just friends?

A few months ago, a big story appeared on the national news scene.  Gov. Mark Sanford, governor of South Carolina, disappeared for five days, came home, and admitted to having an affair with a woman in Argentina for the past year.  Sanford said he and the woman exchanged e-mails and the relationship began as a “casual” friendship.

This story reminds me of how easy it is to become involved in an affair.  In our short lives, my and my husband’s circles of existence have already briefly touched a number of people who have been involved in affairs, or have been cheated on.  Those are always sad situations.  Most people’s basic reaction is to criticize the cheater and feel sorry for the offended spouse.   Those emotions may be very appropriate, but I suspect that it’s not always that simple.  I suspect there are times when an affair began with no thought of where it would eventually lead.  While there are, of course, habitual cheaters, I believe that some affairs begin as a simple friendship.  However, at some point that friendship crosses a line, and those involved don’t recognize the change until it’s too late.  Emotional attachments can be strong; one can know what the right thing to do is, but have difficulty actully doing it.

So, without cutting oneself off from every person of the opposite gender outside of one’s spouse, how can a person keep from crossing that invisible line in their friendships with the opposite gender?

Recently, I came across this article called “Can Men and Women Be Friends?” written by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach.  I thought it had some interesting ideas worth sharing.

If a person isn’t married, Rabbi Shmuley says it’s perfectly all right to have friends who are members of the opposite sex. Society has moved away from polarizing the sexes, and today, men and women work together, go to school together and should be able to be friends, he says.

Things are different if you are married, Rabbi Shmuley says. It is possible to have an opposite sex friendship, but you cannot compromise certain borders:

1. You can’t go out to late night dinners together. You can have lunch together in a public place, but you should not order alcoholic beverages. “The embers of attraction really can grow in situations like that, and suddenly it’s not so innocent, it’s not just friendship anymore,” Rabbi Shmuley says.

2. You can’t take long drives or long flights with the other person, even if it’s for work. “Even if you have to work with a colleague [of the opposite sex], there are still certain boundaries you need to preserve,” he says.

3. You cannot place yourself in any situation where romance can grow. “Romance grows when people are alone; romance grows when people tell secrets,” Rabbi Shmuley says.

4. You can’t share secrets with a platonic male or female friend that you don’t share with your spouse. “Because then you’re sharing an exclusivity with a member of the opposite sex that you’re not with your partner, and that can lead to a big no-no,” he says.

5. You should not be friends with ex-lovers.

As a Christian, it’s important to recognize that we are not immune to infidelity issues.  In fact, the devil works harder tempting Christians than non-Christians.  As long as we live on this earth, we will never be free from the temptations of the devil.  Yet it’s a comfort to know that if a relationship does cross the line, it’s still forgiveable, and it’s never too late to give up on a sin and try again to live a God-pleasing life.

Christians know and believe that God is the one who joins two people together in marriage, and if God has joined those two people together, then he will also provide whatever they need to make their marriage work, as long as the hearts of the couple are receptive to him and his Word.  As Matthew 19:6 says, “Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.”

It’s easy to mentally throw stones at someone like Sanford and think “How could anyone DO such a thing?”  But all of us are guilty of sins, sins that we should have known better than to do, and sins that we commit repeatedly.  For most of us, those sins are more private than public.  But we all are born with a sinful nature that makes sin seem natural, and which makes it all too easy for us to commit sins of thoughts, word, and action every day.  Given the “right” opportunity or the presented with the “right” temptation, each of us sin-full individuals are capable of doing practically anything wrong.  So, it’s important to never regard sin lightly, but always know that it’s forgiveable.  As the old phrase goes, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.”  Thankfully, God has forgiven our sins at the cross.  Jesus’ perfect life was done on our behalf, and we now know that when God looks at us, he doesn’t see our sins.  Instead he sees Jesus’ perfect life.

We all sin every day.  We’ll never get over that until we die.  But we are thankful to God because of Jesus, through whose sin-free life and innocent death, we have an eternal home waiting for us in heaven, free from sin and its effects.  We’ll be free at last!  What a day to look forward to!