When I expressed in my last post, “I feel the pleasure of God in cross-gender friendships,” I was referring to the pleasure I had in my all my female friends both married and single. For a stretch of at least three years my closest female friends were single women. My longest cross-sex friendship is with a single woman.
My life narrative in the last decade—both in research and practice—has included the intertwining themes of sexuality, mutual delight in cross-sex friendship, and single women.
My book opened the door to abundant riches in conversations with single women and the pleasure of God in cross-gender friendship.
The gift of cross-gender friendship has opened my eyes wide open to the fact that the most dominant narratives in history within Christianity that connect God’s nearness and God’s pleasure, are narratives dominated by men. In these male-centered narratives the single/divorced/celibate women have been entirely excluded from the conversation. From this point onward, when I use the word single, I am including unattached women from all walks of life.
I will never forget my experience in a missional church when my female friend and I opened up Pandora’s box by talking about our friendship before a church gathering. Created quite a buzz. It created electric energy among the single women. That kind of friendship was unheard-of among evangelicals.
Then the expert white male pastor of the church had to gather in all the singles (many of them were single women) for another gathering to make sure they understood his paradigm. That was the end of the conversation.
So predictable. So evangelical.
White male pastors/theologians needing to put singles—especially single women—in their ecclesial place and pecking order within white male created systems.
It was a missed opportunity for authentic mutuality for single women.
Perhaps when some hear my use of God's pleasure in cross-sex friendship, I am sounding too “romantic.” First in the obvious sense that it is common among evangelicals to conflate pleasure with sexual pleasure. Second, in the sense that delight in cross-gender friendship is this anemic kind of fairy tale, “can't we all be happy” notion that is void of authentic power to shift social power, order, and conversation.
From the beginning of my journey into cross-sex friendship, I have argued that pleasure/delight/joy be significantly present. Cross-sex friendship is not a renunciation of God's pleasure; it is an affirmation of pleasure in all its fullness.
This also means pleasure in all its glory for single/divorced/celibate women.
Of course, unless someone has been living in a cave for several decades we all know a number of single women from a wide spectrum of Christian traditions are debating the sexual pleasure question. That is an important question for single women to process as they liberate themselves from male-centered paradigms connecting God's pleasure and God's nearness.
The affirmation of God's pleasure and God's nearness in cross-sex friendship is a separate but nevertheless valuable question for single women, too. This is not like an “add-on” or an “extra”to the sexual pleasure question.
It is about empowerment and female maturity. It is about empowerment and female autonomy. It is about empowerment and liberation, healing, and redemption. Mutual delight is a bold move for single women toward shalom.
There is a whole new world, a whole new dimension for single women to feel God's pleasure in cross-sex friendship. It is an affirmation of God's pleasure not as a “helpmeet,” nor as a sexual object. It is not a decision to accept a renunciation of pleasure missing out on being a “helpmeet.” Nor is it a consolation prize or runner-up kind of pleasure for missing out on God's pleasure in marriage.
When I began to grasp what a radical message it is to affirm pleasure in cross-sex friendship, I was also embracing the high calling for God's pleasure for single women in friendship, too. For single women to know God's delight in hospitality, the Eucharist, prayer, abundant life, social justice, and the way of love (God is love). These (and more) are all disciplines to know God's nearness in cross-sex friendship.
There is no second-rate, watered-down, faint pleasure in cross-sex friendship.
The scarcity dynamic of either no pleasure or some second tier offer of pleasure presented to single women excludes God's presence, excludes God's abundant life, excludes God's abundant pleasure for single women. Many of us have internalized the scarcity narrative for single women, including single women.
Claiming God's nearness in cross-sex friendship for single women means they are choosing to come out of that entrenched scarcity thinking embedded in sexism, patriarchy, and sexual purity paradigms in the left and right (as in, sex is the only paradigm where one finds abundant life, abundant pleasure, and abundant meaning).
There is, in the words of Bruce Epperly, a “deeper realism” within the Bible to invite single women to. Cross-gender friendship is an affirmation of the deeper realism of God's pleasure for single women.
It is an invitation for single women to come as they are and to taste, to see, to hear, to feel God's deep pleasure. All single, unattached women are invited from all walks of life. Young, old, divorced, single moms, women who are dating, women who are sexually active, women who are celibates, prosperous, poor, white, women of color—all single women are invited to come out of this scarcity thinking.
Scarcity thinking deprives single women of full-blooded agency, abundant pleasure, and abundant meaning. It deprives single women from knowing, resting in, and cherishing in deep, day-to-day cross-sex friendships that go on and on.
It deprives single women from learning to receive the fullness of human pleasure in day-to-day friendship. On the flipside it deprives single women from learning to give the fullness of human pleasure in day-to-day friendship. It arrests their spiritual and psychological development.
I like to think that part of my calling in this cross-gender conversation is being an advocate for single women who want to claim God's nearness to come out of this scarcity thinking and way of living. My entire life changed once I truly began to see how immersed I had been in this scarcity thinking embedded in so many narratives.
Now the invitation into cross-sex friendship is not a “one-size-fits-all” practice. That just doesn't happen if you know God's nearness. This pastor I referred to at the beginning steered single women into scarcity. How many white evangelical pastors and theologians only know scarcity in their personal living and experience? Well, let's put it this way: how many white male pastors or theologians have ever had an ongoing, deep, day-to-day friendship with single women? Most of them have high boundaries grounded in scarcity when it comes to single women.
Amy Frykholm observes, “True, deep, real pleasure is an avenue to the holy...Deeper, wider, more last pleasures are available as we grow more attentive and comfortable in our skins, and we as we give up up the notion that pleasure is inherently selfish.”
This invitation for single women is to come as you are. A learning part of the process is the deliberate, active process of translating “small,” “temporary,” or “ordinary” pleasures in cross-sex connection from scarcity thinking into what it means in God's nearness and presence. These delights/pleasures could be small, ordinary, or temporary, but they could also be valuable. Valuable in sacred connection, mutual meaning, and richness.
Now, you're going to find out this is a developmental trajectory. I've met and know women who have internalized this scarcity psychology. Other are happy beginners as they become comfortable with the radical notion that it is God guiding them through self-care that helps them out of this scarcity thinking. Oh by the way, that is the beautiful but also challenging call for single women. Self-care and God's pleasure. In God's delight and pleasure, God has given single women the wonderful gift of self-care to guide you out of scarcity into God's deep pleasure.
Let me connect these dots with a couple of quotes:
“Self-care,” write Natalie Tindall and Markesha McWilliams, is, “about taking time to ground ourselves, enjoy time with ourselves, and rejuvenate ourselves.” It is, “the active, intentional effort, commitment, and endeavor to preserve and nurture the dimensions of our holistic well-being.”
Julie Burton in her new book, The Self-Care Solution, connects self-care and friendship, “Developing and maintaining close friendships cannot be underrated. A huge component to practicing compassionate self-care is to connect thoughtfully with people who can truly be happy with your happiness, and concerned for your concerns.”
Scarcity tells single women from all walks of life they lack the means, the resources, the skills, the presence to know God's deep pleasure in cross-sex friendship. There are secular and spiritual stories of scarcity abounding for single women.
But I've also met single women who have deconstructed the scarcity psychology internally. They want to soak in as much of God's deep pleasure and beauty that they can get in cross-sex friendship. Mutually. The scarcity thinking has no sway over them in personal or public. They own God's pleasure in deeper realism before a watching world. They know God to be a giver of immortal gladness. They have worked through so much stuff to receive God's pleasure in cross-sex friendship and to give God's pleasure. They have learned how valuable sacred friendship connection is.