . .

12 Oct

http://www.ligonier.org/blog/husbands-hold-your-wifes-hand/

I love this!!!

Before He Died, Tom Saw the Angels

11 Oct

Mary Gardner Martin:

Amazing story of passing from death into endless life!

Originally posted on Zockollthoughts:

I had a conversation with Kim Craig, Tom’s wife, about the last days of our dear pastor’s life.  She had mentioned that he saw some wonderful things, and I received her permission to write about it and share it with you:

It was the last week of Tom’s life.   He would be gone by Wednesday evening.

The hospital room was quiet.  Tom, alone with his wife Kim, lay quietly gazing at the ceiling, fighting the pain and weakness brought on by the crush of pancreatic cancer.

1dHe was tired.  His energy was gone.  But he was alert… and Kim noticed that his eyes were fixed on a scene…

Tom stared at the ceiling, looking intently at something.

Kim, seated on the bed beside him, stroked his hair, “What is it, Tom? What do you see?”

His voice was weak but audible.  “Angels.”

Kim leaned closer.  Her heart skipped a…

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Defeating Ebola . . .

10 Oct

http://www.fresnobee.com/2014/10/09/4170417/we-are-dying-wheres-the-world.html?sp=/99/274/

Remembering that Africa is not monolithic but rather is a continent with over 50 countries that are very different from each other, the ebola epidemic has some interesting dimensions.

Picture the largest, most influential country on each end of the continent. Egypt in the north; South Africa in the south; Nigeria in the west; Kenya in the east. Each of these countries has several smaller nations in its orbit. What each of these nations does *not have (thank God!) is an ebola epidemic.

Nigeria had ebola break out, thanks to a dying man who arrived from Liberia, but it has been largely eradicated, only a couple of months later. Nigeria, which is not really a third world country anyway, handled its outbreak responsibly and got rid of it.

Why have these nations been so successful in staying free of ebola while the U.S. has not? Do the words “travel restrictions” mean anything to us?

You see, ebola is not a civil rights issue. It is not a case of the U.S. (and other countries) showing hatred for Africans by not letting them in freely during an epidemic. Their own fellow African nations are not letting them in freely. There is a good reason for that. You don’t show sympathy for people dying of a virus by letting them share it with you.

We need to send aid in all of its various forms to the three stricken nations but what we do *not need to do is let their citizens come to the U.S. to escape the epidemic, possibly bringing it with them. It is just not sensible to have unrestricted travel from Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone right now.

Am I Really the Hero I Wish I Could Be?

8 Oct

Flugtag 88 taught me a lot about heroes–what they are and what they are not. Flugtag 88 was the last Ramstein Air Base air show in Germany ever. The airshow at the American base had begun in the 1950’s but ended forever in tragedy that day in 1988 when two Italian planes collided over the crowd, burning scores of people to death below them.

I was not at the airshow that day but I was a couple of hours away, living in Stuttgart.

How well I remember the initial enthusiasm about a photo that was published of a man running from the flames, then suddenly turning around to go scoop up an injured infant from the ground, bearing her to safety. That shot almost became the iconic image of Flugtag 88.

Until . . . it was revealed that the man was the child’s father. He did not sacrificially run to rescue a random stranger. He went back to get his daughter whom he had forgotten . . .

I have thought long and hard about heroes since then. Would I ever be one? Would I never be one? Is there any way to tell who will become a hero before disaster actually strikes? I posit that no, we can’t say in advance who would or would not be a hero.

Actually, I think statements made in advance of anticipated heroism are much like six year old boys trash talking about their athletic prowess. It is easy to be a legend in one’s own mind.

Thus it was that a couple of weeks ago I entered a conversation of people bragging about how they would protect victims of crime if given half a chance to do so. They were especially convinced that they might do well if they went into a crisis armed . . .

I did not realize initially that they were referring to the radical Muslim who cut off a coworker’s head in the U.S., then went after a second coworker, nearly decapitating her, too. They were stating that they knew they would stand up to this man and his violence if they were there on the scene.

I meekly stated that the only people I am relatively sure I would protect are my family.

That statement produced an outpouring of scorn that was unbelievable. Someone asked me why my family’s lives are more important than anyone else’s, never realizing that I meant it as an example of how God has given me responsibility for my own family, just as others are responsible for theirs. It does not mean that the families of others are worth less, just that if you have to choose in a crisis . . . (well, that is one reason God set us in families–to protect each other).

Americans are so quick to rush to judgment these days that they rarely even read someone’s position accurately, let alone think it through. I certainly saw that in this conversation. I was actually thinking of the shooting in the Denver theater and how if I had been there with our special needs son, I would have probably dropped him to the floor and crawled with him to the exit, getting him outside and staying with him.

And the people “conversing” with me said, “For shame–you would only protect your own family, no one else?” without realizing that, as the mother of a son with special needs, I have learned that taking care of him can be a fulltime endeavour. If I left him to protect someone else, he would likely follow me right back into peril.

But the folks who are intent on heaping shame on others don’t stop to think like that. Their heroism, which exists only in their head usually, trumps my admission that I have spent my son’s lifetime protecting him.

What is interesting is that these folks are always bragging about how they would shoot a deranged armed man to stop him from killing more people. They are so protective of strangers, they brag. Until . . .

What if I had asked them why they are not on their way to Liberia right now to protect people from the ebola virus? The need for caregivers is certainly great.

But no, they only want to shoot bad guys, not protect innocent babies from getting a virus. Which proves to me that they are not so much about protecting people as about reacting against bullies. And I have very little patience for people whose own motives are so unclear to them that they can’t see the logic of a challenge to do good to *all people, not just the victims of particular crimes.

If you are a hero, you have to be a hero in all circumstances, not just the ones you handpick for yourself!

P.S. I left the conversation when the word “shame” was hurled and said why I did so. I don’t let people pile on–especially when they are making theoretical statements about how much more moral their actions would be than mine.

We have never, so far, gotten into a crisis to compare which of us would respond well. And hopefully we never will . . .

The Beauty of Growing Older . . .

4 Oct

http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2014/10/03/magazine/01-brown-sisters-forty-years.html?smid=fb-nytimes&smtyp=cur&bicmp=AD&bicmlukp=WT.mc_id&bicmst=1409232722000&bicmet=1419773522000&abt=0002&abg=0&_r=0

Portraits of four sisters over forty years. Lovely!

About Modesty . . .

2 Oct

http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/kevindeyoung/2014/10/02/the-biblical-virtue-of-modesty/

To make us contemplate . . .

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