I met my new friend, Henry, about a year ago. Great guy, my age, married with a daughter slightly older than mine — he was literally another me as far as life situations go. My prayer for connection with someone in my exact life state was placed on a silver platter in my church.
In every other way, though, Henry and I are different. OSA guy from a small town, no major struggles with sex or lust, no mental illnesses, still close with his parents and siblings, into the stereotypical man stuff — a seemingly ideal everything. Literally my opposite.
After our first conversation, I wondered if we would ever be able to talk again, considering our differences. One day, my new friend and I were talking as he expounded upon his dilemma: should he stay working at the church or quit to pursue his small business? His clientele was increasing; it would be plausible to live off his business. He brought it up to me, seeking my advice.
Initially, I was happy to counsel my friend.
But an undercurrent of emotions distracted me. I held my tongue. My best advice waited behind what I really wanted — for him to stay.
But I knew that was a selfish wish. That would seek my best interest, not his.
Why do I want him to stay here? Why am I feeling desperate to keep him here? What about his potential leaving bothers me? Is it emotional codependency? Physical attraction? Actual concern? I‘ve known him less than a year. Should I care this much? Will his absence even make a difference? Can someone have that much influence on my life in such little time?
Henry is a wonderful guy. Extremely caring and highly intelligent. Despite our crazy differences, he stuck around. A few months ago, I came out to him and told him my entire story. He listened and responded lovingly.
Recently, Henry has been helping me as I craft plans for my future ministry career. With my church refocusing my role toward counseling and potential for LGBT outreach, Henry has been invaluable. He has listened, advised, and prayed for me these past few months. We’ve even dedicated to meeting once a week to read the Bible and discuss God’s Word together.
So, he’ll no longer be in the office. What difference does that make? Will his moving out of the city change much?
As Henry finished his spiel, he looked at me. His expectant eyes bore through me.
I wanted to tell my new friend not to go. I wanted to tell him to stay at our church. To stay with me. I wanted to throw my arms around him and thank him for everything — for listening, for caring, for challenging me.
Why can’t I say what I know I need to say?
Everything in me screamed to tell him I am so thankful for him, and I don’t want to lose him as a dear new friend.
Is this love or something more? Did I let myself feel something wrong? What the f*** is going on in my head?
I prayed quickly. Only God could give me the words I needed.
I have to tell him what You want, God. Not what I want.
A half hour later, Henry expressed gratitude for my thoughts. We both knew what he should do. And I wanted to beg him not to do it.
Is he aware how this will affect me? Does he care about that? Will he even want to stay friends after he leaves?
I walked away from our meeting and headed to a coffee shop out of office.
Time and space — that’s what I need. Just some time and space.
As I sat down with my liquid caffeine, I unfolded my thoughts. Henry has meant so much to me because of our differences. He has become a dear new friend despite our having so little in common. And my emotions — those aren’t from something bad or wrong.
They come from the fact that, in that moment, I didn’t want to counsel my new friend. I just wanted to be his friend.
I had to cross that line — the conflict of interest line — between counselor and friend. It’s what separates someone with whom I should share an emotional connection and someone with whom I should share a professional connection.
For a moment, I had to feel both sides: the emotional weight of a dear new friend wanting to leave our common workplace and the objective weight of guiding someone seeking advice.
God, help me bear this. Please help me process this in the healthiest way possible.
Now I know why those lines exist. It’s not just for the safety of those counseled; it’s also for the well-being of those doing the counseling.
Ultimately, Henry will make his own decision. And no matter what, I will always be thankful for his friendship.
To be continued . . .
Have you ever struggled to give advice you didn’t want to give to a friend? Has an old or new friend left you or contemplated leaving for a better opportunity?
Back in 2016, I told a new guy at our church of my past. I didn’t know why. I was still coming to grips with my past with my memory coming back. He was still a fairly new Christian, and had found God in prison. He was a former drug addict and ran with gangs in Los Angeles. He understood, as he had even indulged once while high on drugs. I could tell him anything, even for my love of David Wells and how terribly I missed him. He would talk about how he made methamphetamine in a garage and his illicit criminal activity. Before the stroke, I never would have associated with someone like this; now he was my best friend. Then out of the blue, he got a job as a prison guard in another state. He was going to have to leave. I promised him I would be stoic (he knows how emotional I can be). Unfortunately, I had to break that promise when I said goodbye. I became a blubbering snotty mess. I didn’t want him to go; but that would be selfish of me. God has so changed his life, to now he was a guard rather than being a prisoner, and all I could think about was myself. I helped his load up the moving truck as best as I could, and then wept as he left. Still, it was the best thing for him.
Thank you for sharing your story, Bradley. I’m sorry your friend moved but thankful you were able to support him during that time.
I’m usually pretty good at separating the 2, and it’s something I have to be intentional in because it is hard and for that reason I give advice to friends obviously but try not to be their pastoral care person. And many times there are also seasons in our relationships – many times my students or people who I have officially pastored have become good friends of mine and I try to back off of that caregiver role. It also becomes difficult when the relationship is close to that of a parent and child, but over the years it’s been something I’ve improved upon.
the time that it pertained to my sexuality though, was kind of pivotal for me. Like, it was that tug in both directions that made me stop and realize that something else was definitely up. I wasn’t her main caregiver, but our friendship was a mentor-like and I had myself convinced that all I did for her was in her best interest (and it usually was), but one day God confronted me as to why what she was saying was affecting me soo strongly and blurted out, “I just don’t want to lose her.” And while me really facing my feelings for her came later on, that moment was when I was like “my judgement is clouded and I need to pull away.” I wanted to deny it, but it was my hero complex in full swing. and it really hurt because I didn’t want to admit that and I really did want the best for her in the hardship she was experiencing, but it’s like those critical moments where they don’t let doctors operate on family members in the movies. I was cautious before that but that moment really woke me up and made me face myself and realize that I couldn’t save her no matter how much I wanted to and wanting to was what was actually preventing me from being helpful.
Thank you for sharing your story and experience, Ashley. Like you, I try not to be my friends’ pastoral care person. It’s tough though when the line gets crossed- usually it’s my own fault for crossing it though. I want to help too much. 🙂
One of my closest friends (the first person and one of the few I have ever shared this part of my life with) was contemplating a move to a
different city for study. I remember being torn over many prayers in both genuinely wanting what was best for him even if it meant moving away and not wanting my friend to leave even if it meant him not getting a spot. Ultimately, I reached the point where I couldn’t put myself and what I wanted over him and what God wanted for his life, and made my peace with and focussed my prayer on (correctly, I think) wanting God to be in charge of that process and wanting the best for my friend, even if it meant him moving away.
I know that tension well- I’m glad you were able to work through that and trust God in it.
[…] God brought me here just to meet you,” my new friend, Henry, said plainly. “I mean, it’s probably not just for that reason, but who […]
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[…] am a poor judge at gauging how my posts will be received. I once wrote a heartfelt blog about my friend Henry: 7 comments. Oh well. I also wrote a more lighthearted post about a guy […]
What a rough time! Just food for thought: Paul and Barnabas splitting up, Paul and Timothy’s mentoring, and Paul being called to Macedonia. It seems like we never know where we are going to be sent. I struggle with wanting to connect with every one (specifically men) around me and taking leadership roles. Other times I picture myself venturing out to the wildernesses of the world with just a Bible. When things get worst I wish I could be a monk in monastery avoiding all the challenges around me. Recently, some of my friends have started to get married, and I didn’t think I would ever experience such a sharp break in our connection. Yet, on I trudge believing it my duty to seek joy in the work of the Lord…*grimace*.