There are some ingredients in a cake of which you only need a little (i.e. salt), and some of which you need a lot (i.e. flour). With some ingredients, a little goes a long way…you only have to add a pinch or a dash of it to change the taste (i.e. vanilla)— here, in our friendship cake, enters Genuine Affection.
Simply put, without a true care and love for the other person, you will not have a friendship. You may end up having a lot of things, but you will not have a friendship. So then, if affection is so essential to a relationship, what does this look like and how do we get more of it when it is lacking in the friendship?
What is Genuine Affection?
In our culture today, when men or women talk about love and care for each other, it is not long until that conversation quickly is tainted by whispers of romance and sex. For thousands of years, however, men and women have had deep and loving friendships that had nothing to do with sexuality. To talk of having these emotions and feelings of sexuality with one’s spouse (the best friend that one can have) is perfectly okay, but, especially in the culture of the day, talking on these subjects with a member of the opposite-sex becomes misleading and with the same-sex becomes confusing.
Genuine affection does not equal sex or sexuality. Genuine affection is a disposition for expressing positive and gentle feelings towards someone for whom you care deeply. It is warmth, devotion, and endearment towards someone that you care about. For generations, and across cultures, people have had strong friendships that were about caring deeply for their friends without the distraction or perversion of sexuality. Notice just one example from the life of David and Jonathan in 1 Samuel.
“Jonathan made David vow again because of his love for him, because he loved him as he loved his own life.” (1 Samuel 20:17)
Not only is this verse talking about the expression of showing love toward one another, but also that David and Jonathan cared deeply for one another on an emotional level. David’s pains were Jonathan’s pains. Jonathan’s victories were David’s victories – they cared for each other deeply.
Why is Genuine Affection Needed?
Affection is such an essential ingredient because it drives so much of what the person thinks and does as they interact with one another. When you love something or someone, you ultimately will take a specific course of action because of that love. Without that care and love you can be easily diverted.
You can tell what people love by examining their actions and how they think about certain things. Some people love to have a manicured yard. When you look at the time (and money) that they pour into landscaping, talk with them about the upkeep, or they share with you their thoughts about how the yard should look; it becomes clear that they love their well kept yard.
So too are our friendship related affections. It becomes clear what we love when we look at actions and patterns. When the desire is there, when genuine affection for a friend is there, it will motivate and inform how we think and act.
How to Change Your Desires
So then how do we change those desires if we can see that they are lacking? All friendships (including marriages) can suffer from a lack of genuine affection. Some couples hope to make this the end game—they want to feel the love and affection for one another, but they won’t do or aren’t willing to go first. Affections are a byproduct, something that results from something else, and not something that you can directly affect. You can’t just sit on the couch and try to change your desires, nor should you make desire by itself the end goal. Affections are evidence of what exists in your desire. Desires can change out of the knowledge of truth and self-reflecting priority.
Change Your Actions
The first step in changing your desires, if you notice they need to change, is to change how you act. You should seek to put on a love that is self-sacrificing in the same vein that Christ was self-sacrificing (Phil. 2:3-8). Remember those words that described Jonathan and David? They loved each other more than they loved their own bodies. That kind of love was always putting the other person first and was “out doing one another in showing honor” (Rom. 12:10). If you want to change your desires because you see that they are lacking for someone—then the first thing to do is change your actions.
Change Your Thinking
The second thing you will need to do is to change how you think about that person. You will have to fill your mind with the truth of God’s word. Instead of choosing to believe the worst about the person, you will need to choose to believe the best (1 Cor. 13:4). Instead of believing that you are the most important person in the world, you are going to believe that only a life lived in service to others is worth living (Phil. 2:3-4). Instead of believing that you need to put yourself first in the world, you will need to put others first (Luke 9:23). When you begin to do this, when you change how you think by renewing your mind (Eph. 4:23) then you will see that God will change your desires.
There are a lot of ways that you can grow in putting on genuine affection in your friendships. First, consider spending time this week on how well you do at showing and feeling genuine affection for those in your life.
Second, ask yourself if you care about them or do you simply show acts of love because “that is what you are supposed to do?” Wrestle with questions like, “Am I afraid to express feelings of affection? What drives those fears and worries?” Spend time thinking with those thoughts and see what God’s Word has to say about it. Seek to change your way of thinking.
Third, seek to express your affection for friends and push through any fears that you might have to open up your heart. Spend time this week memorizing verses that will lead you to expressing and cultivating genuine affection for another.
A Warning to Remember
Listen to these words from C.S. Lewis about the dangers of cultivating relationships. We must beware of the dangers in our own heart and the temptations to close off our hearts to others.
“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”