thoughts about friendship…
Together might be my favorite word. Though on a recent trip to Omaha to see an old friend, I discovered that I have several ‘favorite things’: alleys, murals, diet coke and definitely the word together.
I’ve written recently about the hospitality I felt at the #Revoice18 conference this summer and the idea of living on mission for the kingdom. Many of these thoughts stem from my ideas of what should be “normal” for our living and functioning in the body. I believe it should be normal for us to extend genuine hospitality of both life and home. Knowing people around the dinner table. Welcoming people into relationships. Making time in the schedule to sit.
As a young believer newly married, it worked well for me and my family that a lot of the church revolved around me: families. I went to a great church with a pastor that deeply loved Jesus. I served with the HS teens and college aged young adults. My husband and I became friends with a teen and remained friends through his college years and into his life as a single adult male who served alongside us with the youth group. This friendship opened my eyes to some areas in my local church body as well as the broader church that gave me pause. Our friend Mike was swimming in a sea of married couples all around him. And much of the time, there was no time or space for relationship with him.
In our friendship with him, it became common for us to do meals together. Often 3–4 times a week. We sat together at church and he and my husband spent hours doing car repairs in our garage with me running for parts when needed. He played games with our kids, mocked us when we fought over stupid things and challenged us in our walks of faith routinely. At that time, we had no real idea that we were living a bit counter culturally. The words ‘intentional community’ had not become popular:) We just did what seemed to be good. We eventually considered sharing a house together and even looked at a couple houses in town that would fit all of us.
It took a good amount of conversation about boundaries along the way as well. He was after all single, male and attractive. And I was married, female and human. We all recognized that the stakes were high if we ever allowed an appearance of evil (or actual evil) into our relationship. Could we actually maintain a friendship that glorified God and drew other people towards Him? Looking back now, 25 years later, I am humbled at the working of the Holy Spirit in all of us that prompted discussions perhaps above our real level of spiritual maturity. But such was our focus on ministry, even lay ministry, that we wanted nothing to jeopardize that- especially any sexual immorality. Alongside that we also valued our friendship tremendously and wanted to guard that as well.
It was against this backdrop of friendship that I began to see how unwelcome the church could be for a single person. Especially a long term single. Weekly, Mike had multiple friends offer to ‘fix him up’ with a nice gal. There was always the assumption that he should be on a faster path towards marriage. Years into his singleness, he (and us) would often get questions about being ‘to picky’ and not really wanting to be married. Even as he tried the online dating path there was pressure from most sides to ‘just pick one’. It was as if the greatest goal in his life was to be married. Surely that is not the greatest goal? We (my husband and I) would get similar questions from a different angle. Were we too ‘close’ with Mike and was that what prevented him from picking someone? Did we discourage relationships? Had we ever wondered if he was gay?
These might seem like innocuous questions, but after 10 years of them they get wearing. And since I am in general more approachable that my husband, Shawn, I got most of them. And I have to admit, I developed some hostility and anger. I told people that if more of the church focused on just doing life together in real ways, we (Shawn, Mike & I) wouldn’t seem so weird to them. That perhaps single people would be less lonely if there was space created for them in lives and homes. I explained over and over that it had not been a detriment to our children to have Mike around. That was perhaps the most infuriating to me- the idea that Mike had stolen time we should have been devoting to our two children. Couldn’t anyone see the richness that another adult brought into their lives. How cool it was for them to have this friendship that shaped them and their thoughts?
Again with the backdrop of this friendship, the Lord began to show me how the church was often an unfriendly place for gay people as well- even if they held to the church’s teaching regarding sexuality. It was a short step for me to see the similarities of the loneliness a single person struggled with in the church and imagine the added hardship of being attracted to the same gender and purposing to remain single & celibate.
Being missional for Shawn & I has meant that our definition of family has been broad. We have experienced a richness in our friendship with Mike because of his singleness not in spite of it. We came to understand the value of doing life alongside each other. And this lesson was easily applied to others in our life.
Long term singles. Young and old singles. Same gender attracted or gay singles. Singles who want to be single. Singles who want to be married but are not- for whatever reason.
We now share a house with a young woman named Kristen. We get many of the same questions about why would live in such a way. A couple years ago my son called to tell me about a book he had heard of. The books title was Spiritual Friendship and I had actually already read it. He said, “mom, someone wrote a book about how you live”. My desire to see the church shift in this area fuels much of my reasons for writing.
Could our homes become a welcome place for real relationship, relationship that folds single people into households, into lives, into daily routines. This has become the norm for my husband and I, but even among the people that know us, we are on the fringe of the church in this area of our lives. But we long to see this become more ‘normal’. We long to see the church become the body that embraces all of it’s members.
So that’s the big view of how my heart was shaped. What you read today and into the future is simply the story of how God opened my eyes to the possibilities of relationship & the body. And what’s happened in our home as a result.