friendship, freedom & a lot less fear

friendship freedom and a lot less fear

“there is nothing on this earth more to be prized than true friendship.”   st. thomas aquinas

uh oh, i’m on my “men and women need to learn how to be friends” kick right now.  I think it’s appropriate in light of the shared leadership conversations, too, because it gets to the center of so much of what’s broken in our systems—both in and outside of “church.”  we know how to be over others or under others, but rarely do we learn how to be alongside each other.  yesterday a friend shared that when reading a blog post that someone had basically commented “well, i personally would never be alone with a woman because i can’t trust myself or her.”    when i read this i felt sad for a few reasons:  1. it’s so common. 2.  it’s so guided by fear, and 3.  it’s so limiting. 4. it doesn’t need to be this way.

staying separated greatly limits our ability to be deeply connected in the ways i think God intended.  we can’t learn some of the things we need to learn about life & love & people & friendship when we’re always living out of fear in relationship with one another.  also, by keeping ourselves separated, we are perpetuating deeply grooved systems of hierarchy.  in the end, we all lose.

the way to break down some of these divides is to learn how to be friends.

most of us haven’t learn this very well.  a lot of our family experiences didn’t teach it. work often doesn’t teach it.  many of our churches certainly haven’t taught it.  so we’re sort of left to fend for ourselves and learn it on our own somehow.

against a lot of resistance.  yeah, there are a lot of forces working against men & women learning how to be friends.  patriarchy, sexual weirdness, negative church-messages & our own default-toward-not-knowing-how-to-do-healthy-intimacy-with-other-people all get in the way. my friend dan brennan talks a lot about this in his work on cross-gender friendships.

one of the reasons I feel so deeply dedicated to healing & recovery & the beatitudes & the 12 steps & transformational opportunities is that as we keep growing individually as human beings we can learn to be better friends corporately.  it is true that when we have hidden addictions & are saddled with shame and insecurity & honestly just never learned how-to-be-a-friend-or-have-a-friend, we really can’t do these kinds of relationships safely, unless there is help & guidance.  there’s just too much baggage that gets in the way.  but, if we can find avenues for healing, we can start to break free from unhealthy patterns and learn how to do relationships differently.

in so many ways, i think that’s the big, beautiful idea of the spiritual journey—to become a better friend to ourselves, to others & with God.

the world needs people who know how to be good friends.   

i think that’s what we are trying to learn in the life of the refuge community together.  it is bumpy.  sometimes ugly.  and often scary.  men learning how to be friends with men, women learning how to be friends with women, and men & women learning how to be friends with each other.  to stop being “over” or “under” another but learn to be “beside”.   across ages, life experiences, faith experiences, socioeconomics & a host of other differences.  sometimes people say that they feel like they are in grade school, maybe even pre-school, stumbling and bumbling through learning how to be friends.

i love that idea because i think that’s what “church” is supposed to be—a place to learn.  Jesus school.  a container to be challenged.  a safe place to practice.

to me, in another weird paradox, even though it seems stumbly & bumbly like pre-school at times, it actually is graduate-level work.  and oh, so beautiful!  to learn to be friends, real friends,  is no small task.  walking persistently with humility & courage is grad school stuff.  real friendship, as Jesus reminded us, is “laying down our lives.”

over and over we will be humbled.  we will be challenged.  we will be afraid.  we will make mistakes.  we will need to give grace.  we will need to receive grace.

but hopefully we will also laugh at our pre-schoolness & celebrate our victories & keep listening, learning, and growing on the journey together.  i am so thankful for all i continue to learn through these deeper, healthier, scarier relationships with men & women, too.

i really don’t think living in fear was ever the idea.  i think Jesus sets us free from captivity; the question is whether we are brave enough to try to step into it.

God, help us be brave & teach us how to be friends. 

* * * * *

ps: my friend john martinez, one of the co-pastors of the distillery church in new york, is doing a summer teaching series on down we go.  i love their community & am so glad we’re friends across the miles.  here are some posts about it:

  • making a diverse, paradoxical, interdependent, with chain
  • the kingdom isn’t going to just drop out of the sky
  • casey anthony, we are really just like her



Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar is dedicated to creating safe and brave spaces for transformation and healing in real life, online, and outside. She co-pastors at The Refuge, a hub for healing community, social action, and creative collaboration in North Denver, co-directs #communityheals, a non-profit organization dedicated to making spaces for transformation accessible for all, and is the author of Practicing: Changing Yourself to Change the World, Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.


  • Kathy – thanks for being on a “men and women need to learn how to be friends” kick. I so resonate with all you’ve said here.

    I grew up being told that men and women (who aren’t married or related) shouldnt even be in the same car, or room with a closed door. The whole idea of actual friendship where the two are intimately connected was absurd. I think this idea is losing power in some corners of the Christian world, but its still strong in others.

    I also highly recommend Dan Brennan’s book (Sacred Unions Sacred Passions – buy it at Amazon) because he goes so much deeper than books/preahcers of the past who have simply said that friendship is impossible, and you’ll end up in bed if you try. Dan is able to walk the line of valuing chasity, while pursuing great depth and intimacy.

    Thanks again for being on this kick, Kathy! Its a good one.

    • thanks jennifer. i wasn’t taught all of those rules until i became a christian. but at the same time before i was walking this direction there were also all kinds of issues that perpetuated unhealthy relationship between men and women as friends. i am so thankful for the shift over the years & all that i continue to learn through these meaningful, healthy friendships. yes, i love dan’s message & ministry because it challenges us to freedom instead of fear. so glad we can stay connected out here!

  • This topic is so challenging for me. I’ve never been good at being a friend with women or men. And I’ve picked up a lot of baggage along the way.. much of it seems to be fading away with time and maturity in my marriage and view of God.. but i still feel like I’d be one of those needing help and guidance. I left the church I grew up in because i did not want to admit that I was having problems and I DID NOT trust the people in leadership there. So, i kind of get where the mainstream is coming from. It is so much easier to keep everyone living in fear. But now my heart weeps to realize that I’ve put up these walls to protect myself from ever having to go through that pain again, and in the process, I’m missing out on ever having close friends again. So I guess for now, i just have to pray that prayer with you and see if Jesus will help me take the next step.

    • thanks, gloria, for sharing. you are so not alone on not learning how to do the friendship thing, regardless of whether it’s with the opposite sex. i do think we need guides & models & containers to practice & learn new ways & break down walls slowly to find greater freedom & hope & connection. i hope we can get together one of these days soon, lots of good stuff to process. thanks for reading.

  • Gloria – I feel like I’ve been in this place before too…looking around and seeing what other people have, longing for it for myself, but believing that I’m too broken to ever have access. You’re not alone in that feeling. Deconstruction takes such a long time. It sounds to me like you’re in a good place thoguh – open to what the Lord might bring. Many blessings to you.

  • Most of my best friends are women, and that’s the way it’s always been for me. The idea that men and women can’t be close without a sexual relationship is not true. Whenever anyone tells me that, I tell them they’re telling me a lot more about themselves than they are about me. That usually ends that conversation.

    Here’s one of those secrets we’re not supposed to tell online – Friendship takes work on our part. Often we are the ones who needs to reach out, to make a call, send a card, have a party or whatever. The topic of having few real friends has come up in conversation with several people we know recently. They’re the ones always waiting for others to reach out to them, and frequently that doesn’t happen.

    • i think that is so true, sam, the amount of work it takes. sometimes people think it’s easy, that it just happens naturally and then are mad or jealous when it’s not happening for them. the investment and time and risk emotionally and practically is great when it comes to deep friendships. it’s a lot of work to honor and nurture them but because they are so valuable it’s worth it..every relationship always has risk, too. i’ve had a few friendships fail miserably. that sucks & it was so painful for me because i’m loyal to a fault but it’s part of the risk involved & i have learned a lot about letting go, too, and not controlling or forcing something but accepting some relationships have their seasons. thanks for sharing.

  • too weird, just been doing a retrospection on how I always seem to be hangin’ with guys…even as a kid!?! Weird and crazy revelation, but true. Might be why the Quarterback Princess is one of my favorite movies! 🙂

  • A significant part of my healing has come from being in relationship with healthy women. I think both women and men miss out when we let fear rule our friendships.

    • thanks for sharing, mike. yeah, some really beautiful healing has happened over the past chunk of years, hasn’t it? God is fun.


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