Revive Our Hearts Podcast

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The Marks of Counterfeit Friendship

Leslie Basham: Kelly Needham says that counterfeit friendship is hard to identify.

Kelly Needham: It’s convincing, it looks similar, but it’s not the real thing. So we need to figure out, then, what is the real thing and how do we fight for that, because it’s very important to our lives as Christians.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, author of Adorned: Living Out the Beauty of the Gospel Together, for Wednesday, August 28, 2019.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: I am so happy to be able to welcome back to Revive Our Hearts my sweet friend Kelly Needham. You’ve heard her here on Revive Our Hearts before. She’s been on the broadcast before with her husband, Jimmy, who’s a Christian songwriter, recording artist, worship leader. Kelly and Jimmy have become dear friends. They’ve talked about their burden for adoption. We’ve talked about their family, and their kids are here with them today. Kelly, welcome to Revive Our Hearts. The whole family is here up from Texas.

Kelly: Yes, we’re glad to be here with our kids this time.

Nancy: And the weather’s a little different up here than it is down in Texas.

Kelly: It is. But we’re always glad for that change, though.

Nancy: Well, we welcome you, and you’ve been such a sweet friend of this ministry. You blog at the True Woman blog often. You’re going to be speaking at the Revive ’19 conference just around the corner. Are you excited about that?

Kelly: I’m very excited. I love the Revive conference, so I’m happy to be there in whatever capacity. I’m really humbled to get a chance to serve in that way.

Nancy: And you’re one of our Ministry Partners. How thankful I am for that. You and Jimmy have such a heart for the message of this ministry. You’ve been encouragers, prayer supporters, financial supporters. Our hearts beat alike in so many ways. 

I really just feel like you’re part of our Revive Our Hearts family. We welcome you to talk today about a different subject than we’ve addressed before, but one that I think is so important. You piqued my mind and my interest in this a couple years ago when my book first released called Adorned. It’s on Titus 2 older women, younger women relationships. I know you have such a heart for that. 

Kelly: Thanks very much.

Nancy: You’re involved in mentoring younger women and the discipleship of college students. You have such a heart for that. No sooner was the book off the press than you said to me, I think it was in an email exchange, “Did you happen to mention in this book anything about some of the potential dangers or pitfalls of these relationships? How they can get off the track and can go in an unhealthy direction?” 

I said, “Hmmm, no I didn’t.” This book was really long already, and we didn’t have anything on that. I think I may have said I would love to have thought about that sooner, but I didn’t. 

In God’s providence, you had a book on your heart that you were getting ready to write, and now it’s just being released. The book is called Friend-ish. We’re going to talk about what that means in a moment. The subtitle is: Reclaiming Real Friendship in a Culture of Confusion. How did this whole topic of friendship gone awry, you call it friend-ish, how did that even come to be on your radar?

Kelly: Well, I love friendship, and that’s part of the reason that it became a concern to me. God has made me who I am through really great friendships.

Nancy: I’d say the same thing.

Kelly: Friends who love Jesus and have really pushed me closer to Him, that have been a support for me in hard times. 

So when I was in college, I actually had a couple girls that I was mentoring. One of them was struggling with some stuff in a friendship of hers—a different friend that she lived with. I remember almost being shocked in the way that they were enjoying their friendship, that to me it was so unhealthy. But it was the first time I was seeing that.

Nancy: What were some of the things that made you think it was unhealthy?

Kelly: My first concern was when she called and asked me to hold her accountable to how much time they were spending together. She was struggling in her classes. She was not passing because of the hours they were spending together. The way she talked about it felt like an addiction that she couldn’t break free of it. 

She didn’t see it as a problem so much as just something she had to learn to reign in. It became very ingrown. Their loyalty to one another was higher than any other loyalty, even to Christ. It led to some serious sin issues and other things. 

I started to see that pattern happening not just in her. Over the years, I would see people in friendships where the expectations they had of those friendships were different than what I had known in my really great friendships. So it caused me to think, What’s going on here? On the outside it looks good. They’re in Bible studies together. They go to church together.

Nancy: So these are Christian friends? 

Kelly: Christian friends. They’re talking about Jesus, and they have an understanding of “I need community” that’s important. 

Nancy: Which is true.

Kelly: Which is very true. 

Nancy: That is what Adorned was about. The message of women needing each other for their growth and their spiritual development.

Kelly: It’s very, very important for all of us. I would not argue that. So that was the reason I became interested in it. Because I saw this community, good friendships centered on Christ, to be such a valuable thing that what I was seeing happening in these other relationships seemed to be off. 

That was concerning because I wanted those people to enjoy really great friendships. I wanted to continue enjoying those myself. I started doing research, thinking about this, interviewing some of my friends who had been down those paths that had been very negative. Asking them how did that start, when did you start to see a change. So that’s kind of where the idea came from. 

Your book Adorned was a fabulous book, by the way. And it was a really great exposition of Titus 2. Part of the reason that I had anything to say on that was a lot of the negative friendships I had seen happen started as mentorships.

Nancy: Wow.

Kelly: I had seen that happen with a few of my close friends, and that was what prompted that email to you because that had become a concern for me.

Nancy: So what starts out as a really sweet gift and a good thing and healthy and helpful and constructive thing even for spiritual growth, can go awry and can become obsessive, or as you said, ingrown, and become something that is a war zone instead of a place for nurturing and growth.

Kelly: Exactly. I’m so thankful for humility. I don’t know if you remember you actually asked me to read your book and see if there was anything in there that could have unintentionally led somebody astray. I don’t think there was anything that was, but that’s something too, that I want to be like Nancy. 

When people have questions about my own book, I’m really grateful for that and for your concern for that. That was the year too that I think the conference was all on mentorship, so I think that’s why it was heavy on my heart. 

The Lord was growing in me a desire to put the guardrail up on the other side. Yes, we really need this. We need mentors, we need spiritual moms, we need sisters to walk alongside us, but ultimately we need Jesus. Our loyalty is first to Him and foremost to Him. This idea of making a good thing too great or too important isn’t new in any context.

Nancy: It's such a strategy of the Enemy. He takes God’s good gifts and makes them gods. Instead of God capital g, we look to these things . . . It can be sex, it can be marriage, it can be friendship, women friendships, mentoring. These good things that we need, and yet he can by misplaced affection, misplaced priority, make them actually our undoing. 

I remember calling you or contacting you after I had seen this in a college student friend of mine who had contacted me and said, “I’ve become entrapped in this relationship with another college friend.” It had turned into something really unhealthy. They both knew it. It actually ended up with some sexual overtones, and we’ll talk a little bit more about how that can be a pathway for some women. 

But what started out as such a gift and treasure, that we can encourage each other, we can motivate each other, we can help each other in different ways, became really a noose around both of their necks. I’m so thankful you’ve raised this concern, Kelly, and how’d you come up with the title Friend-ish? I think that speaks to what your whole concern is here.

Kelly: Yes. Well, we were looking for a title that would convey there’s something good here but it’s not quite . . . something’s off with it.

Nancy: So you had to make up a word.

Kelly: Actually all credit for that goes to Jimmy, to my husband. He really was behind every title idea that we had. When you think about oh, that wall is reddish. You think it’s not true red. It’s reddish. It’s not quite there. 

The idea was what does it mean to be friend-ish. You look like you’re friends. You’re doing all the right things on the outside, but it’s not quite there in the truest sense of what genuine companionship should be for those who follow Christ. It’s off a little bit. 

Nancy: Don’t you think a lot of this is being influenced by some voices in the culture that are talking about friendship in a way that is different than the biblical concept of friendship?

Kelly: Oh yes, very much so. Especially now that we have social media and a lot of ways for people to watch the lives of other people—godly people and worldly people. We’re seeing that influence, I think, translate even quicker. 

I did a lot of research for this book reading secular books about friendship, trying to hear what some of the voices out there are saying. It was shocking to read what is becoming a new normal for friendship.

Nancy: Explain what that looks like.

Kelly: Sure. I would say some of it too, for context, just comes from we are seeing people not get married. We’re not seeing families, at least in the world, we’re seeing people not get married. We have the largest single population that we’ve ever had in our nation. You have a lot of people who are not getting married and having kids, so they’re looking for a stability somewhere. They’re starting to look to friendship. 

Some of these books that I’ve read are giving examples of friendship that look like a marriage, that actually mimic this idea of marriage: they’re exclusive, they’re very physically affectionate, there’s a lot of possessiveness. I think that for the Christian, that’s something concerning. Our loyalties are first and foremost to Christ.

Nancy: So they’re promoting a brand of friendship that is actually a knock-off of marriage? Would that be a way of saying it?

Kelly: In one of the books that I read for research, the woman talked about her best friend in a way that was trying to showcase how important that relationship is.

Nancy: So the woman’s talking about a female friend?

Kelly: Yes, she’s talking about a female friend, her best friend. She’s trying to showcase, this is how important this is. She’s talking to her husband and says to her husband, “You know I love you, but my best friend so-and-so is my soulmate.” 

The husband’s response, she said, is, “Yes, I know that.” So you’re seeing even a loyalty in some of these friendships that supersedes even their marriages even if they do get married. There’s actually a new, popular wedding photo that’s going around that you’ll see the bride and the groom next to each other. The picture is from the back, and the bride is holding hands intertwined with her maid of honor behind his back.

Nancy: Wow.

Kelly: A lot of the comments about it that you’ll see on Pinterest or other places is, “This perfectly describes my relationship with my best friend.” For some of them, for the world and those that aren’t following Christ, to them marriage is temporary. We’re seeing marriage and divorce rates so high that they don’t see those romantic relationships as being lasting.

Nancy: They think that their girl friendships may outlast their marriage.

Kelly: They do. And for a lot of people that has been true—especially those who are not walking with the Lord. We’re seeing a prizing of that relationship, of friendship. We’re seeing an elevation of it. I think the most unhealthy form of it is usually that really exclusive, “this is my best friend, we’re each other’s best friend” relationship. They’ve formed this little, tight-knit inner circle. It mimics marriage. It’s becoming a normal, celebrated form of female friendship that is getting modeled to younger women and young girls.

As a mom, that’s something that has concerned me. I want my daughters to have good friendships. I pray for that for them. I want them to have intimate, close companionship that’s important for their life.

Nancy: You’re not saying, for example, if you’re married that you don’t have other friendships. Your husband shouldn’t be your only friend. You’re talking about something here that becomes a counterfeit for the good thing God wants us to really enjoy.

Kelly: Exactly. That’s why I like the word counterfeit. A counterfeit of something looks like the real thing. If you talk about counterfeit money, it’s not because it looks like money from Russia; it looks like our money.

Nancy: It’s convincing.

Kelly: It’s convincing. It looks similar, but it’s not the real thing. We need to figure out what is the real thing and how do we fight for that because it’s very important to our lives as Christians.

Nancy: What’s a counterfeit type of friendship that’s concerning you as you’re looking at the lay of the land here? What you see happening in a lot of women’s lives?

Kelly: I think the first one that’s been one of the easiest to see is what we’ve talked about a little bit—mimicking marriage. We don’t see in the Bible any other relationship besides the marriage union that is meant to be exclusive.

Nancy: And permanent.

Kelly: And permanent. Binding. Obviously, if my husband got a job across the country, I’m going with him. That should happen because we are now one flesh. The reason that that’s important for that to remain is because marriage is shadowing something. It’s shadowing Christ and the Church. That is important for us to maintain.

Nancy: The eternal relationship of Christ and His Bride.

Kelly: We need those distinctives to be there. That doesn’t mean we don’t need friends, but it means that our friendships are going to look different than what a marriage relationship looks like. One counterfeit is friendships that mimic marriage; they have the same kind of feel. There’s exclusivity.

Nancy: We even read some about covenantal friendships. Like BFF, meaning we’re committing to each other that this is a long-term relationship. What do you see is a problem with that?

Kelly: Sure. There’s actually a new movement advocating for that from Christians. I think it’s unhealthy, because friendships are not supposed to look like marriage. It puts pressure and expectations on that relationship that are not meant to be there. It often leads people into struggles with same sex attraction. 

In some ways that shouldn’t be surprising if you’re taking two friends and you mimic the marriage relationship. Marriage is meant to be consummated in a sexual union. If we put the language around it of I’m falling in love with my best friend which you’ll see in the world, talking about it that way. Or this is the love of my life, but they’re talking about their best friend, or this is my soulmate. You’re shaping how you think and how you frame that relationship in a way that shouldn’t be surprising that we see people tempted to express their affection in real physical ways that are inappropriate for friendship. 

We need physical touch and hugs from a friend. God has meant for us to be ministered to in that way in appropriate ways. But it easily becomes inappropriate and unhealthy and a form of bondage.

Nancy: My guess is there’s two kinds of people listening to this conversation. There are those who are saying I know exactly what you’re talking about; I’m in that kind of friendship, or I have a friend who’s in that kind of friendship. They’re saying, “Yes, you’re right this is a problem.” 

I think we have some other people, maybe more my generation, who are listening and thinking, What in the world are you talking about? Because that’s not the concept they have and they haven’t seen maybe what you’re talking about. 

I do think it's probably more common among your thirties and down younger women. You’ve seen this with college students. I’ve seen this with college students. Younger single women. But it’s not unheard of with more mature and older women, would you say?

Kelly: No it’s not. In doing a lot of interviews for writing this book, I interviewed people sometimes via email, sometimes over the phone, that were in their forties and fifties. Sometimes these women were married and had been married for a long time, but some were experiencing loneliness in their lives that began to be met in a friend. They just clung really tightly to each other. In some ways probably in the beginning in a healthy way. That there was a really healthy linking of arms. Then it began to become ingrown, and they’re looking to one another for things that they really should only be looking to Jesus for.

Nancy: That’s a key point there. Whether it’s in marriage or friendship with two women looking to that friend, that mate, anyone or anything to meet needs in our lives that ultimately only Jesus can meet.

Kelly: Exactly. That’s a concern in any relationship. You can see that in a parent/child relationship as well. In any human relationship this can happen. I think maybe we’re familiar with the experience of that in marriage. I’m thankful for the marriage books that exist that are helping warn of those things. They’re not demonizing marriage. They’re saying marriage is really important, but it’s not ultimate. 

My heart has been just to communicate the same thing with friendship. Friendship is really important and really needed, but it’s not ultimate. We have the Fountain of Living Waters. In Jeremiah 2, God calls Himself the Fountain of Living Waters. He is the only Fountain of Living Waters. We cannot find the source of living water anywhere else. The concern that He had was His people had left Him to go to broken cisterns.

Nancy: And they can’t satisfy.

Kelly: They won’t satisfy.

Nancy: Not lastingly.

Kelly: Friendship, our children, marriage, ministry, anything else, these good things. But if we’re going to it for life and our ultimate security and significance then it’s going to disappoint. It’s not God. We need friends ultimately to link arms with us to pull us back to the Fountain of Living Waters. I think that’s really the primary counterfeit you see in all it’s expressions is that a friendship begins to lure you away from the living waters of Christ, not toward it.

Nancy: Replacing Jesus, or bypassing Him even while you’re doing Christian things together. 

Kelly: Exactly. I think that’s what’s so tricky about it and why some people don’t see it until they’re too far down the road. That’s why it’s hard in mentorship as well. You’re meeting with another woman, and you’re talking about Jesus, and you’re studying the Bible together. You’re going to Bible studies and you’re doing things together. 

Usually, the first sign of when that has become unhealthy is . . . Let’s say for example that woman who is mentoring you begins to mentor somebody new and you start to feel jealous or concerned that she won’t be your mentor because she’ll be somebody else’s. 

If it is so important to you that that woman is your mentor and only yours, it’s a sign that they’re becoming to you something higher than what a mentor is supposed to be. A mentor is supposed to lead you into more dependency on Christ, not them.

In friendship, too, when that friend makes a new friend, and you’re jealous of them and you’re concerned about that, or that close friend of yours moves away or gets married. You see their season of life changing, their limitations change, and you think . . . Internally, you have that sense I’m not going to be okay if that happens. That’s a sign that something is wrong. 

While there should be grief when a friend moves, that’s healthy. I should grieve when my good friends move away or things change, but I’m not going to be ruined. I have Christ. He’s my Rock. That’s how we should feel about it. 

I think what I see happen a lot is those life stage changes, or those moves, or that friend making a new friend, or something interfering with the friendship is it becomes something that totally distables you, ruins you. That’s a sign that they’ve replaced Christ in some way in your life and that’s not okay. 

The answer is not cling to the friendship tighter. It’s to cling to Christ. It’s not to say that all of that friendship was wrong or negative and something good wasn’t there. It’s just time for a recalibration. We see it happen in a lot of these friendships. But it looks very godly on the outside, that’s what can be so tricky about it.

Nancy: As you’re talking I’m thinking that this may be more of a younger woman phenomenon, but all of us have had issues with friendships in or out of marriage where the friendship has become to us more than it could possibly be, more than it was meant to be. Then we lose the benefit and the goodness and the joy of what was intended to be a good gift. 

I think no matter what age women are, this is a topic that we need to talk about. God made us, not just women, but women and men, He made us to be relational. He made us to function in community, but there’s no such thing as solo Christianity, going it alone. So we’re not talking about rugged individualism here, but healthy, life-giving friendships that point us to Christ instead of causing us to be selfish or asking something of the friendship that it can’t possibly give. 

You said you’ve seen this maybe in some of the women in their forties and fifties. I’m now in my sixties, and I’m thinking through some of my friendships over the years where they moved too much in this direction or there was an unhealthy dependence on that relationship. 

I’ll say something else, moms and grandmoms, a lot of your daughters and granddaughters, college students, young singles are struggling with some of these issues, so you need to understand this so that you can be the right kind of friend to those younger women in your life.

That’s how we first connected on this subject because I came to you, Kelly, and said, “I’ve got a friend who’s struggling with this.” You had written on the subject, you had blogged on it. In fact, I gave my young college friend links to some of your blog posts that you had written for Revive Our Hearts because they were so good. 

She read them, and she said, “This is exactly what I’m going through.” I know it spoke to a need in her life, and I was so glad to have a resource to be able to share with that struggling young woman.

Kelly: Some of why I wanted to write a book it is I realized, as you said earlier, when I would talk to people about this, they were in those two camps. Either they were like, “Finally, someone is describing my life.” 

I got hundreds of emails from women when I first starting writing about this saying, “This is my life’s story, and I’ve never told a soul because I’ve never known how to talk about this. No one’s ever addressed it.” At the same time, a whole other group of people are looking at me like a deer in the headlights going, “What in the world are you talking about?” 

We need each other. The girls that I know that are struggling with this need their moms and their grandmothers. They need their ministry leaders at church to understand this so they can help disciple and train and shepherd them in what healthy community looks like.

Nancy: Well, your book is going to be a great tool in that. We’re going to pick up this conversation tomorrow, but I want to just mention the name again. It’s called Friend-ish: Reclaiming Real Friendship [not counterfeit but real friendship] in a Culture of Confusion. It’s written by Kelly Needham. She’s got a lot of wisdom. 

This is a scripturally grounded book. It’s going to help you think through these issues whether it’s for your life or for the life of someone you’re mentoring or encouraging or a daughter. 

We’re making that book available this week as our way of saying “thank you” when you make a donation to Revive Our Hearts. We’re pouring into the lives of women around the world and addressing subjects like this. Your gift helps us do that. 

So when you make a donation of any amount to Revive Our Hearts this week, we want to thank you by sending you a copy of Kelly’s book. Be sure to ask for it when you call us at 1–800–569–5959. Ask for the book Friend-ish as you tell us that you’d like to make a donation to this ministry. 

You can also visit us online. You can read a transcript of this entire conversation. You can see some other resources we’ve posted there that will be helpful to you as you’re dealing with this subject. When you make your gift, be sure to ask for a copy of Kelly’s book called Friend-ish. That’s the word friend with i-s-h on the end—not quite friend friend-ish. 

We’re going to talk more about what that friend-ishness (there’s a new word for you) looks like when we continue this conversation tomorrow with Kelly Needham. Be sure to join us again here on Revive Our Hearts.

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About the Speaker

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth has touched the lives of millions of women through Revive Our Hearts and the True Woman movement, calling them to heart revival and biblical womanhood. Her love …

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