I Love You More Than My Ideologies (Or that Time I Was A Sh*tty friend)

I met Ashley the summer I charted a transatlantic flight to Hungary in order to volunteer at one of my former denomination's bible colleges. We hit it off from the start and once I returned home to Seattle we wrote emails, IMed, and occasionally talked on the phone. Despite being on opposite sides of the globe we quickly became best friends.

When guys I liked (never told her about the girls) didn't seem to notice I was even alive, she did what best friends do best. "It's his loss, Kelsey," she would say over the phone, sounding irritated at how moronic the guy was for not automatically falling head-over-heels for the gangly, socially awkward brunette that was teenage-me.

However, one of the problems with our friendship from the get-go was that because I was older I thought of Ashley as a "little sister in Christ." (Yes, I would've actually said that. Yes, I know how gag-y it is). And as her "big sister in Christ" I felt it was my responsibility to, well, big-sister her. Which is a lot like mothering, only bossier.

I loved her just like she was family, I really did. I would've said, "I love you, so I want what's best for you."

We'd both been raised right smack in the middle of Evangelical Purity Culture. We'd read all the books on "saving ourselves for marriage" and "Christian courtship" and "kissing dating goodbye" and "biblical gender roles." And I internalized it all. Every word. It was what was best for me. It was what was best for her. It was what was best for everyone. No exceptions.

So when Ashley called me up one day to tell me that she was having a summer romance with some gorgeous barista she'd just met I completely panicked. My brain reeled, my heart raced. I didn't know what to do. I didn't know what to say. And I didn't know how to fix it.

I loved her, so I wanted what was best for her.

Unfortunately, I decided to "speak the Truth to her in love" as her "big sister in Christ." Because that's what big sisters apparently do, they just smash right into the middle of something fun, romantic, and maybe even a little bit steamy and stomp all over it like King Kong having a temper tantrum right in the middle of prom night. (Or at least that's how I handled big-sistering. I don't have a big sister, myself, so I can't say if this is par for the course.)

So I wrote her an email. Because truth! Because purity! Because I was her "big sister in Christ," I was her friend, and I felt as if I was going to be personally responsible for any harm (impurity) that may result from this barista-dating business. I pulled out all the stops: quoted bible verses, argued for purity and righteousness, and reminded her of the blessings that come with only dating Christian virgins. And then, to my regret and horror, I pushed send.

I loved her, so I wanted what was best for her.

Maybe she was happy. I don't know. I barely listened as the red sirens in my head whirled. Maybe she was happy. I can't really recall. I don't think I ever knew or even cared. I mean, ideologies were at stake! So what did happiness have to do with anything?

I loved her, so I wanted what was best for her.

We grew apart slowly, and while I never knew how much that letter played a part in it, I know it did. How could it not have?

Near the end of our slowly-drifting friendship I left our denomination, and I began the process of leaving Conservative Christianity and Evangelicalism, too. I wouldn't exactly say I left gracefully. I left with fire in my eyes and third-degree burns on my heart. But as I read books about egalitarianism and feminism, I began to slowly heal. And I tried to get Ashley to be my spiritual and ideological traveling companion, even mailed her a book.

I loved her, so I wanted what was best for her.

I wanted her to come with me because it wasn't safe or healthy there--or at least it wasn't for me. But Ashley didn't join my quest. In fact, last I heard she'd gotten married to a young man within my ex-denomination who was working towards becoming a youth pastor.

It broke my heart that she was going to stay in that god-awful place. A place I wanted nothing to do with. A place I still want nothing to do with. She could've escaped with me, but now she was going to be stuck and married to a youth pastor of all people--a youth pastor within the same denomination I grew up in. It sounded like hell. It sounded like my hell. I was sad, I told myself, because I cared.

I loved her, so I wanted what was best for her.

It's taken me a long time to realize that that isn't love. And to realize that while I was a good friend in some ways, I was also a really shitty friend in others. It was wrong of me to try to cage her in Conservative Christianity, and it was equally wrong of me to try to force her to leave it.

It wasn't until the husband and I had been married for nearly two years that I began to see that that isn't what love looks like, not at all. Love is saying, "I love you now and I love who you're becoming." Love is caring for someone else's well-being more than your ideologies. Love is giving someone the space to reimagine and reinvent who they are, even if that's not what you would've wanted for them. Love is allowing someone to be free.

Check out Kelsey's blog KelseyMunger.com or follow her on Twitter.