I have developed a close relationship with a woman from church. We've been friends for quite a few months, and we're always each other's confidant about things going on in our lives.
At some point, through Boundless and other sources, I began to realize that if we weren't in a dating relationship, it was unhealthy of me to allow us to have emotional connections without any level of commitment. I raised the subject with her, and we agreed to think about it. The conclusion was that we mutually agreed to remain friends and felt a dating pursuit wouldn't suit us.
I have limited our interactions greatly since then to what I believe is appropriate before God and others. But the times we do have a conversation, she feels unable to share the issues going on in her life or ask my advice as I made certain boundaries in our communication.
All I feel I can say is that she should speak to someone trustworthy in our church.
However, I can't help but think I'm being insensitive or disregarding toward her by not attempting to be "a good friend" so to speak and not letting her lean on me for emotional support.
Navigating the waters of being a godly male friend is somewhat tricky. I would appreciate your guidance on this aspect.
Thanks for your question. This issue comes up a lot despite the considerable ink that has been spilled on it by me and several others recently. Frankly, I feel like I would need to know a lot more about the specific circumstances of your friendship with this woman (what was the conversation like when you decided to remain "just friends"? Who really decided that was the way to go and why? Are either of you interested in dating someone else in particular? Etc.) to give you any kind of meaningfully specific answer, but I can summarize some principles that I've written about before in "Biblical Dating: Just Friends," and I hope that will help.
The bottom line is that you are being put in a very difficult position, and I think you are handling the situation correctly by encouraging your friend to seek other (I would add "female") trustworthy counsel within the church with respect to her deeper and day-to-day emotional needs.
As I've written before, "I believe it is extremely difficult and rare — as a practical matter — to [maintain godly] close, intimate friendship between two single Christians of the opposite sex." That's true because intimate friendships between men and women almost always produce confusion and frustration for at least one of the parties involved. The extensive time talking and hanging out one-on-one; the close knowledge of the other person's hopes, desires and personality; the sharing of many aspects of each other's daily lives and routines; these all tend to involve means of relating that are appropriate for marriage — but not for relationships with (non-family) members of the opposite sex.
The essential biblical principle here is that as single men and women, we want to avoid "defrauding" (ESV "transgressing" or "wronging") one another by interacting in a way that implies a commitment (in terms of marriage) that doesn't actually exist.
Even if the two of you have theoretically defined your relationship as "just friends," it sounds like your prior interactions — and those your friend would like to continue — more realistically communicate some level of romantic attraction or a desire for deeper companionship. That's an inherently mixed message.
Another principle from my "Just Friends" article to consider is this: Even if we "assume for the sake of argument that your intimate friendship is one of those rare jewels that is devoid of the potential for hurt or confusion[, t]here's another drawback to such friendships. They discourage marriage."
Though I could be wrong on this, it doesn't seem from your question that the two of you decided not to pursue a romantic relationship because one or both of you feels called to long-term singleness and celibacy. If that's the case, then it doesn't do you or her any favors to engage in some sort of "intermediate" companionship that gives both of you some of the benefits of marriage without any of the commitment. If the two of you have decided that marriage between you is not the right thing (and I'm just taking that as a given for the sake of argument, not agreeing with it based on the little information in your question), then you should both be looking for someone to marry and disciplining yourselves to live without "marital" levels of intimacy and companionship until you find that person.
The last difficulty I'll mention here with respect to what your friend seems to want is that it puts both of you in the way of serious temptation. Your question was silent on the topic of physical attraction, but if the two of you have a personal dynamic that makes both of you want to share intimately with the other, then in the natural course of things, some level of physical intimacy — which I believe the Bible teaches to be sinful outside of marriage — is at the least a temptation, and if my experience (both personally and as a counselor) is any indication, is very likely to develop.
The tenor of your question sounds as if you already believe much of what I have written here. If that's true, then let me just affirm you in lovingly declining to engage in the level of intimacy and companionship that your friend still seems to want. You are not being a "bad friend." It just may be that as a godly single man seeking to treat this woman with absolute purity (1 Timothy 5:2), you cannot give her what she wants relationally. In my view — and I know others disagree — navigating "the waters of being a[n intimate] godly male friend is somewhat tricky" because they are not waters that are helpful to explore.
Care for her in the context of your church as a brother in Christ, hang out with her in group settings, and pray that both of you would find a biblically appropriate outlet for your natural desire for deep interaction. I might add — with no specific knowledge of your situation, mind you — that you revisit the decision not to engage in a dating relationship with marriage as a possibility. You agree theologically enough to be members of the same church. You obviously have the kind of chemistry that gives rise to an ongoing desire to relate in an emotionally intimate way. Fantastic biblical marriages have been built on less.
I will pray that the Lord gives you wisdom.
Copyright 2013 Scott Croft. All rights reserved.