This past spring after graduating from college and prior to starting graduate school, I spent some time visiting friends and making new ones at a Christian student club at the local community college. With few friends at home my own age, I enjoyed visiting the weekly meetings with the college students to eat and do some Bible study. While visiting, I met a young lady and chatted with her for five minutes or so.
Now that I am in grad school 1,000 miles away, she has found me to chat on Facebook a few times. Some of the words she used while chatting with me showed some interest on her part (or may have simply been Southern Belle terms she uses, like “honey” and “dear.”) This week, she sent me an email telling me that her father was diagnosed with stage four cancer. She asked me to pray for her and her family and gave me her telephone number. I responded with a message that I will pray for her father and gave her my number in return so she could call me if she thought she needed to. Today, she called twice while I was out and left a message!
What should I do? I do not know her. We have only talked for a few minutes, chatted on Facebook several times and exchanged a few emails. Frankly, I am not interested in her. Why is she reaching out to me while her father is incredibly ill? I do not want to encourage her if she is interested in me, yet I want to provide godly grace and encouragement to her during her time of struggle. Please help me figure out how to respond.
I appreciate your concern about not wanting to send wrong signals and protecting proper opposite-sex friendship boundaries. My advice is twofold: First, try not to make any assumptions about her initiation being romantic; and second, diligently guard your responses in case it is.
I know that sounds like a contradiction, but it's not. Your assumption that only one or the other is true could create a mess if you're wrong.
There is an outside chance that she discerned in you a sympathetic and kind heart, even in the short time she was around you. Maybe she has few people she thinks she can turn to in this moment, and you came to mind. Since that could be the case, you'll want to respond as you would with anyone else in a similar situation — with sympathy and compassion.
Meanwhile, the reality is that she's a “she” and not married and of similar age, etc., etc., and asked for your phone number then called you twice right away when she got it. If she is interested in a relationship, that certainly is one way of trying to move it forward.
For now, I think you're taking the right approach, which is to carry yourself in a way that is “above reproach” with a fellow believer and to keep your responses simple and to the point, doing your best not to engage at an emotional level. If she asks you to pray, a simple “I'm sorry to hear that. Yes, I will pray,” is sufficient.
If you continue in that mode it should make it fairly clear to her that if she is in fact “testing the waters” of a relationship, you are not biting.
If she continues trying to draw from you emotionally (without coming right out and making clear her intentions for relationship), I think you should feel comfortable wondering out loud if she has a girlfriend nearby with whom she can share and pray through some of these things (which needs to be the case).
Finally, if none of the above seems to work, you have the responsibility to clear the air of any remaining questions about your intentions, which are purely non-romantic. That's easier than you might think it is and leaves no doubt about where everything stands.
Put yourself in her place and say what you'd like to hear. You might say something like, “I appreciate your trusting me to share some of these things with me to pray about, especially considering that you really haven't spent a ton of time around me. I know this might sound like it is coming out of left field, but I've seen how misunderstanding can cause harm and hurt, and I don't want that to happen. I'm working hard to keep my friendships with the opposite sex “above reproach,” because I know how confusing that can get. I don't want to send any wrong or confusing signals. So just so you know, I'm here as a friend, as I would be for any sister or brother in Christ. I hope you agree.”
You can put it in better words than I can, but you get the point. The best you can be is honest, gracious and Christ-minded, just as you would hope someone would be with you. If you've done that, you've honored God and this woman. That's not always the easy path, but it is wise and blessed in the end.
Copyright 2010 John Thomas. All rights reserved.