Can’t We Just Be Friends -Ask This Before Marriage!

coupleIf you’re thinking about marrying someone you probably ask yourself a lot of questions.  Is this a stable person, are they able to contribute equally to the relationship, do they have a good job, are they kind, are they good looking, etc.  None of these are bad questions but interestingly enough we seldom ask ourselves, “Is this someone I could be friends with the rest of my life?”  I understand it’s a hard question to answer because people can change over time.  But as a psychologist I can tell you they don’t change so drastically that they become a totally different person.  In fact, personality theory argues personality traits are pretty consistent across different life situations and over a lifetime.  What often happens is people ignore certain traits or live under the delusion they can change someone they marry after they’ve been together some time.  The fact is most people don’t change so significantly that they’re a totally different person, you may just not have known them that well before you married them.

Beyond all this the most important question you need to ask yourself is about friendship.  All love finds its roots in friendship.  In fact, when you ask yourself if you love someone you should really be asking yourself if the love you feel has its roots in friendship and not romance and passion.  Friendship love is a type of love that seeks nothing as its end other than a relationship in which two people can honestly share themselves with one another.  If its true friendship you’re not trying to get something from being in the other person’s company, you’re merely in a place that’s comfortable and facilitates the free sharing of who you are while receiving the gift of another person.  This is a truly fantastic type of love.

The reason most couples seem to shy away from friendship as the core of their marriage is because it seems so very ordinary.  Romance has “fire” and gets our hormones moving.  Our heart beats tremendously fast and our breathing becomes heavy and short.  Our senses are much more aware of the other person’s touch and our mind is taken over by our emotions.  That sounds really fun and quite honestly, it is!  Yet, that type of experience is most enjoyable when you trust the person you share it with.  Passion is at its best when there’s little inhibition between you and your spouse.  If you’re not friends, passion can be a scary feeling that appears more like anxiety than love.  Friendship on the other hand is ordinary.  It doesn’t make our physiology turn into a volcano and it certainly doesn’t have the same addictive features romantic love has.  In fact, our culture is so blasé about friendship we often tell those we aren’t romantically interested in we, “Just want to be friends.”  That really is a shame because the truth is after years of marriage you end up hoping you and your spouse can “remain friends.”

I’m reading a book about love called. “Love’s Sacred Order” and in it the author says this about friendship love:

“Family affection and romance, for all their beauty, humanity and necessity, are nevertheless tied to very specific functions whether or not we want them to be: people’s need for stability and “settling down” and having a purpose in life, the human species’ need to procreate and thus fulfill its God-given vocation, the urge to foster the growth and well-being of one’s children, the desire to fulfill the obligations of one’s state of life, and so on.  Friendship, by contrast, ought to be wholly gratuitous, freely given and freely received, disinterested in the sense of having no ulterior motives, lacking a specific exterior purpose for its existence.”

One might argue there is a purpose to friendship.  That purpose is to be truly human.  No other creature can merely enter into a relationship with another for the sole purpose of being in communion with each other.  Romantic love draws on the passions that lead to the biological need to procreate but friendship love has no other purpose than to allow two human beings to enter into a true relationship of equals.  Two creatures made in the image of God are able to reflect the divine to each other simply because of who they are.  This is something marriage can carry into eternity unlike the passing experience of romance that doesn’t survive our youthful existence on earth.

So if you truly want to know if the person you’re dating is someone you should marry ask yourself this simple question, “Can I be friends with this person?”  If it’s yes, you’re on your way to a satisfying and healthy relationship.  If not, or you’re not sure, wait.  Find out if you can because in the end that’s what matters most.  All other aspects of your relationship with each other most likely have a purpose and have a reason for existence, but friendship exists for itself.  As the author of this book states, “If you will, friendship is one of those human realities that is only fully itself when it is an end in itself.”

Love is a multifaceted human experience but at its core friendship is what connects all the different elements of that experience.  If you cannot be friends with the one you want to spend your life with, the rest will merely fall apart.  Why not try “Just being friends” and see where that takes you.

The Hard Work of Obedience

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No one likes the word “obedience.”  I think it’s safe to say most people give that word lip service, particularly in a country like the United States where we value independence and individuality.  Yet obedience is a deep spiritual virtue that can help us become more profoundly spiritual and transformed.  In a little book written by a saintly man called “The Rule of St. Benedict” once can find profound advice on being obedient.  First, Benedict establishes who we obey because it’s quite easy to trap ourselves in obedience to the wrong source of authority.  That’s one reason obedience isn’t so popular, because we’ve seen how people become abused at the hands of poor leadership and illegitimate authority.  The paradox of the situation is by only being obedient to ourselves we become subject to a tyrant just as bad as the twisted preacher using people’s faith to get what he or she wants.  When we make ourselves an authority of its own we place ourselves under the rule of someone who can’t view themselves objectively and is not accountable to the truths and realities of a world outside themselves.  Much of the work I do as a therapist is helping people realize they’re their own worst enemy.  They set up rules and demands for themselves only to discover they can’t live up to them (and quite frankly no one in the world could either).  Benedict reminds his readers they are to be obedient to one source of authority and that authority is God revealed through Jesus Christ.  In the prologue of the book he says we are choosing to do battle (Spiritual battle) for the Lord Christ, the true king.  This is the source of legitimate authority we must obey.  Anything else only leads to sorrow, spiritual decay, and death.

The next question most people, ask is “How can I know when it’s Christ I’m following and not some preacher twisting Christ’s words around to suite his or her purposes?”  That’s a great question!  This is why it’s so important to dwell within the scriptures.  Read your bibles with a desire to know Christ.  If you seek him with sincere desire in the pages of the bible you will find him there.  The first place to start in the bible is within the gospels.  Read them and take note of what Christ actually says.  His direct teachings are found there and are an important source for knowing him.  Once you saturate yourself with the gospels read the epistles written by Paul and the other apostles.  These are letters written to communities trying to actualize the teachings of Jesus within their local context.  Use these as examples of how to live what Jesus taught in your life today and in our present time.  Lastly, read the old testament.  These help you understand what led up to the coming of Christ and how humanity was being prepared to receive him.  All of these writings bring you into the presence of God who is the ultimate authority in your life.

Now that we know who to obey, Benedict reminds us that obedience is hard work.  It takes effort to be obedient.  In the prologue of the rule he reminds us “By the labor of obedience you may return to Him from whom you have departed by the sloth of disobedience.”  This is another reason we dislike obedience, it takes effort.  Like all the other virtues, to obey God means we have to counter our natural inclination to do what our sin nature tells us and participate in the life of grace.  While nothing we do earns grace, or can save us, the one thing required of us is the most difficult for us to do.  That one thing is to give ourselves over to the work of God.  We must surrender ourselves into the hands of God and allow him to take the clay that we are and form us into what he desires.  Benedict writes in his prologue “To you, therefore, my words are now addressed, whoever you may be, who are renouncing your own will….”  This is the work; this is the difficult task of obedience, to surrender ourselves to the rule of Christ and allow the Holy Spirit to transform our hearts.

Are you ready to be transformed?  Do you desire a life different than you live now?  Will you trust God and give yourself over to him?  Follow the advice of this sage man from the 6th century and willingly give up your will to follow Christ.  Obedience is a virtue acquired by the hard work of surrendering yourself to the legitimate authority of God.  Don’t fall into the trap of believing you can just live as you want and be happy, that’s falling under the rule of a whole different type of tyrant.  Trust Christ, know him in his word and the breaking of bread, and follow him wherever he takes you.  Obedience to God is the first step in living a transformed life.