Friends are an indispensable part of growing in Christ. So why do many of us have so few?
Women drive me nuts.
Some years ago, following an act of civil disobedience, I spent several days in a makeshift jail with hundreds of women protesters. Before long, a couple of them approached me where I lay on a hard Army cot, trying to get comfortable enough to read the copy of Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa my husband had managed to deliver. What better opportunity than jail time would I ever have to read the longest novel in the English language?
It was not to be. Instead I was asked to step up as a leader to address the squabbles and discontent arising among so many women of diverse personalities in such cramped conditions. Suck it up, ladies! I wanted to scream. But I didn’t. As requested, I played the role of diplomat.
I emerged from jail with greater gratitude for God’s creation of two sexes than I’d ever had before or since. To this day, I avoid to just this side of causing offense nearly any event preceded by the label women’s: conferences, Bible Studies, retreats, Home Interior parties. I was even a bit skeptical at first about writing for a women’s blog.
My difficulties with women go further back than this experience. Because I married young and went directly to graduate school from college, I had a hard time finding real peers. The other women in my graduate program were hostile toward Christianity, something I was ill-equipped to handle gracefully. And while my church included other young women who worked or were going to school, most of the married women did not. I spent a lot of time declining invitations to jewelry and kitchenware parties and softball games, not because I wasn’t interested in those activities, but because I felt stressed and guilty about spending time on anything besides writing papers and reading books and journal articles.
I wanted women friends, badly. I tried to find them. I prayed for God to bring me to them. And, in his time, he did.
Of course, in all fairness to God, I didn’t make it easy for him. I am pretty picky. On the other hand, in making friends, I seem naturally to follow the advice of Socrates: “Be slow to fall into friendship; but when thou art in, continue firm and constant.” I don’t form friendships quickly or often, but when I do, they stick.
Friendships come in many forms, but nothing can replace friendships with true peers. Because we are both physical and spiritual beings, I see as a true peer one with whom we share both of these aspects, physical and spiritual, of our being—in other words, people of the same sex and of the same spiritual identity and belief. While certainly one can be good friends with members of the opposite sex, or of different beliefs and values, such differences tend to be a barrier to the sort of kid-gloves-off treatment necessary for iron to sharpen iron. In fact, I’ve often noticed that those who resist deep friendships with true peers—women who say they simply “connect better” with men (well, duh!) or with people not their age or religion—tend to be avoiding the unique accountability that genuine peers offer.