Logically and biblically, we might know the call of friendship and community that the Bible has for us. We know all the metaphors for the Church. We have seen the realities that the Church IS a body. It has different functions and designs, but all working together as one. I have both seen the beauty that can come from being in community while also experiencing the pain that comes with doing life together. This is my call to something different and deeper that stems out of my experiences, both good and bad.
I have a journey that some of you may relate to. In high school, I had friends that seemed to only hang out with me if they were single. When they were in a relationship they would be in the wind, but when they broke up they would expect me to be there to support them. This led to a weird jealousy within me. When my close friends would enter relationships, I would feel jealous for their time. Today, I realize that this might be a little taste of the way in which God is jealous for us and our time. As Hope likes to say, the physical points to the spiritual!
As I neared the end of college, I had many friends get married. Some have promised me that nothing will change between us, some have disappeared, and some have been truly intentional. The one who promised, didn’t keep that promise. This led to feeling abandoned and like my trust was broken. It was hard to get close to others for fear of those relationships would lead to hurt. Sometimes I felt as if friendship with me was just a placeholder until people found the thing they actually wanted to do with their time, i.e. being married.
My friend who made promises that nothing would change in our friendship was incredibly humble in seeking me out. We had a beautiful, truthful conversation about the realities of marriage, the love we still have for each other, and sought forgiveness for unrealistic expectations. After talking with some other single women, I realized this experience is not unique to me. I may, in fact, be one of the luckier ones because we were able to talk about it and reconcile. But it’s pretty common that people make lofty promises that they don’t know they can’t keep. This ultimately causes more hurt than not making promises at all.
It’s here that I’d like to make a public service announcement that has helped me immensely when friends enter relationships. My therapist once told me that your brain can treat relationships like a drug. Think about it! The positive chemicals that are released when you spend time with that person are addictive. You want to “take another hit” of that person. That really helped to explain to me why people who enter relationships can be so blind. Sometimes they really don’t see anything else. They don’t see how they haven’t been intentional with their friendships in 6 months even when they have made those lofty promises. Simply being aware of this can be super helpful for friendships, whether you’re the single friend or are entering a new relationship yourself.
Some of the friends who have disappeared because of their honeymoon-phase addiction have come back super hungry for friendship, seeing that marriage is awesome, but it’s not the only community that is needed. Some who have disappeared, have never returned. To them, I still love them and cherish the time of our friendship but I also grieve the loss of it. I grieved the loss of deeply knowing my friends and the loss of all the expectation I had for our future friendship; potentially raising kids together, or even knowing their kids, going on trips together, etc.
This is all to say: I’ve had my fair share of experiences with friendships. With married friends, dating friends, and with single friends. Still, I wouldn’t trade any of those friendships, even the ones that caused hurt or didn’t last. Each friendship taught me something about community and what it is to be a gospel friend; balancing grace and truth. I would love to share what I’ve learned so far about friendship, how it may look different than we expected, and how the Church can prioritize gospel friendship. Basically: married people and single people should be friends.
But first, we need community. Way back in Genesis, God said everything he made was “good”. The only “not good” thing was that Adam was alone. This does not mean that Adam’s singleness was bad. Don’t forget, Jesus was single as a Pringle and He was the perfect Son of God! It wasn’t the singleness that was bad, it was the alone-ness. God is in community all the time, He’s three in one! We, being made in His image, are meant to be in community as well. We’re literally designed for it!
My desire for the Church is this: for married people and single people to be friends. I know this sounds pretty generic, but think about it. If you’re married, do you have any close friends who are single? If you’re single, do you have any close friends who are married? It may come with some change and some challenges but we, as the body of Christ, are meant to be working together. We’re going to experience lots of change in our lifetimes because we’re not God, for only God is unchanging.
I’ve been seeing a trend. A trend that is “like towards like”. I used to drift towards friendships with women who were most like me. What I’ve found in those friendships is still beautiful, but we think so much like each other that we never challenge each other. If one of us is hurt, we see the situation in the exact same way and feel “just” anger towards the offender. But in friendships where we are very different people, I get differing points of view. We don’t always agree with each other and sometimes we even get called out. One way is definitely easier than the other and I am guilty of finding the path of least resistance.
I think this trend continues with experiences. Married people tend to hang out with other married couples. Single people tend to hang out with other single people. This is not bad. For not feeling alone in experiences and struggles can be very healing. For instance, when grieving the loss of a loved one, it has been so helpful for me to talk to other people who have been through it. Those are good things. What I see is “not good” is for those to be your only friendships.
Luckily wisdom is not always from the experiences we have. For Proverbs 9:10 says: “Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom”. So fear, or another translation says “awe and reverence”, is what wisdom springs from. This shows that anyone who loves the Lord and worships Him can have nuggets of wisdom. Married people were once single and can speak into the lives of single people. Plus they got the Holy Spirit! Single people have a big picture view of marriage and can speak into the lives of married people. Plus they got the Holy Spirit! Our relationship status does not determine whose life we can speak into. Our relationship status does not determine the giftings we have or the friends we should have.
I have never felt more appreciated than when a married friend thanked me for my thoughts and advice on relationships. I straight up almost started crying because no married person has ever appreciated me in that way. I have also never felt more small than when a close friend got married and said they wanted to find a “married people small group”. I understand that desire to be with “like” people. But the underlying message that they were communicating was “I am on a different level now and you can no longer speak into my life because you don’t have my experiences.”. I’m going to tell you now, this is a lie.
One of my good friends, who happens to be married, has voiced to me that leaving your community right after marriage is sabotage. The people who know you as a person, not just as a wife or a husband, are the people you want in your corner as you start melting your lives together. From what I’ve heard, it’s hard! From the stage, Pastors have mentioned that marriage is like holding up a mirror to all your sin and putting it on display. That’s hard. Your community and your friendships can help support you in that time of change. Rebuilding community as you are building your marriage is exhausting, time consuming, and ultimately is self sabotage. You can still build friendships with people who are married while not cutting off the friendship of people who already know you deeply.
When the church has a habit of following lies that married people should only be with other married people this perpetuates a bigger lie: that marriage is the goal of life. It separates the body of Christ and feeds into beliefs that you aren’t OK if you aren’t married; that there are friendships and truths that are only open to those in a marriage. Ultimately, marriage is great but it is not the goal of life. A deep relationship with Jesus is the goal. A united Church wedded to Christ is the goal. Experiences are not the only way to obtain wisdom, awe and reverence of God is the beginning of wisdom. Similarities should not be the only way towards friendship. Differences are inherent in the body of Christ and bring fruitful sharpening.
So single people pour into a married couple friendship and seek counsel from their wisdom. Married couples pour into a single person friendship and seek counsel from their wisdom. Be in the same small group, invite people to holiday gatherings, go on trips together, build a chosen family, invite people even when you suspect they can’t go, have deep friendships with people in different stages of life than you. Friendships don’t have to be limited to your relationship status. Afterall, Jesus was the ultimate friend.