“We’ve been grabbing coffee together for a while, then I asked her where she stood in our friendship and she said, ‘We’re just friends.’ When we see each other at school, she avoids me.”

“She flirts with me, and we talk on the phone every week. What gives, are we friends or not?”

“I’ve noticed that my friend gives me more attention than others; do they like me? Or am I crazy?”

“I’m not sure what to do: I’m totally crushing on him, but I don’t want to say something and ruin the friendship.”

As recently as last week, I had a friend share her struggles in maintaining healthy friendships with guy friends. My friend thought all was good, until she wanted to clarify that she saw her guy friend as just a friend. Then poof! He was gone.

Have you experienced the awkward nuance of friendships with the opposite gender? I totally relate. I understand how easy, challenging, calm, fun, surprising, crushing, and messy guy-girl friendships can be. Yet, I’ve been on a journey where I’m learning the benefits and blessings of guarding my heart in friendships.

In university, I found it easy to make friends in my program. We had lectures together, tutorials, could bounce ideas off one another, and ended up spending time together outside of class too. One day, my guy friend from class pulled me aside and asked me out on a date. I definitely didn’t see it coming, and I wasn’t interested in him romantically. As I said no, I feared that our friendship would end and we would have to awkwardly avoid each other. Thankfully, he responded with maturity, kindness, and respect. My brain was so confused: wasn’t being rejected the most awkward thing in the world? Why was he so nice about it?

Little did I know, how much his maturity in Christ influenced the way he interacted with others. During that time, I came across Proverbs 4:23 which reads, “Above all else guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”

If everything we do flows from our hearts, how did my friend express kindness in the face of rejection? This got me thinking: his actions played a major role in protecting our friendship, and our common friends. Instead of resorting to gossip or bitterness, my friend’s response echoed humility and confidence that allowed both of us to maintain solid friendships.

If our actions play a major role in our relationships, and relationships are central to our lives, then we need to guard our hearts to help us towards right thinking and actions with others.

Here are four ways we can walk in guarding our hearts in friendship.

1. Choose God first

Keeping God at the centre of our lives will help us to stay connected to him and view others in light of how God sees them. Only in putting God first will we be able to fulfill our purpose of glorifying God and loving others well.

As we set aside time to meet with our friends, we also need to plan out and spend time with God. We need to pray and impress Scripture into our hearts and minds, so we remember who God is, who we are, what our purpose is, and how we are to live. Remember, the first commandment is “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all of your soul, and with all of your mind” (Matthew 22:37). There it is, God’s calling attention to our heart and its devotion.

2. Deal with any idols in friendships

In guy-girl friendships, loving God first can be tricky.

I had a friendship with a guy where I developed a crush on him. The relationship became a distraction—and I didn’t even notice that until it seemed too late! I thought more about what my friend thought about me, than who God says I am. I sought his approval and lived to please him over God.

Instead of choosing God first, I created an idol out of that friendship. An idol is anything (person, object, place) we choose to worship with our thoughts, words, and actions instead of God. Idols in friendships form when there is a lack of proper boundaries in honouring others as God created them. Instead, it’s tempting to see others as tools to serve our needs, to fulfill our dreams and desires.

Looking back, I wish I spent time thoughtfully reflecting and considering if I was valuing that friendship more than my relationship with God. That can be a temptation with any relationship: guy-girl, girl-girl, or even guy-guy. In any relationship, whether single, dating, friendship, or married, God still needs to be at the centre. Our thoughts, actions, and words need to reflect a pursuit of purity and holiness.

Each time I neglected to keep God at the centre of the friendship, I left my heart unguarded. I allowed that guy friend to take God’s place in my heart and I grew selfish and jealous towards them. I focused on what I could get from the friendship (attention, praise, etc.), instead of walking in the truth that they are God’s child and don’t belong to me.

Dealing with that idol looked like confessing it to God and asking for his forgiveness: forgiveness for valuing and loving something more than him. I had to take my eyes off that crush and off the friendship, and place my focus back on God, his word, and his truth.

I desired to root my identity in Christ, so I wouldn’t be shaken again. I prayed to serve God first, as the hands and feet of Jesus, so others would know his love. I learned that, when we choose God first, we guard our hearts.

3. Surrender everything to God

When we surrender our feelings, friendships, interactions, thoughts, and desires to God, we seek out his voice and truth, and try to obey him.

Dwelling on God’s truth and surrendering all aspects of my male friendships to him, helped guard my heart against selfishness. It also freed me to encourage, pray for, serve with, and send my guy friends on global missions, with the motivating of wanting God’s best for them. It also helped me choose healthy boundaries in my friendship with others.

I am now really thankful for the guy friendships in my life. We’ve helped each other grow and mature in ways that led us both closer to God.

4. Be wise with crushes

I definitely don’t want to discourage anyone from dating, or having a crush on their friend. Having a crush isn’t sinful, but it’s in how we respond and deal with that crush that can be either harmful or helpful. Ultimately we need wisdom from God and godly mentors to help guide us as we navigate those crush/friendship relationships.

A stressful aspect about crushes is that if the person doesn’t reciprocate our feelings, we can feel crushed by our crush. This quote from Paula Hendricks reminds me that,

“Happiness doesn’t come from flirting with or securing a guy [or girl]. Matthew 5:6 tells us we’ll experience true happiness when we hunger and thirst not after guys [or girls] but after righteousness. Matthew 5:8 says the pure in heart are the most happy. They’re the ones who will see God – the one we were made for.” Paula Hendricks, Confessions of a Boy-Crazy Girl.

Paula’s informing us that the joy we seek comes in pursuing holiness and purity, seeking God. The world tells us that if our friend doesn’t like us back, then something is wrong with either us or them, thereby making an enemy out of the person, and letting us sink into a funk. But God invites us to find our joy in him, knowing that one day we’ll experience the greatest joy living in his presence. This Christ-focus inclines us to love without needing to “have” that person/friendship.

Walking in trust

Navigating the nuance of male-female friendships requires a high trust in God and personal knowledge of who he is.

When we send mixed messages to a friend, we can ask God for forgiveness and guidance because he shows us perfect kindness. When we say the wrong thing, we can turn to God and ask for help because his word is perfect. When a friendship sadly ends, we can take our heartache to God because he is our perfect friend.

We are all on a journey of becoming more like Christ. Just like our friends, we are growing and learning. So when you fail in guarding your heart in friendships, fall into God’s perfect embrace and know that you are loved. He gives new mercies every morning and gives endless second chances.

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