Category: In the news

Mummy’s boys and daddy’s girls do better

I read an article this morning which is becoming depressingly familiar – although, worryingly, largely ignored by the media and politicians. The biggest single factor when it comes to child’s mental health is family breakdown. I was particularly struck by this paragraph:

Second, the relationship with the opposite-sex parent matters. On the face of it, having a close relationship with either parent seems to benefit teens equally. But when you throw all these other factors into the mix – parents’ marital status, happiness, relationship quality, use of physical force, education, ethnicity – it’s closeness to mum that matters specifically for boys and closeness to dad that matters specifically for girls.

This is really a no-brainer, and yet it is apparently controversial in this day and age to suggest that a child does best with its mother and father. How else is a boy going to learn how to relate to women than through close family relationships with mother, sister, etc – but especially the mother? How else is a girl going to learn how to relate to men than with a father in particular? When children are deprived of those things – and in its place comes the fake way that men and women relate in pornography – then is it any surprise that they grow up unable to form meaningful relationships with the opposite sex?

Over the past few months I’ve met quite a few new people through baby & toddler groups I help to run. It has really come home to me just how many children are living in situations which a generation or two ago would have been the rarity: many family situations are what we used to call ‘complicated’. What are we creating as a society when this is the new normal?

This is what Friend Zone is about. Friend Zone is a small step to help restore what is broken in the world. Just because someone grew up without a parent doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be able to form meaningful friendships with the opposite sex. The goal here is to not just show what’s broken, but try to point to a better way. Articles like this simply convince me even further that this is the right path.

Is friendship the answer to men’s depression and suicide?

Last year, Aisling Bea wrote a moving article about her father, who committed suicide when she was very young. In it she wrote:

My father’s death has given me a lot. It has given me a lifelong love of women, of their grittiness and hardness – traits that we are not supposed to value as feminine. It has also given me a love of men, of their vulnerability and tenderness – traits that we do not foster as masculine or allow ourselves to associate with masculinity.

I’m very grateful to her for bringing this issue up, as it is very often overlooked. Male suicide is the biggest killer of men under 45 in the UK – 84 take their own lives every week!

So what should we do about it? Aisling occasionally speaks on Twitter about the need for men to open up more about their feelings, to build friendships and support each other. I think she’s right – but I think there’s more to be said.

In particular, too often I think it’s simply assumed that men should open up to other men. Not that there’s anything wrong with opening up to other men, of course – but why should it be restricted to men, and not women?

A few years ago, shortly after university, I had a mixed group of friends who would meet up regularly. Occasionally the girls would have a girls night – and so one of my male friends decided that the boys should have a boys night instead. We had those on a couple of occasions. To be honest with you, I didn’t really like the boys nights so much – we just didn’t really have so much to say to each other. It wasn’t an evening with free flowing conversation, shall we say! Now maybe this is because of our particular personalities (mostly introverts…) – but I don’t think it’s the only reason.

In any social grouping, my preference is always for mixed-sex rather than men-only (obviously I can’t be part of women-only groups…) I just feel it works better. And that’s what we should expect given the differences between men and women. I have different conversations with men than I have with women – which is perfectly natural. I personally have benefited from the friendships I’ve had with both men and women – they each bring out a different side in me. I do generally find it easier to talk about my feelings and ’emotional life’ with women – it would feel quite forced and strange to have a conversation with another man about my emotional state.

I wonder if part of the problem with male suicide at the moment is that men are finding it more difficult to relate to women. In the past men might have been able to talk to a close female family member – a spouse, sister or mother, perhaps – but now good relationships even in the family are harder to find. Men and women need healthy relationships with the opposite sex – the problems cannot all be solved by single-sex friendship.

So what should we do?

I would say to men – don’t neglect friendship of any sort. Many men unfortunately do neglect friendship (especially once they’re in a long-term relationship) – but it doesn’t have to be that way. Keep your friends, keep talking to them, don’t let it slide. However – I would say – don’t neglect friendship with the opposite sex: maybe there are women around who you could talk to, who would love to help.

I would say to women – don’t neglect your male friends. Don’t assume everything is OK with them – men are also vulnerable. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.

There is no easy answer to this question – but I am convinced that the problem of male suicide is not just a problem for men to solve but for everyone. I believe this is another example of why Friend Zone is necessary – we need men and women to pull together on this, and many other things.

Review: Aimee Byrd’s “Why can’t we be friends?”

I’ve just finished reading Aimee Byrd’s new book “Why can’t we be friends”. The summary version of this is, it’s a great book and I would thoroughly recommend it!

What I like is how Aimee builds the case – she particularly looks at friendship of men and women from the perspective of being brothers and sisters in Christ, and goes into some detail about what that means for us. This is a book which I think will be difficult to argue with – and, from the conversations I’ve had even since starting this site, sorely needed.

As I was reading the book I highlighted some of my favourite quotes, let me give you a few of them before coming to my thoughts:

“To view the other sex as constant temptations to sin and threats to purity merely perpetuates the thinking and behaviour of the unredeemed.” – What Aimee said about sexual temptation was great. If we only see each other as sexually – as our culture encourages men and women to do – then the way to combat that will be to avoid contact with those of the opposite sex. What needs changing is not the time we spend together but – more fundamentally – how we see each other as men and women.

“We are to strive for real wisdom, not the appearance of wisdom. We are to live according to who we are. Real wisdom will discern that pharisaical hard and fast rules only give faux safety and faux friendship.” This is very much what Friend Zone is about – I liked what Aimee said about avoidance and purity. Avoidance gives the appearance of wisdom – but does not come from God. Purity is a purity of the heart, which can only come from God through the Holy Spirit. We can’t fake purity through following rules.

“Is it possible that we misread appropriate feelings due to the overly sexualised messages we hear, don’t know how to recognise or  maturely handle them, and resist the intimacy that we could experience as brothers and sisters?” This is in a chapter where Aimee talks about attraction – something I have blogged on recently. I thought this was very insightful – attraction is not simply a black/white thing (as our culture tends to make out) – i.e. if you’re attracted to someone, it’s not necessarily a sexual thing.

These are a few choice quotes, but there are more – do pick up a copy and see!

I only have a couple of mildly critical points about the book:

  • The writing is perfectly accessible, but I’m not sure I would recommend this book to absolutely everyone at my church. I think it would help to have a reasonably mature knowledge of the Bible and some theological understanding. Maybe I underestimate people, but I can see this book going a little ‘over the heads’ of some of the folk in our congregation. A few more stories might have helped.
  • This is just a matter of personal style, but I think the book tailed off a little towards the end – I wonder whether so much needed to be said in so much detail about the sibling relationship. It’s all good stuff, but maybe it would have been punchier to have a little less content.

At the end of the day, I left the book feeling encouraged – encouraged that others are thinking about this issue as well, and writing such good books about it. The church is beginning to have some excellent resources on male-female friendship and, I hope, beginning to wake up and take note.

But I also feel encouraged because I left feeling that there’s so much more to say. As I got to the end of the book, it struck me that there are many more angles on this which weren’t covered. I don’t say that as a negative – just that I have realised this topic is so much bigger than I thought it was a few months ago. Recently someone said to me that the big battle of the early 21st century church is going to be anthropology – what it means to be human. Being male or female is fundamental to what it means to be human – we’re not just sexual beings, we are whole people. I wonder if God is working in the church at the moment to bring about some careful thinking about what it means to be embodied creatures, male and female, and how we relate.

Either way, it is an encouragement to carry on with Friend Zone and to persist in thinking through these important questions in applying the Bible to the problems of our age.

Crossway – new article on friendship

A few weeks ago I wrote an article on Friendship for the Church Society’s Crossway magazine. It can be found in the Summer 2018 edition of the magazine.  Here’s how it opens:

‘Men and women can’t be friends – the sex part always gets in the way.’ (When Harry Met Sally, 1989)

It’s thirty years since Billy Crystal told Meg Ryan they couldn’t be friends and during that time, Western society’s obsession with sex has only grown. We are witnessing more and more of its ugly fruit in the breakdown of relationships between men and women.

The #MeToo movement has recently opened the floodgates for women to speak up about sexual harassment and abuse that they’ve experienced. But #MeToo is simply the tip of the iceberg. Mark Regnerus’ 2017 book Cheap Sex offers a terrifying account of the extent of the problem, and its effect on the younger generation.

I’m afraid you’ll have to buy the magazine to read the rest – but it’s worth it for some other good articles by Emma Scrivener, James Cary, and Ros Clarke. In particular I enjoyed reading what Ros had to say about the body in Christian theology – something I’ve been thinking about with respect to Friend Zone. But probably the subject of another blog!

One thing I would have mentioned in the article if it had been published at the time was Aimee Byrd’s new book, which I mentioned yesterday (keep your eyes out for a review here in the next week or two).

New book “Why can’t we be friends?”

One sign that God is at work is when several people come up with the same idea at the same time. If God is working in various different people, provoking in them the same kind of answers, it may well be a work of the Spirit. I think this is the case with friendship: a number of people have written about it now, and I hope that many people are more switched on to the idea.

Case in point: I just saw this morning that Aimee Byrd has written a new book about friendship between men and women, “Why can’t we be friends?” Which is subtitled ‘Avoidance is not purity’. You can read an extract from the book here – “we don’t view each other holistically.”

Friendship between men and women is a taboo topic in the evangelical subculture. It makes us uncomfortable. Apparently, we are all time bombs on the brink of having an affair—or of being accused of having one. Because of this, men and women often feel uncomfortable around each other, even in innocent contexts, and we impose strict hedges on behavior in order to avoid the threat of sexual impropriety.

Most of us instinctively know what constitutes sexual impropriety in conversation and action—but, due to influence from our overly sexualized culture, we tend to scandalize ordinary acts of kindness and business. It becomes suspect to give someone a ride, share a meal with a coworker in a public place, or text the other sex without copying our spouses or another third party. Prohibitions of these acts are couched in language of protecting our purity, honoring our spouses, or wisely avoiding the threat of temptation. Challenge any of these suggestions, however, and the language of danger is invoked. If these ordinary acts are dangerous, it must be downright foolish to use a meaningful term like friendship to describe a relationship between the sexes.

Read more…

Needless to say, this book has gone straight on the reading list and I will aim to review it properly in due course. From what I’ve seen so far, it seems that Aimee Byrd has written a book which resonates very much with everything that Friend Zone is about. I hope that many people will read it and come to discover what friendship is all about.

The Revoice controversy – can desire be sanctified?

There’s been a bit of a storm created over the last few days about the Revoice Conference. The conference description says: “Supporting, encouraging, and empowering gay, lesbian, same-sex-attracted, and other LGBT Christians so they can flourish while observing the historic, Christian doctrine of marriage and sexuality”.

This has created a big discussion online – for a start, Douglas Wilson has some links to different people as well as his own take. The gist seems to be (1) is it OK to identify as a ‘gay’ Christian? (this is what Owen Strachan takes issue with); (2) it’s not right to explore the bounds of celibacy as to what is appropriate for same-sex attracted Christians.

I don’t want to talk about the first issue as that has been going on for some time. I do want to talk about the issue of celibacy, as it’s relevant to what we’re about here at Friend Zone.

Doug Wilson says this in his piece:

As Hill’s book makes plain, a commitment to celibacy does not prevent one from falling in love with a best friend, or from being heartbroken when that friend moves away. So on one end of the spectrum we have a prohibition of sexual consummation, and in the context of this Revoice conference, no one disagrees about that. But on the other end, what is legitimate? Where is the line supposed to be? When does okay turn into not okay?

Some of my questions might seem ludicrous, or impertinent, but I am in deadly earnest. Suppose that an oath-bound set of friends—what Hill is arguing for—is living together. They are committed to celibacy, which means . . . what, exactly? What does day-to-day life look like in the home? We would appear to know of the one thing prohibited (although even the boundaries of that may be uncertain), but there would also appear to be a wide range of things that still need to be discussed.

But in this new world of blurry definitions, what does celibacy not allow? Is hand-holding out? When they are watching a movie, how close can they sit together? Can they cuddle? When a man falls in love with his friend, is that a violation of the commitment to celibacy? I think it is high time for someone to define celibacy. What do you mean by it? Does a commitment to celibacy exclude sleeping together? Showering together? Nudity? Physical, affectionate contact? Hand-holding? Back rubs? Falling in love? If there is sexual arousal, but no orgasm, is that still celibacy? If a man falls in love with his celibate partner, and they kiss, but it goes no further, is that celibacy?

This is interesting because I think it raises a question around the nature of sin and sanctification which underlies this disagreement.

Sin, I think all would agree, is more than simply actions – it comes from the heart. Luke 6:45 says, “The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks” (ESV). It’s not just the mouth – we know that sin proceeds because our hearts are impure, not the other way round. Our actions do not make us impure – impure actions flow from impure hearts. Therefore – the only solution is to fix the heart problem, not to fix our actions. God alone can fix our heart problem – these oft-quoted verses from Ezekiel 36 prophecy what God was to accomplish in Jesus: “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws” (Ezekiel 36:26-27).

So we need new hearts, we need to be renewed by the Spirit. I think all would agree so far. God takes our sinful desires and transforms them into gospel desires. We are renewed from the inside out. It’s important to remember that the goal is not for us simply to avoid what is sinful but to love.

The issues seem to be (1) here exactly does same-sex attraction ‘fit’ within this? Is it ENTIRELY bad, or is there something good which is horribly distorted by sin? (2) is it actually possible for our desires to be truly transformed? Is it reasonable to expect that this side of glory?

Let me give an example from my own life. I am a married man, but I occasionally find women who I am not married to attractive. I used to think this was an entirely sinful thing and repent of it all – but, the thing is, it didn’t stop attraction happening, and it actually led to me basically avoiding women for fear of what might happen. In my mind, avoiding women became the way I dealt with sin. Over time, I have started to see that I was wrong here – or at least, only partially right. As I said previously, attraction is not one-dimensional: it has multiple dimensions – some of them are good and right and godly, some of them are bad and wrong and sinful. It has been in recognising this that I’ve been able to take steps towards friendship – when I meet a woman where there is attraction, I find it helpful to think that there are some good things about my feelings as well as some which are sinful. Through prayer and the work of the Holy Spirit, as I repent and turn to Christ, I hope that what is bad is decreasing whereas what is good is increasing. I wonder if something of this is going on with Christians who experience same-sex attraction – is the desire entirely wrong, or is there something which can be redeemed?

I often return to 2 Peter 1:3, “His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.” We don’t lack the tools here – we have the Holy Spirit, we have the gospel, sinful hearts can be made new and desires restored.

Returning to Doug Wilson’s piece, I disagree with his argument around celibacy. It seems to me the Revoice conference is not about trying to push the boundaries of what might be permissible – the Bible is quite clear that we are called to absolute sexual purity. You can’t have a little bit of sexual purity! At the same time, I think it is right to explore what celibacy and friendship looks like – not for the point of ‘pushing the bounds’, but rather what love might look like in these cases. Physical contact is not necessarily sexual – in some cultures, for example, it’s quite normal for two men to hold hands. It’s not about trying to do everything right up until crossing some kind of red line! It’s about working out what sanctification and holiness look like in a specific set of circumstances.

My contention, and this is partly why Friend Zone is here, is this: we live in a sexually saturated world. Everything is affected by it. Christians need to show the world not just how to avoid doing anything wrong, sexually, but more – that there is a better way. Sex is not God. Desires can be transformed, sinners can be forgiven – and that love is truly possible without the corruption of sexual desire. Maybe I am being over-optimistic, but what I read from the pages of the New Testament is that God doesn’t call us to anything which he doesn’t also provide the resources for. If God is calling the church to a new area of sexual purity and holiness, one which has perhaps been unexplored for a long time, then maybe it’s time for the church to listen.

‘Micro-cheating’ – is that a thing now?

I stumbled across an article this morning on the BBC called “When does micro-cheating become ‘actual’ cheating?” I had never heard about micro-cheating before, although it sounds a little similar to what was previously called an “emotional affair”:

Dr Graff defines micro-cheating as any act or behaviour by someone in a relationship which might suggest to a third party that they are emotionally or physically available. Before smartphones, micro-cheating might have been the sneaky removal of a wedding ring before a night out, but in the digital age it’s easier than ever to signal to someone that you’re available – anything from ‘deep liking’ (when you go way back into someone’s Instagram feed to like very old posts) to sending sly direct messages.

In other words, micro-cheating is about signalling to someone that you’re interested / available – via social media – before doing a physical deed.

Read the article for the full thing – I have a couple of thoughts I’d like to contribute:

God calls us to total purity.

Jesus is uncompromising when it comes to sexual purity. He says: “I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28). Paul likewise tells the Ephesians, “among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality” (Ephesians 5:3).

God cares about our hearts – he cares about what goes on in them, even when no-one else can see. Sexual purity goes way deeper than what we do with our bodies – it extends into our minds as well. So when faced with the possibility of ‘micro-cheating’ – I think Jesus wouldn’t say it’s micro- cheating, I think he’d say it was proper cheating.

This is why I can’t agree with this ‘relationship expert’ who says:

“Fantasising about someone isn’t cheating. Fantasy is a private affair, and as you don’t act on it, that’s fair. However, if you message them afterwards, that is bad form. Ultimately, your fantasy is your own business.”

Even worse is what the other ‘relationship expert’ says:

If you’re going to be in a monogamous relationship with someone, the very least you can be allowed is porn and fantasy. I would actually argue that fantasies are safeguards against cheating.

No, no, no, no, no, no, no. And no. Pornography is highly destructive to relationships – see the Fight the New Drug website for some facts.

Our minds are not simply our own business, our own private affair. What happens in our minds spills out into our actions. If you’re constantly fantasizing about someone – whether you’re already in a relationship or not – you will do damage to yourself and potentially them as well.

Purity is possible

If you think about Jesus’ words, they seem impossible to us: who can keep themselves free of lust in that way? How is that degree of purity possible for us – surely Jesus is expecting too much?

Well, fortunately for us, purity is possible – to quote the title of a (very good) book by Helen Thorne. Purity is possible in Jesus Christ, who died to forgive us of all that we do wrong (including sin in our minds), and who sends us the Holy Spirit to live in us to transform us.

We are not stuck with our flaws and failures – we have help. I’ve written more about this here.

Friendship is worth it

The BBC article talks about the dangers of ‘platonic’ friendship, and once again I have to disagree with the ‘relationship expert’:

“You’ve got to be honest and decent about it. If you are in a stable relationship and you do these things, such as building a relationship with someone else or texting other people, it’s out of order.”

Part of the assumption here seems to be that a platonic friendship between a man and woman isn’t really possible – anyone who gets involved in one is simply wanting there to be more. (I blogged about this before – Can you overcome attraction to be friends?) I agree that it’s not good to hide things from your spouse or partner, but it’s way too much to say even building a relationship with someone else is “out of order”.

What Friend Zone is all about is saying that friendship is not just a good thing, but it’s possible. Healthy friendships are needed in all areas of life – they are even needed for good marriages. Let’s hope and pray that society comes to see that.

Thoughts on Beth Moore’s “Letter to my brothers”

A couple of days ago, Beth Moore posted on her blog “A Letter to My Brothers“. It’s a moving account of her experience in the world of the church as a female leader. Please read it before reading this, as you won’t get the same sense by skimming over a few quotes pulled out from it.

I have a few thoughts on reading it, which aren’t really in any particular order at the moment, but I think what Beth was saying and what Friend Zone is about are connected.

To begin with:

  • It’s possible to have the right theology without the right practice. I’ve been in churches where the right things have been believed, but these have not been put into practice. In particular, it is possible to have the right theology of men and women without a corresponding practice of valuing women and treating them with the appropriate respect. This is, of course, no surprise – but it’s a shame when it seems to happen to such a big extent.
  • The church is not immune from worldliness. Over the past few years, as I said on this site,  there has been a rise in the number of accusations of sexual harassment and so on. The church has never been immune from the world’s influence, and this is a sad illustration of exactly that.

What to do? Near the end of her letter, Beth writes:

Finally, I’m asking that you would simply have no tolerance for misogyny and dismissiveness toward women in your spheres of influence. I’m asking for your deliberate and clearly conveyed influence toward the imitation of Christ in His attitude and actions toward women. I’m also asking for forgiveness both from my sisters and my brothers. My acquiescence and silence made me complicit in perpetuating an atmosphere in which a damaging relational dynamic has flourished. I want to be a good sister to both genders. Every paragraph in this letter is toward that goal.

But how do we actually go about doing that?

And this is where I think Friend Zone comes in. There are two (wrong) approaches when dealing with sin such as those mentioned here: (1) Licence – simply giving into it; (2) Legalism – setting up rules and regulations to try and prevent it happening (such as the Billy Graham Rule). The world flits between one and the other, especially on this issue. Sadly, these attitudes can also often be found in the church – the Billy Graham Rule is perhaps an extreme example, but many Christians have similar rules they abide by (even if not articulated).

I wonder whether the attitude which Beth describes is the product of a church which has tried to deal with sin through legalism. I have seen it far too often: many churches have implicitly believed the lie that the best way to combat the sexualisation of society is by men and women being segregated: if men and women don’t get ‘too close’, then they won’t do anything they shouldn’t do.

The fruit of this line of thinking, however, is that rather than men seeing women as sisters in Christ who are to be loved and befriended, instead they are seen as objects of temptation to be avoided. It’s no surprise that this doesn’t work – the Bible never gives us this option as an antidote for sin. Jesus’ harshest criticism was for the Pharisees who thought they were squeaky clean but inside were unclean – like ‘whitewashed tombs’ (Matthew 23:27). Our hearts need to change – for it is out of our hearts that evil comes (Mark 7:21).  (I have written in more depth on this elsewhere on this site). Rather than showing forth in righteousness, this kind of behaviour ends up with men and women having only superficial relationships, or – worse – having illicit sexual relationships. Legalism cannot stem the tide of the sexualisation of society.

What Friend Zone is about is promoting healthy friendship between men and women. That is to say, the church needs to put its words into practice – men and women who are in Christ are no longer isolated individuals but brothers and sisters. What Beth’s letter shows is that if there was ever a time when Friend Zone was needed, this is it.

Loneliness isn’t inevitable – Secular vs Christian friendship

Source: Flickr

Yesterday the Guardian carried an article: “Loneliness isn’t inevitable – a guide to making new friends as an adult“. The article recognises that loneliness is a big issue:

According to a recent study by the Red Cross in partnership with Co-op, more than nine million adults in the UK are often or always lonely. We are facing a loneliness epidemic, with Theresa May taking the step earlier this year of appointing Tracey Crouch as what some have dubbed the “minister for loneliness” to try to tackle the issue.

The article then goes on to say that friendships are important in combatting loneliness – but they can be difficult to form as adults.

Clinical psychologist Linda Blair agrees that this can be difficult to achieve: “Usually the basis of making a friend is a shared experience.” These are often in abundance in our earlier years, but once those easy opportunities are gone, you can forget that the initial basis for a friendship is to have a similar passion or interest. Joining a group or class based on something you really love, or volunteering for something you care about, can be a great first step for finding friendships, she advises.

The article then looks at the experience of a few people who have found friends in adult life, and concludes with some tips about finding friends from Linda Blair. Her tips made me think of how I would put it with Friend Zone – there are a few key differences as well as similarities.

Her tips, and my response:

Build your self-confidence. 

She says: “When you’re comfortable with yourself, it shines out of you.” She seems to be saying, “Make sure that you’re an attractive person – the kind of person someone would want to be a friend to.”

This is probably the key difference with Christian friendship: friendship is not based on how much you think you can get out of the other person, but rather how much you can give. God doesn’t love us because we are worthy of his love – he loves us because he is love.

This is how the book of Deuteronomy talks about why God chose the Israelite people:

The Lord did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath he swore to your ancestors that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commandments. (Deut 7:7-9)

The Lord chose them because he loved them. Why did he love them? Because he chose to. God’s love is not arbitrary, but neither is it dependent on the worthiness of the recipient. God loves us because he chooses to love – not because we deserve it. And we are called to love others in the same way: Jesus said, “As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (John 13:34).

I think this is hugely significant: truly deep relationships are built not on presenting ourselves as perfect and wanting for nothing, but rather as sinful, imperfect people who are desperately in need of a Saviour. When we let other people in to what we are truly like, that is the gateway to true friendship. Friendship is not built around a projected image of self-confidence, but rather a shared experience of our brokenness.

Find something you feel passionate about

Of course, if you meet a fellow Christian, whatever else you may or may not have in common there is one thing at least: Jesus and his kingdom. I’m always struck in church by how different people are – many of the people in church I wouldn’t naturally be friends with. We are a variety of ages, ethnic backgrounds, jobs, etc – and yet, our common ‘interest’ in Jesus is what unites us. And, in fact, should unite us – the church is called ‘the body of Christ’ for a reason. Paul talks a lot about unity in the book of Ephesians: “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3). Where the church exists, so should unity (although it doesn’t always in a sinful world!)

I often think of Christian friendship as being about two people walking together towards Jesus – helping each other on the same road.

Put yourself out there

This is related to the first point, but I think here again is a difference in the Christian way of doing things. I would say – it’s not about promoting ourselves, rather it’s about taking an interest in others. Don’t ‘put yourself out there’ as a great friend to find. Take an interest in others – talk to them, get to know them, help them. Be a great friend. I remember reading a quote once which is apt: “I went out to find a friend, and not one could be found. I went out to be a friend, and friends were everywhere.” The second greatest commandment, as Jesus told us, is to “love your neighbour as yourself.” This involves talking to people, taking an interest, being a friend to them.

Meet in a neutral place

I remember learning about the importance of ‘third places’ – that is, places which are not home (first place) or work (second place). Church, of course, can be a good ‘third (neutral) place’ – most churches these days meet in a dedicated building (or community centre, school etc) – not in a private home. Relationships can easily develop in a church environment without the pressure of being in a one-to-one situation too quickly.

Ask questions

It’s important to find out about the other person – we already covered this under ‘put yourself out there’.

Don’t expect too much

Recently at church we did the Life Explored course. The main message of Life Explored is that only God can satisfy our deepest longings. If we are banking on anything human (or anything created by humans) to give us happiness – ultimately it will not satisfy. This includes friendships. Idolatry – worshipping something other than God – is real and it is destructive. The first most important commandment is to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength – if we do not love him, we will be loving other things. If we do not love and worship God first and foremost, we will be disappointed by whatever we do  love and worship.

Idolatry happens when good things become ‘god’ things – when the good things we have as gifts from God replace him. Christians are warned about these things in the Bible. However, we know that a gift can best be appreciated when it is received with joy from the giver – we don’t think of the gift as greater than the giver, but we can appreciate it for what it is. Friendship is like this: when understood as a wonderful gift from God, we can truly enjoy it for everything it has to offer.

I hope that this has been helpful in thinking about Christian friendship – do please explore the rest of the site for more!

Young Britons “have never been unhappier”

An article appeared yesterday in the Guardian suggesting Young Britons have never been unhappier.

Young people’s happiness across every single area of their lives has never been lower, research by the Prince’s Trust has found.

The charity, set up by the Prince of Wales, said the results of its annual UK Youth Index, which gauges young people’s happiness and confidence across a range of areas, from working life to mental and physical health, should “ring alarm bells”.

The national survey shows young people’s wellbeing has fallen over the last 12 months and is at its lowest level since the study was first commissioned in 2009.

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