By Randy Heacock
Last Friday night I performed a wedding ceremony for a couple in Allentown, PA. The very next day, I led a funeral service in Fairfax, VA. The man who died had recently celebrated 58 years of marriage with his spouse. I hope that the newly married couple will experience that many years (and more) of marriage. Although the thought of losing a spouse is hard, typically – but hopefully after decades of marriage – one of them will eventually find themselves saying goodbye to the other.
In my premarital counseling, I encourage every couple to develop and maintain strong same-gender relationships throughout their lives. I believe it is equally important for all of us to do this, but I think women often are better at it than men.
In Genesis, we read that it was not good for Adam to be alone. I believe this biblical witness from the start names our need for connection with other humans. Our society is infatuated with romantic love and couples, yet both Jesus and Paul call us to a broader community to love and build relationships. Whether married or not, I believe all of us need to develop significant, non-romantic relationships to love and be loved.
The first time this came into focus for me was when a good friend lost his wife to cancer at the age of 48. I saw how his deep friendships nurtured, supported, and gave him strength. I wondered if we place too heavy of expectations on our marital relationships because we fail to develop and maintain other friendships. It is not surprising many marriages struggle when we place such an emphasis for a person to be “the one.”
I have been blessed in my journey as I have developed male friendships. Though I am introvert, I have discovered that I really enjoy hanging out with other men. Whether I am playing basketball, disc golf, working together, or sitting around a table, I find these friendships energizing. As my circle of male friends has enlarged, my life has been enriched.
It has been equally rewarding as this circle of friends has reached far beyond my church/pastoral connections. I believe having friends outside the church has helped be more realistic regarding my expectations towards my faith community. I have learned much from my Catholic friends and from those who do not attend church at all. There are often refreshingly honest conversations on a wide variety of topics. Whether we are discussing parenting, job-related issues or sports, the variety of opinions is welcomed. While I do not often engage, many loud political debates also ensue, where I try to discern what makes it so emotionally charged for those arguing. Through it all, what I appreciate is that all leave as friends and return for more in the weeks ahead.
My wife claims that I am a “fake introvert”. Regardless, I will keep encouraging all to develop same-gender relationships within and beyond the church. It takes time, investment, and even a willingness to be uncomfortable. For me, it has been well worth the effort. I believe it has enhanced me as a follower of Jesus which is good for my marriage and my church.
Randy Heacock serves as a Leadership Minister for Mosaic Conference while continuing in his role as pastor of Doylestown Mennonite Church.