Because I’m a bit of a novice speech-giver, I have been working on my presentation for the Sacred Friendship Gathering for a little while now. I’ve been pulling together my thoughts about the topic of love without boundaries, culling my blog for tweetable quotes, and combing through the Scripture for examples of various friendships.
That last one has been a bit eye-opening.
Not because I haven’t read these passages before. Stories about friendship always resonate with me. My two favorite books are Charlotte’s Web and A Prayer for Owen Meany, both of which deal with close friendships. So stories in Scripture about friendship have always held a special place in my heart simply because I love those kinds of tales.
But in reading them again, I discovered something about these stories that I hadn’t really noticed before.
The language of friendship in the Scripture is profoundly intimate.
In 1 Samuel, we read of the friendship between David and Jonathan. We read phrases like, “Jonathan loved David as his own soul,” and “their souls were knit together.”
In Ruth 1, we hear the beginnings of the story between Ruth and Naomi. While these women had been put into a relationship due to marriage, that bond no longer held any sway over them. And yet, Ruth says to Naomi that she will stay with her. “Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.”
These are powerful, intimate words. So much so that we often hear them in marriage ceremonies.
But we are often uncomfortable hearing them in the context of non-romantic friendship. I find this particularly true of those who are Christians. Intimacy in friendship is something that we encourage in one breath, and then warn against in the next. And often those warnings are much louder than the encouragements.
A little while ago I asked why people thought that might be on Twitter and Facebook and I got back basically two kinds of responses.
The first was that we have so sexualized the idea of intimacy that we are almost paralyzed when we apply it to friendship. The purity culture has taught us to guard our hearts to such a degree that many often look at any kind of intimacy as potential for sexual immorality. We know that two becoming one means S-E-X and we end up forgetting that the Scripture also teaches us that we are to be one with each other.
This was the primary thought that I had with regard to this topic. Because my two closest platonic friends are a man and a lesbian, I am keenly aware of the sexualization of intimate friendship. I know that there is always the risk of the side-eye when I talk about how close we are. So this response seemed fairly obvious to me.
But the other response that I received from several of you was that we fear intimacy because we fear authenticity and the potential for rejection.
I hadn’t considered this, but there is so much truth to it.
There is a lot of pressure as a Christian to have your act together. No lingering sadness. No moral failings. No doubts. Nothing ugly.
Except that we’re humans. Which means that we deal with shit that is ugly and sad. We fail people. We question. Things aren’t always as Jesus-y as we want them to be. As Jesus-y as they’re supposed to be.
But that’s okay if other people don’t know. At arm’s length, people look okay. We know no one is perfect, but just how deep that imperfection goes is perhaps a bit less obvious. We can ask for prayer for a hurt. Once. We can reveal a struggle. Once. More than that and maybe we’re not really Christians. More than that and people might not want that humanity to dull the Jesus shine.
I like to think that I’m pretty good at friendship and intimacy. But recent events have shown me that I still have some growing to do. There have been some situations in my life that have been hurting me a lot lately. In the “sit in my living room and ugly cry” kind of way. And despite believing that intimacy is essential in relationships, I have been hesitant to share the depths of these hurts with my husband or my close friends.
I still want to seem in control. I don’t want to be seen as too clingy or needy. I don’t want to be labeled a Drama Queen. I don’t want to expose my mess.
I want closeness, but I want it my way; one that reflects a better me than I am.
One of my favorite passages of Scripture is John 15:13. It says, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
I’ve always thought of that passage not strictly as a literal laying down of one’s life, but also of laying down your particular desires or needs for another person. I still think that’s part of it.
But maybe it’s also about laying down that need to be seen as having it all together. Laying down pride so people see the really grimey, disgusting parts. Taking the risk of being the Drama Queen because sometimes life is hard and we need someone else to help us carry those burdens. Sometimes our heart aches and we need someone to help ease that pain.
Laying down my life puts me in a vulnerable position. It’s exposed. It’s naked. It’s intimate.
I want to love those close to me in a way that is greater. And in order to do that more, I need to allow them greater access to all of me. I need to embrace intimacy. And I need to do that even when it’s messy.
No, especially when it’s messy.
Photo Credit: By Loveteamin (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons