Are You a Good Friend? 7 Keys to Building Healthy Friendship
Several months ago, a friend invited me to coffee. After catching up on kids and ministry, I noticed her countenance shift. She obviously was struggling to share something difficult with me. After a few deep breaths, my friend explained how several years ago I had said and done things that deeply hurt her. I felt horrible for my insensitivity and for how I had hurt her without realizing the impact of my actions. Even though I couldn’t go back in time, I was grateful that my friend cared enough to be honest with me.  Friendship is one of the most consistent and important elements of our relational world. We cannot thrive without them, yet none of us ever took a class on how to establish healthy friendships. We learn by trial and error, getting hurt and hurting others along the way.  I think back to my days in high school and college and cringe at some of the ways I handled friendships and how my insecurities led to joining cliques rather than caring about people. I remember friendships that had unhealthy emotional boundaries or demands. I often “ghosted” friends (even though that wasn’t a term we used back then) when a relationship became uncomfortable.  The truth is that none of us do friendship perfectly, and I’m still learning! But to grow in our friendships, we need to have some gauge for what is healthy. Here are seven aspects of a relationship that can help you assess your friendships and perhaps more importantly, show you how you can become a better friend.    Gradual Disclosure and Trust Have you ever met someone and instantly declared, “Where have you been all my life? You are my long-lost friend!” While there may be an immediate connection of personality and interests, there is no such thing as instant friendship. Healthy relationships can only develop over time and seasons. You cannot trust someone you don’t know, and you cannot know someone you haven’t walked some miles with.  During seasons of loneliness, we might force trust and companionship before allowing them time to develop. When we are insecure, we can find ourselves oversharing with a new friend, giving them the chance to reject us before we become too attached. If you find yourself repeating these patterns, you may need to be intentional about measured disclosure, slowly sharing more about yourself as you establish trust. Focus on listening and asking questions rather than succumbing to the pressure to reveal too much too soon. Give the friendship room to breathe and time to grow naturally.    Healthy Boundaries Healthy boundaries are probably the trickiest element to friendship. How much should you depend on one another? You become friends because at some level you meet each other’s needs: needs for companionship, spiritual growth, reassurance, and recreation. So when does dependency become unhealthy?  Friendships may become destructive when they are exclusive. Please don’t misunderstand; there is nothing wrong with wanting to spend time one-on-one with a friend. Deep friendships are nurtured during time alone because this is often when you can share with each other most vulnerably. But your friendships also need to involve an element of community.  Jealousy is a red flag of unhealthy dependency in friendships. Do you cheer for your friend to have other important people in their life, or do you feel threatened by that idea? While you depend on your friends, you also need to be able survive without them should one not be available during a season. We were created for community. Close friendships are an important part of that equation but cannot be our sole source of comfort and companionship.  The line between healthy and unhealthy dependence is a tough one to balance. None of us naturally do it perfectly. We will have tendencies to be either too distant or clingy. This is one reason having others involved in your friendships can give you helpful insight into dynamics you may not see clearly.  Flexible Roles Personalities definitely play into how we navigate relationships. Some people are more assertive or talkative than others, but friendships become unhealthy when you fall into inflexible roles. If every time you get together with a friend, the conversation revolves around you trying to solve her problems, that’s not a healthy friendship. If you have a friend who never reaches out, you will probably be frustrated with that over time.  Healthy friendships develop a rhythm of give and take. You care about each other and lean on one another as the season dictates. You both have your own way of investing in your relationship without one person feeling like they need to keep the friendship alive.  Realistic Expectations Imagine sitting down with a new friend and spelling out specifically what you can expect from each other. What if you actually negotiated things like how long it should take you to reply to a text or how often you plan to hang out with each other? That would just be weird! Yet you still come to every friendship with a set of expectations. This is why you get frustrated and hurt when your friend doesn’t respond like you think he or she should. It is also why you might feel smothered by a friend who won’t stop messaging you.  Healthy friends give each other room for differing expectations. My friends over time have learned that I’m not a detail person, so I might forget a birthday. I’m also an introvert who likes deep, meaningful connections. I might not see or talk to my best friends for several months and still feel deeply connected to them when we get together. I also have learned to understand that my friends have their own unique needs and expectations that I need to be aware of.  While you probably won’t have that awkward conversation about expectations, learn to pay attention to what is meaningful to your friends. As you understand this, you will become less likely to misinterpret actions or hurt each other without realizing it.    Ability To Endure Through Hardship Perhaps one of the most important qualities of a deep friendship is loyalty through conflict. You cannot have a significant relationship without hurt feelings and disagreements—they just come with the territory.  When we talk about family relationships like marriage or siblings, we put a lot of emphasis on working through conflict. But what about friendship? In some ways, this might be even more important to our friendships. It’s far easier to walk away from a friend than to walk away from your family.  It takes determination and love to hang in there with a friend through hurt feelings and significant disagreements. Yet one of Jesus’ greatest commands is that we love each other deeply. Are your friendships disposable and replaceable, or are you willing to work through the hard things together?  Grace To Accept You for Who You Are I have some friends with whom I feel like I need to be on “my best behavior.” I pay more attention to how I’m dressed, how neat my house looks, or what I share. (I’m sure some people feel that way about me too!) But my best friends are those few who love me with all of my quirks and limitations. Within ten minutes, we can dive into the realities of life, delighting in the uniqueness of our personalities and experiences.  This is the kind of friend that we most desire and that we need to become. We live in a world that consistently judges. Without even realizing it, we size people up by their appearance, their accomplishments, how they carry themselves, and their opinions. Paul made the statement, “...we no longer see anyone from a worldly point of view.” Oh, how I long to be like this—to see people as God sees them. To value them based on the beauty with which God created them, while also accepting their limitations and imperfections.    Willingness To Speak Hard Truths in Love Accepting people just as they are does not mean that we fail to challenge one another. Solomon wrote, “Better an open rebuke than love that is concealed. The wounds of a friend are faithful, but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful” (Proverbs 27:5-6) and “As iron sharpens iron, so one friend sharpens another" (Proverbs 27:17) Your best friends need to be people who challenge you to grow. In love and grace, they confront you when it’s necessary, instead of always taking your side for the sake of keeping the peace.  Good friends “have your back.” While they don’t gossip about you, they display the courage to tell you the truth in love.  I once heard a statement that deeply challenged me in my friendships: “Gossip is saying something behind someone’s back you would never say to their face. Flattery is saying something to someone’s face that you would never say behind their back.”  Throughout our lifetime, we will all need good friends—those who will comfort us, remain loyal through difficult times, tell us the truth, and encourage us. I thank God for friendships and ask Him that He will continue to teach me how to be a friend that is truly a blessing to others.   Learn more about building healthy relationships with these free resources: How to Have Tough Conversations (Juli's blog) Q&A: How Do I Talk With Non-christian Friends When They Bring Up Their Personal Sex Lives? Q&A: How Do I Keep My Opposite-Sex Friendships and Still Honor My New Dating Relationship? Q&A: Is It OK to Talk to a Good Friend About My Sex Life?
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5 Ways the Church Must “Step Up” in Response to Sexual Abuse Within Its Walls
A few weeks ago, the Christian world was rocked by a bombshell revelation. An independent report of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) documented a pattern of ignoring and silencing victims of sexual abuse within the denomination. While there were rumblings of trouble a few years ago, even the leaders who called for the investigation were horrified by what it revealed. Russel Moore, who was one of the leaders sounding the alarm, wrote this in response to the report: “I was wrong to call sexual abuse in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) a crisis. Crisis is too small a word. It is an apocalypse.” In the wake of such news, along with the growing tsunami of falling pastors, spiritual abuse, and marginalized victims, we need to be asking some hard questions. How did this happen? How can such evil stay hidden? How do our current systems and structures perpetuate these patterns?  I’ve often said, “Sexuality is not a problem to be solved, but a territory to be reclaimed.” I deeply believe this. We cannot solve the problem of sexual abuse, particularly within the Church, without first reclaiming the territory that has been for so long occupied by the enemy. Satan has thrived in the silence, in the shame, in the legalism, and in the pride that so often characterize Christians and sexuality.  It’s not only time to be reactive but also to be proactive. We need to lament and care for those who have been so deeply wounded. We also must move forward with prayerful determination to invite the power and truth of God into the territory of human sexuality. I’d like to suggest five things that every Christian community must take seriously in our efforts to say, “Enough is enough!”    We cannot reclaim the territory of sexuality if we refuse to talk about it.    1. We need to talk about sex.  We cannot reclaim the territory of sexuality if we refuse to talk about it.  You may know my story. As a young woman I was as reluctant as anyone to talk about sex. Over the course of ministry and God’s work in my own life, I gradually said “yes” to the call to initiate conversations about sex within the Christian community.  Somehow, I now find myself referred to as a “sexpert,” or more formally “an expert in biblical sexuality.” My days are often filled with questions about masturbation, mismatched desire in marriage, affair recovery, and questions about the transgender movement. Talking and writing about sexual issues is my new normal.  Our church history has passed down traditions related to sex that are far from biblical. God was not ashamed to talk about sex, so why are we? While these conversations need to be handled with propriety and sensitivity, every church and Christian community needs to boldly step into the awkwardness of normalizing conversations about sexuality.  2. We need to acknowledge the scope of sexual brokenness. We are all sexually broken. How would you feel if you found out that your pastor has struggled with pornography since he was eight years old? Would you think differently about him if you learned that he had been sexually molested as a child? How would it impact you to learn that the majority of the elders of your church have significant issues of sexual struggle and pain?  Whether or not they are open to admit this, Christian leaders are not immune from every form of sexual struggle. Unfortunately, we don’t usually discover how leaders battle sexually until it is too late.  While Christian leaders may have greater knowledge and may be called by God into ministry, they are human with wounds, temptations, and weaknesses waiting to be exploited by the enemy. Need we look further than King David and his son Solomon as evidence of this?  When we deny the scope of sexual struggle and brokenness, we perpetuate a culture of secrets. In every church and every organization, there is every form of sexual temptation, struggle, and pain. Only when we admit this will we create the accountability and avenues for help that can identify and address problems like those which were ignored for decades in the SBC. 3. We need to listen to women.  It is not good for man to be alone.  This blog is not about whether or not your church should ordain women or invite them to teach in the pulpit. Within the Authentic Intimacy community, we have people who hold a variety of beliefs on this topic. Regardless of where you might stand on this issue, the lack of women’s voice in Christian leadership circles is a dynamic that feeds and perpetuates exploitation.  Women listen to women. They understand what it feels like to be objectified and minimized. God has given women an intuition that often sees below the surface of events and words. Men in leadership would be wise to invite and elevate the voices of discerning women among them.    4. We need the whole body of Christ activated in ministry. The body is made up of many members.  The continual stream of leadership failures has made us all question our current model of church. Yes, the Bible affirms the roles of pastors, teachers, and other leaders. Yet God never intended for spiritual power to be entrusted to a few decision makers.  The Christian body is made up of a multitude of gifts, experiences, and personalities. The pastor is not the head of the body—Christ is. When a few hold the power of an organization, Christian or otherwise, they will naturally use their influence to protect that power rather than expose weaknesses. Had there been those with gifts of mercy, discernment, prophecy, healing, and faith present among the SBC leadership, perhaps we would not be lamenting over this tragedy.    The spiritual battle of reclaiming sexuality is not the work of a special committee within a denomination. It is all of our work.   5. We need to fight with spiritual weapons. Our battle is not against flesh and blood.  There is no greater gain for evil than sexual abuse and exploitation within the sanctuary of God’s people. How many have walked away from our Lord Jesus Christ because of the failures of those who claimed to represent Him? What we are witnessing is not a cultural phenomenon, but a devastating spiritual defeat with the souls of men and women at stake.   Have we prayed about this tragedy as much as we’ve gossiped about it? Honestly, I’m convicted by my own question. No amount of human wisdom, strategizing, or structure can defeat the powers of evil. Yet, God tells us how to fight and win this battle: Prayer, repentance, fasting, pressing into God’s Word, and the Spirit-filled courage to speak for those who have no voice.  Jesus said we are one body united by one spirit. What we are witnessing is not an “SBC problem," but a cancer within our own body.  When one part suffers, we all suffer.    The spiritual battle of reclaiming sexuality is not the work of a special committee within a denomination. It is all of our work. Brother, sister, will you join the battle to reclaim the territory of sexuality that the love and Healing of God might invade this current darkness?    Would you like to learn more about sexual brokenness within the Church? Here are a few resources: Java #166: We're All Sexually Broken Joshua Harris, Sexuality, and "Deconstructing" Christianity (Juli's blog) Java #236: Pursuing Wholeness, Not Purity (exclusive content) Java #277: Children, Teens, and Sexual Abuse Rethinking Sexuality by Dr. Juli Slattery  
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How To Go From Demand and "Duty Sex" to True Sexual Intimacy
As Roy and Stacy listened to their pastor teach on I Corinthians 7, they began to shift uncomfortably in their seats. “Paul is saying here that a wife is to meet her husband’s sexual needs. If she doesn’t, he may be tempted to seek sex outside of their relationship.” The pastor tried to dampen the tension in the room with an ill-advised joke. “Men, maybe you are like me and this is your favorite passage in the Bible. I once told my wife that I’d love for her to get me a plaque for our anniversary with this verse: A wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband.” As the congregation chuckled nervously, Stacy wished for a way to inconspicuously escape the sanctuary.  Stacy feared today’s sermon would reinforce Roy’s belief that she owed him her body. How could she explain to her husband how she felt used and coerced the rare times she said yes to sex? Was God actually Roy’s co-conspirator, demanding that she give her body even through the triggers of trauma and the physical pain of the act?  And then there is Roy… a good man who would never want to hurt his wife, but feels desperate after 17 years of marriage to a woman who hates sex. He often wonders, “God, what did I do to deserve this? You gave me a strong sex drive, and I want to channel it towards my beautiful wife, but I might as well not even be married! Every time I even mention sex, Stacy shuts down.”  For many couples like Roy and Stacy, jokes about sexual frequency and the importance of sex are not funny. They touch on a subject that has fractured the foundation of their marriage. Rather than a celebration of love, sex has come to represent profound experiences of shame, rejection, and loneliness.  At Authentic Intimacy, we frequently hear from both sides of this dilemma: the husband who is tortured by continual sexual rejection in marriage and the wife who feels obligated to put herself through pain, sometimes retraumatized, for the sake of meeting her husband’s sexual desires. If you are in either of these situations, I am so sorry for the ways that sex in your marriage has been a source of such deep pain! Why would a good God give couples like Roy and Stacy a gift that has soured into a curse? What was intended to unite has become their greatest source of division. What are they to make of a passage like I Corinthians 7:1-5 that seems to reinforce the destructive pattern of initiating, rejecting, obligation, and resentment?  The most important principle in understanding the Bible is to read each passage within the context of the rest of Scripture. Unfortunately, these five verses in I Corinthians 7 have often been understood and applied in ways that poison a couple’s sexual relationship, even prompting couples to divorce. I want to share with you three larger messages within God’s Word that may help you reset your perspective and renew your desire to build true sexual intimacy within your marriage.    Remembering the Purpose God has given you and your spouse sexual intimacy as a gift. Yes, I understand that it doesn’t feel much like a gift. Although this is certainly because of the effects of living in a broken and fallen world, we also miss the gift of sex because we don’t understand the fullness of its purpose.  Sex is intended to be passionate and pleasurable, but that is just one aspect of the gift (and arguably not the most important). Sexual intimacy in your marriage is a way to remember and celebrate your covenant promise in marriage.  Sex is about love. Not primarily romantic or erotic love—it is the expression of your covenant love. A covenant (which is what you formed in marriage) is a promise to love in ways that transcend your feelings, circumstances, and desires. It is the promise, echoing Jesus’ words, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”  Likewise, the act of sex at various seasons in marriage (and for some, throughout marriage) invites you to reach beyond your natural instincts of love. Will you love one another deeply even when it costs you greatly?   “A new commandment I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you also must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34). Your love life is far more important than your sex life. Even in a broken and fallen world, God’s design for your sex life is that both of you embody unselfish love for the other. The greatest call of every Christian is to live a life of love.  This truth is not to be suspended at the threshold of your bedroom. The wife who hates sex is called to love her husband sexually. Likewise, the husband must love his wife unselfishly in every area of marriage, including their sex life. But what does that love look like practically when their desires are so incompatible?  When a husband and wife get into a pattern of withholding or demanding sex from each other, they are actually sabotaging sexual intimacy for the sake of sexual activity.  Reframing the Passage As we read I Corinthians 7:1-5, we must understand it with the backdrop of this larger message of love. Understanding the difference between sexual activity and sexual intimacy is crucial in our application of biblical teaching on marriage and sex. Sexual intimacy, not simply sexual activity, is very important in marriage. It has the power to unite or divide a couple.  With sexual activity, all of the focus is on what our bodies are doing. How often should we be having sex? Am I attracted to my spouse? With sexual intimacy, a couple works on sharing their sexual journey with one another. This means communicating and caring about the experience of sex and all it has come to represent.  When a husband and wife, like Roy and Stacy, get into a pattern of withholding or demanding sex from each other, they are actually sabotaging sexual intimacy for the sake of sexual activity.  What you owe your spouse is not the act of sex, but the promise to minister to each other sexually.  For a wife like Stacy, that doesn’t mean giving her body over and over again out of duty. More likely it means a commitment to work toward healing. She learns to value the power of sex in her marriage and refuses to allow the enemy to continue camping out in her wounds, hurt, and resentment. She takes steps like seeking counseling, going through a study like Passion Pursuit, and praying for sexual healing. She is open to exploring ways to be sexual with her husband (perhaps beyond intercourse) that feel safe and inviting.  For a husband like Roy, ministering to his wife sexually means listening and striving to understand how sex has come to represent pain and confusion for her. He “loves his wife as he loves his own body,” nurturing a safe emotional environment for her to heal. Rather than demanding, he is patient and willing to address barriers that make sex feel more like a duty than an invitation to intimacy.  “For He works all things together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purposes.” All things means ALL things, including the broken pieces of your sex life.   Rely on the Power As you read the description of how a husband and wife might this minister to one another sexually, you may be thinking, that’s impossible. And at one level, you would be right. Your human ability to love your spouse has limits…. Limits to how long you can “deny yourself,” forgive, or be considerate of your spouse's needs.  In an unrelated passage, Jesus made this statement, “If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore as your heavenly father is perfect" (Matthew 5:46-48). If we apply this truth to sex within marriage, it may sound like this, “If you pursue intimacy with your spouse when it is easy, what reward will you receive? Everyone knows how to do that! Only those who follow God can continue to love when it costs them greatly. This is how I call you to sexually love your spouse.” A Christian marriage is only possible through the power of Christ living in us through the presence of the Holy Spirit. God’s call for us to “be perfect” is meant to show us the utter futility of trying to honor Him in our own strength and wisdom. A supernatural marriage requires a supernatural power.  It is not ultimately your wife’s sexual love that will keep you from lust or fulfill your desire; it is the work of the Holy Spirit. It is not your husband’s kindness that will heal your wounds, but the unfailing love of Jesus Christ.  “For He works all things together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purposes.” All things means all things, including the broken pieces of your sex life. My friend, God wants to do a mighty work in your marriage. I can’t promise you that a year from now you will be having great sex in your marriage, but I can promise you that if you both commit to building true intimacy through the power of Jesus Christ, He will redeem your sex life.  In your despair, will you and your spouse get on your knees together and plead with the Lord to pour out His Spirit? Will you humbly ask Him to heal, to redeem, and to reveal His goodness in the gift of your sexual intimacy? And will you be willing to say yes to the journey of rebuilding authentic intimacy in your marriage?  Here are a few next steps you can take: Meet with a Christian sex therapist. Try mycounselor.online Mention AI and get 25% off your first session.* Read a Christian book on sex, such as Enjoy! The Gift of Sexual Pleasure for Women and A Husband’s Guide to Great Sex both by Cliff and Joyce Penner.* Attend a marriage event like Reclaim. Go through an online book study like Passion Pursuit (for women) or God, Sex, and Your Marriage (for couples). New groups start in June! Java #406: Every Couple Has a Sexual Dance. What Does Yours Say About You?    *This is an affiliate link. AI may earn referral fees from qualifying purchases. Image by Canva