By JASMIN HOWELL
I preface this article by saying I have always been incredibly social and I love people. This quality has been a blessing in my life the more I have learned to speak and act in relationships with wisdom, but in my youth it sometimes got me in trouble. I have such excitement and joy being around others, but as I grew from a young girl into a young woman, I was not overly cautious with how I expressed my excitement, or to whom — particularly in my friendships with guys. No, I have not always had discretion or wisdom in my relationships, but I am thankful that I can stand with Paul who expressed his gratitude for the saving work of Christ, and say, “…thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15:57).
As a little girl, I always preferred the company of boys and I always had plenty of boys whom I considered friends. In my young mind, boys seemed more reliable. It was confusing to me that one day a girl would be my friend, but the next day she was an enemy. Girls seemed flippant, and I didn’t ever know what to say to other girls because I was afraid of them. But with boys I could just be myself. I didn’t understand or enjoy the emotional games girls played or the way they talked behind each other’s backs. They would laugh together and have fun, but behind closed doors, they were exceptionally mean to one another. When all the girls in my class wanted to make bracelets or be hall-monitors, I wanted to go outside and play soccer. So I played soccer with all the boys in the class. I became their buddy and blissfully thought I could exist in a carefree world of boys without consequences.
Then came Danny. My best friend and I would ride our bikes with Danny and his friend Kenny. In the summer months before grade six, the four of us would go everywhere together. We had a blast, but then one day Danny handed me a note. It read, “Dear Jasmin, I really like you. Do you want to be my girlfriend?” What?! This wasn’t supposed to happen. I was grossed out and wrote him a note back, with all of the eleven-year-old tact I could muster, that read, “Dear Danny, I really like you as a friend, but I don’t like you the way you like me.” It was the first time I realized that maybe being friends with boys was more complicated than I had originally thought. This happened time and again throughout my school years. Couldn’t we just be friends? I began to become familiar with saying the words, “Sorry, but I only like you as a friend.” Was it really possible to only be friends with a guy?
When I graduated high school, I started to realize something that I hadn’t before. My enjoyment of the friendship translated to the guy, “I think you’re fun, and I like being with you.” My natural excitability translated as, “You are really exciting and amazing!” And my carefree attitude unfortunately blinded me to the fact that the other two messages were being delivered helter-skelter everywhere I went. For years I had remained completely and totally naive. In truth, I may have chosen to be naive because I didn’t want to address the possibility that my actions contributed to the problem. This naiveté caused me no little discomfort when the burden of responsibility fell on me to say, “I’m sorry, I only like you as a friend” and back pedal out of the friendship. It always led to tricky situations with guys which I afterwards wished I had avoided.
The Bible uses these strong words for a girl like I was: “As a ring of gold in a swine’s snout, so is a lovely woman who lacks discretion” (Prov. 11:22). Doesn’t sound very beautiful, does it? But what does it mean to have discretion? Discretion comes from the word discreet, which is defined as “being careful and using good sense in our speech or actions towards others.” This verse shows that being guarded and careful is valued and wise in God’s sight. It protects us and those around us and is the guard we place on our hearts which allows Christ to cultivate in us “the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God” (1 Pet. 3:4).
Even in mere friendship, our words, interactions, and dress are all saying something and can give a guy hope for more than friendship; in my case, my overenthusiastic nature needed to be tempered with a careful spirit towards the guy involved. How were my actions going to affect him? Throughout my teenage life until I later met my husband, I had a thought in the back of my mind that if a guy misinterpreted our friendship and decided that he wanted to date me, it was not my responsibility that he felt that way. He was the problem by reading too much into the situation. What I didn’t know was that I was sometimes sending mixed messages. Because of how God designed the male/female relationship primarily for marriage and intimacy, the nature of our interactions with guys are constantly communicating something.
So how can we exert carefulness in our friendships with guys? As I discovered time and time again, being a too-friendly-friend with a guy and interacting with him without a guard on my actions, words, or enthusiasm created a lot of unnecessary confusion for my “guy friends” and for me too. The thing about being friends with a guy is that “…neither is man independent of woman, nor woman independent of man, in the Lord” (1 Cor. 11:11), meaning that our interactions with each other have a reciprocal impact. At some point I realized that in my heart there was the matter of what my true focus was in looking for friendships with guys in the first place. As a young woman growing in the Lord, I realized that my friendships with Christian guys almost always came with an unspoken question. It is the same question that many girls have in their minds when a new guy enters their world — Is this the one? In an attempt to sort out that answer for myself instead of trusting God’s plan and waiting for it to unfold, I entered into friendships with guys to investigate if perhaps they had the character qualities I was searching for.
When God began to unearth the heart at the root of my intentions, I saw that I opened the door to friendships to see if there was the possibility for more. When I discovered there wasn’t and the guy didn’t have the kind of character I longed for — which was most often the case — it was impossible to take back the things I had said or done in the friendship or the emotional time and energy I had invested. Putting my heart on the line was emotionally exhausting. Looking back on my life, I cannot think of a single time I became friends with a guy without the thought, Is he the one? crossing my mind at least once. Though I maintained my physical purity until marriage — in fact, my husband was the first man I ever kissed — purity is not merely a physical notion, and that is where the idea of discretion is vitally important for us as girls. Each time we open the door to friendship with a guy, we open the possibility for a deeper relationship. This deeper, intimate relationship found within marriage is a beautiful design and the wise teacher in Proverbs gives us guidance for how our priorities are to be in this area of our life: “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life … Let your eyes look directly forward, and your gaze be straight before you. Ponder the path of your feet; then all your ways will be sure” (Prov. 4:23-26 RSV). Our responsibility is to “keep our heart with vigilance,” which means that we must act as watchmen over our own hearts and “ponder the path” of our feet. How are we walking in our relationships? What are we thinking about? What is the focus of our thoughts and our emotions?
Friendships with guys can be blessings and a lot of fun — many marriages are the result of God-given friendships. When both a guy and a girl enter into a friendship with discretion and a guard on their hearts, then there is the possibility for a God-led friendship to blossom into more as He leads. This was the case with my husband Mike and me. We maintained a friendship for four years, but we often hung out together with our families or with larger groups of people. We had the opportunity to observe and enjoy each other within the context of others, and were always incredibly guarded about being together alone because we both had a desire to honor our future spouse — we didn’t know our friendship would lead in our marriage to each other. It was the only guy friendship in my life that grew into a romance because it did not begin with an “investigation,” but with a heart to honor God. Both Mike and I were at the place where, though our admiration and affection for each other grew and our friendship became more and more enjoyable, we walked with careful steps — with a guard on our hearts, our words, and our interactions with one another. Only with our eyes fixed on Christ can a friendship with a guy ever produce the fruit that brings God glory. If we trust that He can bring the one into our lives, then we don’t have the need to engage guys in friendships to test the waters. When we keep our eyes forward and set our gaze on Christ, He leads us away from a path of self-serving behaviors in our friendships with guys and leads us instead to the path of life, where our delight and satisfaction is first and foremost Christ.