As Christians living in an interdependent, fast-paced, social- media connected, “let’s eat out together because we spend a lot of time together because of ministry” culture – it can be hard to discern real friendships from connections based on convenience
Some may say that our interconnectedness should make it easier to develop a healthy community of disciples, because let’s face it – we can’t do this walk alone – but I would beg to differ. With faster communication, access to information about people’s day-to-day lives and the lack of discipleship coming from older saints within some Christian communities, casualties of the heart happen more frequently and often go undetected.
I am all for community but what happens when lines get blurred and wires get crossed very quickly, emotions become microwaved even quicker and hearts get broken?
God heals, reconciles and restores but it would be great to have some wisdom to help us along the way and maybe minimise it happening so often.
I say these things from a place of love and after my own experiences and speaking to numerous young men and women over the past three years – it’s something that we have to be more aware of and address head on.
Some of us are the first born-again Christians in our families and come with baggage that needs to be unpacked and we are just learning along the way.
Some of us were brought up in born-again Christian families and communities but the topic of boundaries was not discussed or was just something that everyone thought you knew or caught via osmosis
We are encouraged in community to share the burdens of our brothers and sisters by praying for one another and encouraging one another in the Word. In millennial Christian circles, buzzwords such as transparency and vulnerability are applauded, however we need to be careful and exercise wisdom when it comes to where we bleed and whose shoulder we cry on.
I’ll write another blog on confidants and gossip soon – but before I go on I would like to say that I am not against mixed sex fellowship groups as they definitely have their place but I am pushing forward the idea that we should be more intentional about creating safe environments for and seeking fellowship with members of our own gender – especially when it comes to opening up about the deeper issues of our life.
For those of you who were brought up in the Christian faith or became born-again during your teenage years, maybe no alarm bells have gone off for you and you’re probably thinking “well duh Isha?!” but bear with me as I point out a few things for those who may not be aware.
I myself have been burnt whilst trying to navigate the tight rope of building healthy relationships within the Body of Christ.
You see our generation likes to label/box people according to what makes us feel comfortable or superior. As a young adult leader I found it very difficult to balance between being “too deep” and “relatable”. I have no idea what either of those meant, and almost a year later I have no care for what people think- but again that’s another blog post.
So, on side A of the tight rope, I tried not to fall into the mud of being labelled
unapproachable, legalistic and stoic and as a result I have fallen (a few too many times, I didn’t learn after the first time!) into the mud on side B of becoming a close confidant, operating an “access all areas” (emotionally) and “laid back” stance – which is fine when discipling young adult women but not so much when it came to young adult men.
Well fortunately or unfortunately, this tight rope is very difficult to manoeuvre and I will not make excuses for myself or feel sorry for myself because now I can share this with you!
You may ask, what’s so bad about side B?
Side B is the territory of a girlfriend who will become a wife.
As a woman I am wired to be a helper and the keeper of my future husband’s heart.
Like the women reading this, I find it second nature to pray with, support and speak words of encouragement to a man.
However, as a woman who isn’t a wife, I fell into tricky
territory as these men hadn’t pursued a relationship with me and although I had seen myself as a “good friend”, at the back of my mind I was hoping that one day one of them would see me as more than a friend.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that it was impossible for you to move out of the Friend Zone, but I would now say, years later – if possible, save yourself the potential heartbreak and back away from the situation.
Here’s how I believe I fell into side B:
I have a good memory and so I tend to remember important dates like appraisals, deadlines, interviews etc.
This isn’t a bad thing.
I like to intercede on matters whether it’s a mortgage, business funding, a family member who has an illness etc
Again not a bad thing.
I have the gift of encouragement and I enjoy writing words of encouragement accompanied with scripture.
Not a bad thing, but I should’ve considered the frequency and format that I was sharing this encouragement (see 6 points below)
I am a hugger and dish out compliments.
Not a bad thing, but I should’ve been aware of my triggers and my weak spots.
I also like to eat out and wouldn’t mind meeting up with a brother during the week to talk about whatever issue was pressing in his life.
I should’ve thought of my Love Languages and encouraged my brothers to maybe meet up with other brothers to discuss matters of the heart.
And as a result, I soon caught feelings but they were not reciprocated …
I am not blaming the men for these situations as it was my duty to guard my heart and be honest about what I could and couldn’t handle and not try to fit into a status quo of how other young adults were building friendships! But I would like to encourage you to be more aware of our interactions with the opposite sex and to check our motives when we decide to “bear each other’s burdens” as it is unwise of us to try and help someone else if we are also in the same pit. We must call on our church leadership to shepherd us through the valleys
I read Jackie Kendall’s book Lady in Waiting a few years ago and a particular statement stuck out for me – if you wouldn’t do x for your sister in Christ, why are you doing it for him?
My sisters can vouch that I am generous with my talk, time, treasure and talent with them also but I had to learn to be more aware of my interactions with men.
Here are a 6 things that I’ve learnt from my experiences:
1) It is very important to have a godly person or persons in your life of the same gender who you can speak to and receive counsel from.
Some of us would say that we “get on better with women/men” but as believers we are encouraged in Titus to learn from older godly women/men. If you don’t have them, pray for God to identify them to you and you to them.
2) Seek out and invest in the appropriate resources, counselling and find a single sex small group to help you walk through any addictions, trauma or hurt from your past.
Don’t offload these issues onto members of the opposite sex.
3) If you are currently struggling with lust and temptation, seek out an older godly person of the same gender who you can confide in about this – and who will pray with you through this.
Begin to pray for God to help you to cast down imaginations and fantasies about members of the opposite sex.
Don’t share this information in a mixed fellowship setting or seek the counsel of the opposite sex.
4) Know your triggers/ love language
You can take the Love Languages test for free online to find out how you receive love (words of affirmation, acts of service, gifts, touch and quality time)
It is important to know what your trigger is so that you can set the appropriate boundaries and guard your heart against catching feelings; they may just be being chivalrous or hospitable.
5) Monitor your communication
Are you texting or whatsapping all throughout the day with one person in particular and you’re not in a relationship?
Do you call that person when something happens instead of praying or calling a person of the same gender?
Do you check a person’s social media more than anyone else’s?
Are you on the phone to that person until the early hours of the morning?
If you’ve answered yes to one or more of these questions, I would recommend that you cool it and pray. Be honest with God in prayer and then as you’re led speak to a person who you trust.
6) Be bold and courageous
Pray for the wisdom and the ability to speak to a person who you feel has overstepped a boundary.
As a married brother shared at The Love Limitless Brains & Beauty Conference I attended in September, it’s never too late to put in place boundaries or add additional boundaries.
Again, I am not saying that we should avoid members of the opposite sex or be robotic in our interactions – as I have been blessed, encouraged and refined by the friendships that I have developed with my brothers, have learnt a lot from watching them maintain their boundaries and they’ll be able to vouch for my character when my husband does come along (LOL) but I am saying BE AWARE OF YOUR PERSONAL BOUNDARIES and be considerate of the boundaries of your brothers and sisters.
God wants us to flourish and to be whole for the glory of His Name. The Holy Spirit guides us to be conformed into the image of Christ and His grace enables us to overcome sin and let go of weights that so easily entangle us.
I hope this was helpful and it’s my prayer that we are a generation who have healthier, God glorifying friendships and relationships.
Books that have helped me along the way:
Fight like a girl by Lisa Bevere
Lioness Arising by Lisa Bevere
Beauty for Ashes by Joyce Meyer
Captivating by Stasi Elderidge
Wild at Heart by John Elderidge
Unashamed by Christine Caine
Passion and Purity by Elisabeth Elliot
Disciplines of a Godly Woman by Barbara Hughes
Disciplines of a Godly Man by R. Kent Hughes Lady in Waiting by Jackie Kendall
Love Languages singles edition by Gary Chapman
Boundaries in Dating by John Townsend
Good or God by John Bevere
When godly people do ungodly things by Beth Moore The Wait by Devon Franklin and Meagan Good
Moral Revolution by Kris Vallaton