Susanne Osborne, my very close friend and I gave a testimony, a brief story of our friendship in our worship service this morning! Susanne was at the last Sacred Friendship Gathering and she is coming to Bold Boundaries: Expanding Friendship Between Men and Women in April! This is a taste of what we'll be doing in April. When was the last time you heard a testimony of deep friendship between a married man and a single woman in church?
Dan and I got to know each other at seminary. I respected his evident walk with God and his commitment to intercessory and healing prayer. About five years ago, Dan and I developed a friendship. Although I had become convinced of the importance of cross-gender ministry and friendship during my years in full-time ministry, I was still skeptical of such a 1-on-1 focus between us. Yet I trusted Dan and we openly and frequently discussed what proper boundaries and safety between men and women could look like. Our friendship is blessed by Sheila (Dan's wife) and has always been in the full light of day. It is in this openness between us and within our communities that I have seen true safety to lie. We have strong boundaries between us, but these boundaries are found in the light of God and the loving, watchful eye of our community rather than in our avoidance of each other.
It seemed like a large part of conversation in the first few months was talking through boundaries of the heart between a married man and a single woman versus boundaries of external rules. In every conversation we had, I appreciated the mutual connection. Boundaries also meant assuring Sus at this point in time that I was becoming drawn to her in friendship but assuring her I had no agenda and the friendship could take 1,000 different directions. Part of the dance was seeing where God would lead us as friends. Just like with any new friendship, I saw Susanne as a gift from God.
As a single woman for 31 years (until recently), I desperately needed male voices in my life. So often as single women, we feel labeled as dangerous temptations to be avoided rather than as sisters and daughters to be loved and known. Dan became a brother and friend to me, a man who actually wanted to know me and see God’s work in my life. Later, as I moved into the new experience of dating and now engagement, Dan (as well as Sheila) have been right at the thick of it all, praying, blessing, and being sources of discernment. Rather than being a threat to a romantic relationship, Dan’s friendship has strengthened it.
As our intentionality in our friendship grew, it became vividly clear to me that God was doing something between us. Susanne became one of my dearest and closest friends. She is utterly trustworthy. She's fiercely loyal. She's not a yes person. She has great strength and great tenderness.
She loves Sheila deeply and Sheila loves her deeply. And I love her deeply.
Susanne has become one of my most trusted voices in my life and one of my biggest cheerleaders. Since I am leading a movement on friendship between men and women, Susanne, by the very nature of her deep friendship with me has become a behind the scenes leader in this movement.
In conclusion, I would just like to say that I believe wholeheartedly in the importance of boundaries and great wisdom in cross-gender friendships. Yet I also believe that the strongest boundaries are ultimately the ones that teach us to love each other more than we fear each other. Though I think there are times when avoidance is called for, I do not believe this is always the safest route. I hope our friendship can be a testimony of God’s call to love each other sacrificially and thoroughly, and to found our boundaries not just on the fear of sin but on the commitment to put the good.
In Caroline Simon's book, The Disciplined Heart, she writes, "A friendship that calls for reverence is a relationship in which the friend is valued as irreplaceable, as one for whom there is no double. " Susanne has become an irreplaceable gift from God to me.