Beth Bramstedt, an ordained associate pastor at Woodcrest Chapel in Columbia Missouri attended this past Sacred Friendship Gathering in April. The Gathering's theme was "bold boundaries." I asked her to share her story about her experience at the Gathering.
A New Paradigm – Love as the Boundary
Sometimes our thinking needs to change. We need to go on a mission of discovery. We need to create a new mental map. We need to change the way we see, understand and interpret our world.
But sometimes we’re not really looking for a mission, or hoping to discover anything. God, with his sense of humor, just seek us out, shows up unexpectedly, and changes our paradigm. That is exactly what happened to me earlier this year, and how I ended up at the Bold Boundaries conference in April.
In retrospect, it may have been God, but I now prefer to blame it on my friend Brandon Hoops. He was the one who introduced me to Twitter and connected me to a whole new world of conversations, which changed the way I see and live out my relationships. So, I choose to believe that the chaos Bold Boundaries has created in my life is his fault, and thankfully he doesn’t seem to object.
An Old Way of Thinking
So why did I need to change my way of thinking? Essentially I had been living in a fear-based paradigm with significant limits on how, when and where love could be expressed and lived out, particularly between men and women. My view of love looked a lot like the words to one of my favorite Alabama songs from childhood. The hook line says “All we ever need is just the two of us – She and I.”
I had somehow come to believe that real love, the best kind of love, should only be expressed in the context of a marriage relationship.
I came from a belief system that said “you can’t get too close to someone of the opposite sex because we all know what will happen.” The voices from my past declared “your spouse is your soul mate and any other close relationships are a danger to your marriage.” This way of thinking confused attraction and lust, and discouraged people from finding beauty in the way we were created as male and female. It was a paradigm that resulted in rules intended to guard our hearts and our most precious relationships.
Thankfully my husband did not buy into this way of thinking. He had maintained several great friendships with girls from college. He had a female running partner and often carpooled with another female friend to work. He did not see these relationships as a threat to our marriage, and neither did I.
But with my male friends, this view of relationships caused me to resist real connection. It limited conversations and made certain topics off limits. I hesitated to reveal what was going on in my soul, and I never entertained the idea of enjoying each other’s company, or playing together, unless we were together as couples or in a group.
While reading Dan’s book Sacred Unions, Sacred Passions, and many other related blogs, I was exposed to new truth. And given God’s sense of humor, I was not only reading about truth, but was experiencing it firsthand in my friendship with Hoops. After all, given the chaos he helped create in my life, he was pretty much indebted to sticking with me on this journey.
A Mission of Discovery
I began to realize that my old way of thinking wasn’t making me more loving toward others or helping my current relationships flourish. My fear was not only hurting me, but those who God asked me to love as well. I wasn’t convinced Dan’s solutions would work, but I was asking a lot of questions. So when I heard Jonalyn Fincher would be speaking at the Bold Boundaries conference, and she encouraged me to go, I committed.
Missions of discovery are not very much fun alone, however, so I decided to gather some friends. I asked Jen and Dana first. I knew they would be good company and would enjoy the intellectual challenge. They said yes. The three of us were set to go until I had this gut feeling that since Hoops had introduced me to the conversation, and had the male perspective on the issue, he needed to come with us. The only problem was that meant I had to ask him.
To make this story more entertaining, you should know that besides being married, I am 44, newly ordained and the first female pastor at our church. Hoops is 30, single and works for me. In my old paradigm, there are at least four things that would make this friendship “wrong,” so inviting him to the conference felt a tad vulnerable.
It took me awhile to work up the courage and find the right words. Finally I texted and told him the invite was open if he wanted to come with us. He agreed, and I breathed a sigh of relief.
Honestly, we had no idea what to expect and were a little afraid to walk in that first day. Once we settled in, however, what we discovered was simply beautiful.
The group was made up of people from all different church philosophies, areas of the country and even political views. But they gathered for a single, united purpose – to tell their stories, learn from each other, and cast a vision for how our friendships could impact our world for Christ.
As I sat and listened to each speaker, my paradigm continued to shift. I began to see that by relating more intimately and authentically with both men and women, I was allowing God to reflect more of himself to me, and together, we were reflecting more of God to those around us. I began to understand that by loving others well; it only made me more loving to my spouse and family. I began to see attraction as a natural, human response to lean into rather than be afraid of – to see connection with another person as a gift from God, not an automatic path to sin.
I began to more deeply understand Christ’s relationship to women, and how we more completely reflect his nature when we live, serve and relate in an interdependent manner. The most profound moment, however, came when Alise Wright and Rich Chaffins shared their story. Alise described their friendship as unhurried and natural. “We became best friends without even knowing it.” They connected to God together through worship. Rich went on to say “She has shown me more Jesus in one person then I’ve ever seen before.” At the end of her talk, Alise painted a new picture. She said “The rules can be bigger. Let LOVE be the boundary.” Those were the words I needed to put my fear aside.
A Bigger View of Love
So, what happened? On the drive back home, our group of friends decided to create a new map. Our thinking had changed and we committed to live it out in our personal friendships. We decided to boldly live by love, not rules. We decided to be intentional about playing together, treating our male and female friends the same, going places together and sharing more vulnerably with each other.
Not too long ago I was having a particularly rough day and I mentioned it to Hoops. His response was an invitation - an invitation to Andy's for frozen custard if that would help lighten things up. In that moment I felt known, valued, treasured – even loved. It was God showing up to meet me in a tangible way through another person. We joked on the way to the car about whether we were breaking the rules. In that moment it didn’t matter.
By saying yes, I was tangibly choosing love over fear and together we were reflecting God’s purposes in our friendship. So, with my husband’s blessing, I’ve traded in the paradigm of “She and I” for a much bigger view of love; a love that’s captured in the heart of a classic country song by George Strait. It says, “Do you love me, do you wanna be my friend? I think this is how love goes, check yes or no.”
Let’s check “yes.” Let’s relate like Jesus does. Let’s be friends.