Recently, I came across a quote about delight in friendship, “Delight in the other is a great gift of friendship.” It suddenly struck me that I haven’t blogged on delight and cross-sex friendship in a while.
How can that be?
There is scene in the movie Chariots of Fire that many Christians are familiar with. Olympic runner Eric Liddell is having a conversation with sister. She encourages him to give up running and become a missionary in China. He responds to her, “I believe God made me for a purpose. But he also made me fast. And when I run, I feel his pleasure.”
Evangelicals love to reference this quote. Author Annie Blazer quotes evangelicals participating in sports. Calvin Miller, Alistair Begg, and Beth Allen Slevcove are just a small sampling of evangelicals who invite others to know this transcendent intimacy of feeling God’s pleasure.
I feel God’s pleasure in cross-gender friendships.
For years now, I have intentionally cultivated a space in the cross-gender friendship conversation for friends to feel God's pleasure, for friends to share God's delight without apologies or embarrassment, for friends to know the gladness of God.
I don’t know which is more terrifying to those of us who have been in the dominant evangelical narrative. The idea that a married individual can feel God’s deep pleasure in cross-sex friendship or that single/divorced/celibate can feel God’s deep pleasure in cross-sex friendship.
Cross-sex friendship is not a renunciation of God’s deep pleasure; it is a bold affirmation of divine pleasure. It is an invitation to participate in the shared
delight of God’s joy and know his pleasure in a deep social connection known as friendship.
As I reflect on the last ten years of my journey into the pleasures of cross-sex friendship, every year in the past ten years I can think moments, words, experiences, affection—shared delights with my female friends that have brought tears of joy. I do not write from a detached, on-the-sidelines spectator; I share this out of my own joy.
“The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field, which
someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has
and buys that field.” Matthew 13:44
Let’s start with the invitation. This is the glorious beauty and wonder of mutual delight in cross-gender friendship: it is an invitation to discover the shared delight of God’s friendship in the fullness of wonder and beauty. There is nothing coercive. There is no power-over trap.
You can come as you are. You can stay within your comfort range. You can come just as you are. It always starts with your friendship with Jesus and the pleasure you know in that friendship. But, you should understand that your comfort level and awareness of feeling God’s pleasure in cross-sex friendship is not the final word for everyone else.
We are all on a journey of discovering the vastness of this sacred and holy treasure the kingdom of God has for us. What attracts us into the deeper pleasures of God in mutual delight in friendship is not manipulation, power-over pressure, or a clingy need to be appreciated.
What attracts us?
God’s nearness is a many splendored delight.
God’s nearness in hospitality, God’s nearness in kindness, God’s nearness in tenderness, God’s nearness in empowerment, God’s nearness in compassion, God’s nearness in beauty, God’s nearness in justice, and yes, God’s nearness in pleasure. These and much more are invitations to know God’s pleasure in cross-gender friendship.
The kill-joy narratives are out there. The pessimistic narrative that invokes the dangerous slippery slope. Is it realistic for cross-sex friends to feel God’s profound pleasure? They are ready to share with you the pessimistic narrative of wisdom.
Then, there is the sex-trumps-all narrative. This has so many faces to it but it asserts that there is no deeper pleasure on earth than sex. I’ve seen both conservatives and some progressives claim this for their narrative of deep pleasure. Deep pleasure in relationality is sexualized. Of course, sex may indeed be a deep pleasure. But when we conflate sex with God we miss out on all kinds of other deep pleasures..
Another kill-joy narrative is the patriarchal narrative that’s alive and well in evangelical circles. Yes, there are a number of evangelicals who claim they have left patriarchy. But they would also support unwritten and invisible structures that would oppress women from exploring a deep yes to God’s pleasure in cross-gender friendship.
As feminist therapist Laura Brown has observed, “The wide-scale disempowering messages conveyed by patriarchies about the inevitability of hierarchies, the impossibility of effecting real social change, and the immutability of gendered and other socially constructed roles and relationships all contribute to this societal trance.”
In the big picture, women have always encountered a number of big picture narratives that interpreted God’s nearness and pleasure over them. Whether it be in Christianity or in philosophy, God’s nearness in friendship was seen through the lens of a man’s world. As feminist and author Marilyn Yalom wrote, the public face of friendship was male.
Many contemporary voices now debunk Freudian and patriarchal readings of sacred scripture. As we are no longer bound to those readings, we are now able to freely process numerous biblical passages that bear witness to God’s nearness, well-being, shalom, pleasure, joy, abundant life, and beautiful flourishing relationships like never before.
Under these readings, God’s pleasure was gendered. God’s nearness was gendered. Shalom was gendered. Abundant life was gendered. The deeper you explored these, the more the readings were gendered.
But what does the connection between God’s nearness and pleasure mean once we are not constrained by those readings anymore?
You show me the path of life.
In your presence there is fullness of joy;
in your right hand are pleasures forevermore
I have made some mistakes along the way and I have experienced a couple of bumps in the road. But I know deep delight in my marriage and friendships after all these years. I have even come to know a solid sense of shalom with my pastors, friends at church, and friends beyond. I am so thankful after all these years that I can write my first post in 2017 on the connection between the pleasure of God and cross-sex friendship from a place of deep delight in my marriage and in some friendships.
I might have deserved the tags of immaturity and naïveté back when I first started writing on the joy, pleasure, and delight on cross-sex friendship on my blog ten years ago. But I know I have matured in this journey with ongoing critical reflection and intentionality in my friendships.
So here is a fresh invitation. The beautiful thing is that God has no interest at all in coercing you or pressuring you into going deeper. You can stay where you are and witness God at work. Or you can dip your toes in and process how that depth feels.
The experiences of joy and pleasure I’ve known are priceless, unforgettable, and yes, too good to be true. Other-worldly at times. I have literally jumped for joy over some things. But I have also experienced sadness, disappointment, and hurt. With my emphasis here on God’s pleasure, I’m not trying to portray the Pollyanna, “don’t worry, be happy” stuff.
Okay, so let me say this also.
I don’t know how we can reflect about feeling God’s pleasure in cross-gender friendship if the experiences of “open-endedness,” “uninhibited,” “unrestrained,” “unconstrained,” “surprising,” “indescribable,” “inexpressible,” “profound,” “glorious,” “heavenly,” “euphoric,” “consummate,” and “too good to be true” are off the table.
These all are on the table once we free ourselves from reading the Bible through the eyes of Freud and patriarchy.
Similarly, words that help us with the meaning, richness, and depth of our experience with our friends connecting heaven and earth—like sacred, sacramental, redemptive, healing, incarnational, spiritual, other-worldly, God-like, holy—are also on the table—especially when they help us to define experiences like above.
For a deep, complex, nuanced Christian theology of friendship, sacred deep pleasure for example, is a guide to help us know safety, well-being, wild beauty, freedom, shalom, empowerment, abundant life, and our own solid sense of personal beauty in God’s nearness.