friendship heals.

blog friendship heals“i no longer call you my servants, i call you my friends” – Jesus

in april i was honored to be part of the first sacred friendship gathering in chicago, coordinated by my friend dan brennan, who is a brave & amazing advocate for cross-gender friendships.  when i got home from the gathering, i entered into the beyond-crazy month of may and am just now getting around to posting some of what i shared.

for me, i don’t wake up in the morning thinking about cross-gender friendships.  i just believe in them.  i think that they are sorely missing in the family of God.  a lot of transformation can happen through men & women learning how to be close friends in community.

but i do wake up in the morning dreaming about creating spaces that help set people free.  i think that’s the big idea of this limited time here on earth–that we could learn how to be more fully human, to be more deeply connected to others, to discover what it means to love and be loved.

and friendship is where we can learn these things.

intimate, meaningful, life-changing christian community is about friendship-men with men, women with women, and men & women together.

my friend and teammate karl wheeler has said that in all of his time in seminary he never had a class or conversation about the one thing he really needed to know to live out this life of faith–how to just be a friend.  this is so true for so many of us who have been in church for a long time. we spend time on Bible studies & small groups &  theology conversations & let’s-be-more-missional-initiatives, but we rarely get help & support & ways to practice this most fundamental piece of christian community–friendship.

friendship heals.  friendship transforms.  friendship forms us into the image of Christ.

here’s how:

friendship diffuses power.   issues around power cause us all kinds of problems in all kinds of ways. in relationship, many of us have learned to power up on others or to give all of our power away to others.  many of our faith & life experiences have cemented some of these unhealthy dynamics and kept us stuck in only knowing how to be over people or under people  but not alongside each other as equals.  this is why i am a nut-case for equality.  friendship levels the playing field and we practice how to be with each other, shoulder to shoulder, heart to heart, eye to eye, face to face.  we learn how to receive, not just give and vice-versa. christ-centered friendship restores dignity.  one of the main elements missing from the missional conversation, in my opinion, is centered on friendship.  we like to talk about serving and helping people because that’s easier & more comfortable than learning what it means to actually be real, equal friends with-no-hidden-motive.

friendship restores brokenness. so many of us have had broken relationships in our families–missing mothers & fathers & sisters & brothers & daughters & sons.  we live with a feeling of loneliness & insecurity based on some of our experiences.  for me, some of my cross-gender friendships have healed deep places in my heart that needed healing.  i needed more dad & brother in my life, and it comes through my friends. we have been taught that we shouldn’t “need” that, that somehow God is supposed to fill these broken places of our hearts completely.  but what if God gives us real-life-in-the-flesh people as vessels of his love to help participate in this healing?  this is what “incarnational” means to me, and i am grateful every day for the healing that has come through my friendships with men & women both.

friendship gives us a place to practice the ways of Jesus.  i’m a big advocate for community because i don’t think we can learn what we need to learn in our prayer closets or sitting in church listening to someone talk or hanging out with a bunch of people who are just like us. the place that we learn the most is through tricky, beautiful, challenging friendship with one another.  it’s where we have a chance to practice grace–with others, with ourselves. it’s the place where we learn sacrificial love.  it’s where we have to trust God-at-work even though we can’t even see it yet.  it’s where we are forced to engage instead of sit on the sidelines.

friendship requires courage.  it requires risk.  it requires stepping into uncharted waters.  we are sure to get hurt.  we are sure to hurt others.  we are sure to get annoyed.

but like most all of the ways of Jesus, there are all kinds of beautiful benefits.  through friendship, we experience love & connection & grace & freedom-to-be-just-as-we-are.  we learn more about ourselves.  we learn more about others.  we learn more about God.

we are slowly, surely transformed.

we become more secure, more comfortable in our own skin, more free.

yeah, friendship heals.

* * * * *

ps: this summer on wednesday eves at the refuge, we are hosting “sacred friendship summer camp”, a place to learn & practice & be challenged in the art of friendship–men with men, women with women, men & women together.  i’ll try to share what i can here about what we are learning together.

ppss:  check out some of the pictures from our may express night at the refuge centered on mindfulness and noticing. here’s the post on the refuge blog with the pictures people took during our time together (there’s also a link to the whole flicker set). so beautiful!

 

 

Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar co-pastors at The Refuge, a Christian community and mission center in North Denver and is the author of Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.

46 Comments

  • So very true!

    In street ministry people need food, shelter, clothes and so on. But more than anything they need friendship. The cold world says to them, “You are worthless!” People refuse to talk to them or even make eye contact.

    Friendship, more than food or shelter, says the opposite, “You are worth something: worth the time, the rough patches, and the caring. You are worth as much as I am.” Friendship heals past wounds, just as you said. It also denies the lies. A common lie is, “No one will miss you if you die.” Friendship says, “I will.” Another lie says, “No body loves you.” Friendship says, “I do.”

    Practice friendship and you practice the ways of the Kingdom. And by the way, when we practice friendship, real friendship, we will want to take care of the other needs as well: food, shelter, clothing and so on. But instead of a handout (or a hand down) we will do all of this out of relationship and caring for our friends.

    Lord, let it be so.

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    • thanks for sharing, bruce. of all people, you know what this looks like! i love what you said about how friendship denies the lies, too. soooo good & true.

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  • Very excited you are doing this at The Refuge. Unfortunately, the Wednesday we will be in town is July 4.

    I have always struggle with friendships because it has always been hard for my friends to value my differentness. I often appreciate their unique perspectives but mine tend to be hotly debated.

    Having come from a church where small groups are almost always gender-segregated, women are limited in what they can teach (they can only teach other women), and pastors are paranoid about being seen with women when their husbands are not present, my view of mixed friendships is skewed.

    It was strange being in a small group where I heard about the women members through conversations with their husbands. There was no trust between us because those women were not free to disclose who they were to the men in our group. Kathy – it was just weird.

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    • oh that’s a bummer, it would have been so fun to come be part for a wednesday (or forever, ha ha). the fear-based gender segregation thing in a lot of churches is really weird. that’s the right word for it. but unfortunately so common. it’s always sad to me, how many of our practices are based on fear and not freedom. it is fun (and challenging) to be part of a community trying to learn these things. and i see why people “don’t” do it because it is messy & hard but oh, the beauty and healing that can come from it over time.

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  • the first true, intimate, non romantic, opposite sex relationship I can ever remember, came in my late fifties. it changed my life, forever. like u I needed,and still need, a mother and some sisters to facilitate the healing of my soul. after that original encounter, God has blessed me with a number of safe loving women. without them I would not have grown into the man that He wanted me to be. I am so very thankful for these precious ladies. especially the one that showed me these relationships can work.

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    • i thank you every day for coming into my life and for the safe and faithful presence you have been to me!

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  • Beautifully spoken, Kathy . . .

    “I can no other answer make but thanks,

    And thanks, and ever thanks.”

    ~ W. Shakespeare, Twelfth Night

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    • so glad to know both of you, sheila. your courage and passion are making a difference.

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  • Awesome, Kathy. I have a number of men-friends … thanks for putting your foot in the door that so many want to shut!

    I am in a huge struggle with close ones who don’t get relationship … it really has thrown me for a loop. Interesting season … trying my best to keep up with the Gardener so I will recognize growth and watch how he feeds and prunes. How do people NOT get friendship? This totally messes with their ability to relate to God in ways that transform.

    Encouraged by you, sister.

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    • thanks peggy. it really is very sad to me how little teaching & help & support is given toward learning how to be friends. it’s freaky, in the place that’s supposed to be the most relational!! love from colorado.

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  • Thank you, so much Kathy, for being on the front-line on this and your leadership. I’m honored to be in the trenches stirring the pot with you. I love how you embody the sense of being comfortable in your own skin on this issue through your blog!!! Your authenticity is so striking and evident in this post as well as your past posts (which you link above).

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    • thanks my friend, for your tireless and dedicated passion to change. it is making a difference!

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  • Beautiful, Kathy.

    It makes me think of one of my favorite CS Lewis quotes

    “Spiteful words can hurt your feelings but silence breaks your heart.”

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    • that is so true for me, too. i always say if you want to hurt me the most, ignore me. i have a few relationships over the years where that has happened and it still hurts.

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  • Wonderful post and so true! I’m with Karl, why don’t they teach us how to be a friend?! I remember thinking when I was first stepping away from institutional church and spending more time with neighborhood folks, “Oh man, I have no idea how to form a friendship outside of a bible study!!” It was a painful, kind of awkward realization about myself, but it helped me (and helps me still!) practice being a friend to anyone that came across my path. I am learning how to show up and keep showing up in relationship, even when we have very little in common, or when we disagree a lot. We still need each other!

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    • i hope you write about that someday! honestly, that is a really big thing for those who exited regular church and are learning more and more what it means to be human. we don’t get taught that in church, ha ha. i think that is so true that real friendship is about being with people who are different from us, too, and learning from our uniqueness instead of always running to the safety of people exactly like us!

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  • I don’t know where I would be without my female friends. I also don’t know where I would be without a loving wife of twenty years who loves these (mostly single) women as much as I do. I do know that I feel more fully human because of these sacred, covenant friendships. (Click through my name for more.)

    What I do know is that these relationships scare the crap out of some of the men I know, and make most of the rest of them nervous. We men are conditioned and encouraged to view women in unhealthy ways in a highly sexualized culture. It is very hard for us to reject that framework and trust that we can, indeed, see women as sisters and daughters in the family of God who we can love unconditionally, with no ulterior motives, and no hidden agendas. And, yes, we need to turn off the testosterone spigot to do that. And just the thought of doing that makes those nervous guys squirm.

    And yet, it isn’t any harder than shutting it off for close family kin … once we shake free of the conditioning that preaches that we can’t.

    I am not sure how much we are going to be able to change that. Maybe the best we can do is be good life-long examples to each other and continue to tell our stories.

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    • thanks jim for your heart and example. it is so encouraging.

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  • Jim,

    I just clicked through to your blog and read the first post about covenant friendship. So beautiful. I had a freind that I thought was a life-long friend (two actually) walk out on me this year and the Lord is still putting my heart back together. Reading your post reminded me that is IS possible to find life-long friendships.

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    • The walking out part is the part I don’t get. Covenantal Divine Love isn’t something I can turn on and off like a switch. Love isn’t a gift with some pretty bows and wrapping that conceals obligations. Why didn’t your friends “get” that? As kathy has said elsewhere, friends don’t let their friends go through hard times alone. Period.

      I pray the Spirit steer some new friends in your direction. And, yes, your story makes me weep. I pray the Lord hears my groaning.

      If you have 20 minutes or so, click through my name on this reply. It’s a short story about a budding friendship … and the healing that comes from a woman surrounding herself (her garden) with friends who make permanent investments in her life — helping her become more of what she was created to be. If you find someone near you who “gets” the extended metaphors, they will probably also be the one who understands the eternal blessing that comes with being your BFF.

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      • Jim,

        “Friends dont let friends go through hard times alone”…augh, I wish that was true! My recent experiences have been just the opposite. 🙁 I’m no perfect friend either, but I fought hard to keep communication open so that we could work through things. But in the end, when someone wants to shut you out, there is nothing you can do. The Lord has been so good to me though – he is close to the brokenhearted.

        There is so much more to good male-female friendship than just “don’t have sex”, that’s just the basics. The care of a woman’s heart goes far beyond that.

        I will be glad to read your story. I started a bit of it, but its long 🙂 🙂 and I don’t have time to finish it this morning. I looked on your site for contact info, but I couldnt find anything….if you email me (jenroach at comcast dot net) I’d be glad to share my thoughts with you!

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      • Just for one perspective of what can happen, I’ve had an experience with a friend where I realized well into the friendship that we had some really unhealthy dynamics. They didn’t see it, and after attempt after attempt of trying to address it and just seeing the problems get deeper, I had to realize that the best way I could love them was to disengage and walk away. Of course they didn’t get it – I knew they wouldn’t (couldn’t, at that point). I really hope they find healing those areas and we can one day find a new friendship. But I had to realize I was actually getting in the way more than helping, and that’s hard. I feels like betrayal to walk away, but I had to press through that. Maybe I was wrong, but I couldn’t find a good way forward with them.

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        • Jane,

          I wonder what it would have been like to stay in that friendship without knowing a way forward. Would that tension have been too much?

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        • For some reason the reply button isn’t working for your post, Jennifer.

          For me, it wasn’t the tension that was the problem. Relationships don’t stay in one place, and this one was going in an unhealthy direction. Disengaging was actually a way forward, and the only one I could see with a possibility of something healthy (after trying lots of others).

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        • thanks jane for sharing & i think we need to keep addressing this–the reality of what can happen when a friendship just won’t work. i respect that fully. what i hope for, though, is better ways to close and say goodbye, to honor what was and to part in a healthy way instead of with so much collateral damage. that is why it’s so important to have healthy community around us that can maybe help with that. i know it’s not always possible, but that’s my dream. it’s a little like the back door in churches that need to be closed. it’s no problem to move on, to have things run its course, to have it not be possible anymore to be together, but wouldn’t it be so beautiful if we could honor and celebrate our goodbyes better so that it didn’t feel so cruddy. and at the same time, i understand the painful realities that sometimes that just won’t work and we need to find a way to move on and let go and heal from a broken friendship or relationship.

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  • In the weeks and months after Ted Engstrom, author of “The Fine Art of Friendship”, spoke to our church about friendship, several people who attended the event told me that they had always had trouble making friends, and still felt that they had few real friends, and none in the church.

    Churches seem to encourage pretending that we’re someone we’re not when we’re around around church people. You know the drill – Pretend we’re all super holy, then brag about our accomplishments and what we own. None of thta is conducive to making real friends.

    Most of our friends are not the church type. The church never accepted them for a variety of reasons – their economic status, gender, sexual orientation, marital history, drug problems, problems with the law, excessive neediness, unwillingness to accept pat answers, unwillingness to “submit” to the “authority” of some church leader, questions about the Bible and church beliefs and (this list could go on and on).

    As long as I can remember I’ve had female friends who were not my girlfriends. This gets so weird around every church I’ve been part of. Several times men in the church have confronted me and told me that “men and women can’t be friends because it’s always a sexual thing”. When I tell them that they just told me nothing about me but a whole lot about themselves I get the same response – They get red in the face, really pissed and never speak to me again.

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    • Yup. Those men are clueless. If I ever again get the “You can’t be friends with a single woman because you’re married” thing, or even the raised eyebrow, I think I’ll try responding with “She’s not a my girlfriend. She’s my sister” and then raise my own eyebrow with the look of “What were YOU thinking?”

      I think most of my church family has kind of gotten used to me running around sharing hugs and holy kisses with friends during the passing of the peace. And when everyone else is joining hands during the benediction, our little group of friends are often standing in a line tightly together with our arms around each others’ waists.

      When I was in Italy and France I saw these kinds of friendships all the time. Amici stretti. Tight friends. My guess is that the sexualized glasses through which some people view our friendships is an American thing and most certainly not universal. There is hope in that.

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    • the only way to make something normal is just to make it normal. to do it. to not ask for permission. to not try to get anyone to agree with us. but to just do it. that’s my hope for so many, to begin to make these taboo things more normal…

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  • My closest friend, in our darkest days, made a concerted effort not only to cut herself off from us, but to break as many of our binding ties as she could. I spent a few days of AIM chats, discovering that one of the hardest and most terrifying things to do is continually offering reconciliation to somebody *against* the idea.

    I was as lapsed as lapsed could be, and there was no God-talk at all in those three days on AIM, but it remains the one time that I actually proclaimed the good news to anybody, ever.

    …so yeah. As ever, my thanks for your writing.

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    • >one of the hardest and most terrifying things to do is continually offering reconciliation to somebody *against* the idea

      Yep. I’m with you 100%. I’m still there.

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      • I’m so sorry; it’s a truly special kind of horror. My prayers if you’re okay with that; I wish I could do more.

        *offers a hug*

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        • Edo – thanks. I’m learning that it helps to know that I’m not alone because that means I cant be crazy afterall 🙂

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    • oh that is so painful. i remember the moment when i had to let go of a friendship, of constantly trying to make it better, of going back for more again and again, and finally letting go. it was so hard for me because i believe in restoration and reconciliation and that anything is possible. because it is. but only if two people are willing. when one isn’t, then there’s absolutely nothing we can do. but that doesn’t take away the hurt or loss.

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  • Some of my strongest, most valuable friendships have been with women. But what does one do when one’s spouse doesn’t share the same view of friendships between men and women, when she sees them as a threat? In order to maintain a healthy relationship with her I have had to back off other vital friendships, at great pain to myself and others. But it was either that pain or pain in my core relationship. Ouch. So much pain and hurt. I’m still looking for a way forward.

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    • hey andrew, yes, that is so tricky and real for many, i am afraid. i do not think it is possible for some of these cross-gender friendships if there’s not support at home. my hope is always “yet”. that maybe something will shift over time and there are ways to expose others to the possibility through others’ stories or examples or being around people who are modeling something different. when we are in worlds with no examples, it really does increase fear. do you have solid male friends that can be developed more deeply?

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      • Hey Kathy. Thanks for your thoughts. Since returning from overseas ministry I have struggled to make significant connections with anyone. Our society seems to have little time for relationships, which has been a difficult adjustment after being in a highly relational culture. Most men I know are so absorbed between work and home that they have little time for significant relationships and, even if they do, I’ve found precious few men over the years who are interested in going deeper. We men seem to have a fundamental fear of vulnerability. I include myself in that, although I’m learning to overcome that so that I can learn and grow.

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        • thanks, andrew. yeah, it’s so tough, how hard it is to really cultivate meaningful relationships in the culture that we live in. i just heard about a new book that i haven’t read about male depression called “i don’t want to go there” and i think it could be connected to this, too. i need to check it out but your comment made me think of it.

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  • Andrew, your best cross-gender friendship is your spouse. Learning how to be her friend and attend to her is a radical thing in our culture. I know you know that, but it’s important to keep in mind. If it’s any hope things can change and people can change. I didn’t have any close female friends 11 years ago. Maybe you have already explored the possibility of a mutually respected wise friend to talk about differences? But, it is so important to dance beautifully without agendas or pressure to conform in your spousal friendship.

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    • Thanks for your thoughts Dan. My wife and I have been working through a lot of issues over the past months, this being one of them. We’re growing again in relationship, healing is happening, but I think we’re some ways from where there will be openness to friendships outside of the marriage. So I’m embracing her friendship while still hoping for a more open future.

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  • Jane – reply isnt working for me either. 🙂

    Wow. Things must have been quite terrible. I’m sure there was lots of lessons for you both to learn, so at least that is one good possible outcome. Still…the heart of God is allllll about reconciliation, and I hope that the two of you can heal and reconcile.

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    • Also…I think attachment style has a lot to do with this.

      Some people seek attachment, and some seek avoidance – both can be overdone.

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  • I believe that I am an entirely different person because of the incarnational relationships that I am privileged to be a part of. For me, in order to allow my self to begin to allow friendship to heal, I had to acknowledge the depth of my need. It was my typical MO to really go through this journey never admitting that I too, had needs. Woah, when that floodgate opened, yikes… However, I don’t feel like as much as an orphan anymore, and am beside myself with gratitude realizing I have a mom and dad and brothers and sisters. 🙂

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    • Stacy – your post brought tears to my eyes. My “brothers and sisters” threw me away this year because I had “too much” need.

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    • it’s pretty cool, what can happen from being together in such an intentional way as brothers & sisters. sooooo beautiful. feeling greater connection and love and hope and freedom is the way it’s supposed to be. yeah!

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  • Kathy, for some reason it’s always been in my makeup to search out and value cross-gender friendships. Unfortunately, the cultural mindsets around me have frequently gotten in the way–a fear that a friendship could turn into more, or sometimes a female being convinced that I had more in mind (when in fact I didn’t). In fact, both my wife and I at different times have seen some of our cross-gender friendships implode over nothing more than the suspicions of others (when there was absolute purity in those friendships, and absolute trust between the two of us regarding those friendships).

    All this to say I’m really glad you have tackled this issue. And even though our own paths don’t cross as frequently as perhaps we’d like these days, I’m very thankful for the friendship you have shown me and mine.

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    • thanks, jeff. i wish we could get together more, too. we need to figure that out! so many stories of ways that this got misconstrued & ruins relationships and creates fear. so sad, especially in the body of Christ. thanks for sharing & for your brave heart for change.

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