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October 6, 2009

Going Deeper in Relationships

All I wanted was a friend. A best friend. My family had just moved from Northern Maine to suburban Philadelphia after my 5th birthday. Friends, I thought, I‘d finally have friends. Who doesn’t want a best friend, or long for a lifelong friend? You know, the kind you make in kindergarten who stays loyal and true for a lifetime.

I don’t know about you, but neither “best friend” nor “lifelong friend” is on my friends list. As a Pastor’s kid who moved several times in my lifetime, those relationships didn’t move with me. In adulthood I have a tapestry of friends who are crisscrossed around the country but the deeper question is how many of those who have woven themselves into my life am I open and real with? How many do I communicate with about the real stuff of life?

The deep cry of most women’s hearts that I come in contact with has to do with authentic relationships. Most of us have amassed a long list of acquaintances that we pass off as friends. And those of us in leadership have an even longer list. We throw around the term “community” yet I think a deep experience of community and authentic relationships is elusive for most of us. So how do we develop authentic community? How do we know others and allow ourselves to be known? I’m in the middle of this journey.

I now have a small number of women who have seen many of my warts and scars, been privy to my deepest fears and heartaches. There is still a part that I hold back, even from God. To be fully known is one of our deepest desires, and one of our deepest fears. We live in that tension and often the fear component wins out. The way we operate relationally is often based on what we saw modeled growing up. How did our parents and those we held in esteem develop relationships? Was our dinner table frequented by outside guests, or was our family tight and closed off? Often the realities of our lives today are easily traced back to our lives of yesterday.

Many of us have experienced betrayal in relationships, or seen someone close to us betrayed. Some have even been abused or struggled with codependency issues. These things all color how we seek to develop and maintain close relationships, or whether we seek to develop them at all. I had a close friend in Junior High deeply betray me. I guarded my heart and wouldn’t let others in, especially other women, for about eight years.

The year after I graduated college I had two women call me on it. I was traveling for a year with a singing group and there were only three men and three women in the group. The other two women confronted me and said, “If you won’t open up to us, first of all, it’s going to be a long year, and secondly, we don’t think God will work as deeply through us as he could.” I knew they were right. God used their loving confrontation to break me and to begin opening my heart up to him and others.

Going deeper in relationships takes risk. If you are new to a church or workplace the risk might be asking someone out for coffee. If you are already in a relationship that seems stalled, maybe it’s taking a risk to share something deeper about yourself that might open the doorway for a friend to start sharing. If want an easy entry point to this kind sharing, you should grab a friend and come to the DIVE conference in Chicago next month. I'll be telling more of my story there.


I understand the issues here and as a woman leader I have more than my share of people who want to 'be my friend' without any understanding of what it is for me to have them as a friend. Often people just want to befriend the leader as she makes them feel good about themselves when they're around her, or maybe it's like being friends with the Prom Queen...

I've been battered, betrayed and left bereft, at times by the people I've loved and trusted most... and yet in all of it, I have understood that the doors and bars I use to shut out other people will, at the same time, shut God out too.

There is no other option to keep an open heart than by keeping short accounts with God, forgiving where necessary and repenting where necessary. On top of that, we need to be wise with our friendships because although we may have forgiven, it doesn't mean that we have to allow that person back into that same place in our hearts as we had before.

Thank you for this article. Thank you also, Bev for your insightful thoughts and remarks. I especially appreciate you saying that although we may have forgiven, it doesn't mean that we have to allow that person back into that same place in our hearts as we had before, not sure how to do this with family though. I guess you mean that a person has to earn our trust again, although we still love them. Please correct me if I am wrong, I would like to understand this. I appreciate what you have said. Thanks so much, Elizabeth

Friendships are hard to maintain in a way because of past hurts and disappointments from other so-called christian women.. I had one 2years ago and she used me and was not sorry for her behavior, and we go to the same church. I have a friend at the same church,but I'm leary of her. Once bitten, twice shy.

Thank you for the reminder of relationships that bloom with the nurturing of friendship. I have a friend and fellow minister at my church who is a breast Cancer Survivor who is getting ready for surgery for a Brain Mass this month. We developed a closeness after she gave me her shoes in church when I broke the heel off my shoe while in praise. I always remember her stepping out of her shoes and saying to me, "put these on because you have to serve communion and you need them. So as I am praying for another healing for her. I ask you ladies to pray for my Shoe SisFriend as I call her. She is know as Rev."E" thank you.

God has blessed me with very dear Christian women friends, as well as non-Christian ones. However, only yesterday I mourned the spiritual death of one who had always held me at arms length. Sadly, she was a Christian. She went into apostasy; but even before that, she was not a loyal friend even to those who had been with her much longer than me. It appears we were all useful idiots. At this point, there will be no further associations with her. Many others' emotional bank accounts are tapped out just like mine. We still pray that her eyes will be opened and that she will realize what excellent friends she forsook for cheap imitations and that we truly love her.

Thank you for this article. My husband & I led a church for many years. We stepped down from our positions and got secular jobs a year ago. Being the leader was hard; always in the fishbowl for everyone to see and criticize. However, it was my heart to serve God and his people and I have no regrets. A couple of years ago a string of events occurred that weakened my faith; disillusioned my mind; and hurt my soul deeply. It led me to the decision to come out of the ministry. I have withdrawn my heart from people since then and I know it's because of my hurt. We are a part of a church here where we live, but it's hard for me to give my heart away without fear of being hurt and humiliated again. I'm not sure how to get back to where I was but it's been a journey discovering boundaries with people and realizing that I have to take care of my soul and my well-being without feeling like I have to please people. What a balance! It's been a journey learning how to accept grace when I don't feel worthy. Before all of this, I focused so much on all that I "did" instead of focusing on "being" what I need to be for God. In the midst of all my "doing" I forgot how to be still and just "be". I served and served and served until one day hurt and pain came along to show me that the point was to not feel worthy of His grace but to be thankful for his acceptance of me right where I am. I'll never do enough to be worthy but b/c of Jesus and his sacrifice God has had mercy on me. I need people in my life but not to tell me what to do or criticize me or place expectations on me that are too high...I need people to love me unconditionally and for me to love them unconditionally back. We need friends in our lives but ones that practice love. I'm trying to learn that again. Being hurt is just part of life and being a Christian. Learning to forgive and love after being hurt is always the challenge. I'm still growing.

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