I was that friend who once dated a non-Christian.
Let me tell you my story. I met the guy through a mutual friend (but not a set-up), and I liked him from the get-go. Having the “must only date Christians” thing drilled into my head, I did my due diligence and asked him about his faith. He told me he was still trying to figure it out—that he did come from a Christian school, he understood how salvation works, but he had a lot of questions and doubts, and attending church hadn’t been all that helpful in answering those doubts.
Any textbook Christian would say that that should have been the end of it. But the naïve me then thought, well . . . we could be “just friends”. But of course, over time it became more than that. He was smart, funny, and (I am sorry to say) way more interesting than any church guy I had met. We could talk about many things, including our beliefs, and he was open to listen to all that I had to say about my faith, even if he couldn’t arrive at the same faith himself.
I also never tried bringing him to church because I loathed the idea of “missionary dating” and did not want him to “convert” for the sake of a relationship with me. I wanted him to come to know God for himself, and I believed that our entanglement should have nothing to do with that decision.
This whole thing went on for a year before I finally told my friends about it, and only when it became clear to me where I was headed—that at some point, I was going to end up committing to that relationship, and I was sure that it would compromise my relationship with God. It would’ve been easy to find ways to justify it, to say that they wouldn’t come into conflict, but the Spirit convicted me that I could not have an honest, growing relationship with God if this area in my life was going to be “off-limits” to Him.
I knew we needed a clean break, but it was going to be a very painful decision that I couldn’t make on my own.
So I chose two friends to confide in because I knew they would listen, and they would not be quick to scold or judge me. Beyond that, I also trusted them enough to tell me what I needed to hear.
I can’t remember the exact words they said, but I do recall there being a lot of compassionate listening and prayer involved. After listening carefully to me and looking at me with understanding and empathy, I remember one of them said gently, “I know that you know what should be done.” That mattered a lot too, because they treated me like an adult and trusted me enough not to lecture. They also didn’t try to minimise my struggle, nor did they give me a free pass.
Instead, they prayed for me and asked God to bring the comfort and conviction that only He could give. It wasn’t a one-off prayer. They said many prayers with and for me, to continue to hear God speak, to have ears and heart that will listen.
They also kept me accountable by asking how things were every now and then. They didn’t give me a deadline to end things or hand out any ultimatums. Instead, they encouraged me to keep pursuing God, to wrestle with Him in prayer, and remain open to His Word.
In time, God heard and answered their prayers. After months and years of struggling, I eventually encountered God in such a way that I could not refuse Him. What God impressed on me was this: Do you love me more than anything you have, more than anything I could give you? Can you trust me with your happiness? Am I enough for you?
I couldn’t say no to all that, so as painful and heart-breaking as it was, I gave up the relationship.
The ultimate question is…does HE come first?
Not everyone’s story is the same, and I have talked to four different people who are in some version of this kind of relationship, where one’s a believer and the other isn’t, or isn’t very serious about it. And from what I’ve gathered from these stories (mine included), the problem goes deeper and reveals one of two things:
- They aren’t as serious about God as they think they are (they believe in God and trust that Jesus has saved them from their sins, they go to church and attend Bible study, but the rest of their lives is their own business)
- They can’t—or don’t—really trust God with their happiness.
I know what it’s like to have these struggles. I didn’t want to give up my happiness, and I couldn’t trust that God would really provide someone for me. At one point, I was subconsciously seeking God with an ulterior motive, thinking that if I did enough of it, He would answer my prayer and grant my heart’s desire by ‘converting’ the guy. But eventually, God made it clear to me that in all my pursuits, I had made Him the means to the end that I wanted.
Through my own struggle, I learned that these are questions that the person who’s struggling must answer for themselves, and as the friend, we cannot answer these questions for them by launching into a lecture or bludgeoning them with Scripture.
I’m not saying that as friends, we can’t or shouldn’t say anything. We are commanded to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15), and to that end, there are ways we can encourage our friend and steer them towards the truth. But also know this—the depth of your relationship goes a long way in helping you reach your friend. Do you have that level of trust needed for you to talk about this?
In my case, since I was not as close to these four people as my friends were to me, I couldn’t really engage them to the same extent. That said, they had at some point given me an opening by talking about their relationships, which has allowed me to listen and ask them questions. I tried to understand where they were at in their relationship, what was it about this person that compels them. I asked them if they had any reservations, if they can foresee any trouble that may arise.
But aside from that, I also tried to ask them where they’re at with God, and encouraged them to really seek Him and remain close to Him. Where I’m given the space to do so, I try to share my own experiences, of how God moved me and enabled me to make the decisions I’ve made. Through these conversations, I hoped to challenge them to consider how this relationship reveals where they are with God, and how important He really is to them.
Finally, learning from my friends’ examples, I try to pray for them as often as I remember.
I wish my support as a friend to these people were as “successful” as my friends had been, but I know that convicting people is ultimately the Holy Spirit’s work, and just like with preaching the gospel, our job is not to change people’s mind but to say the truth and show love.
I write all these from my experience and share them not as prescriptions, but as cautious suggestions for how to continue to be a friend—to love them, journey with them, get to know the person they’re seeing, and involve them in your life.
In other words, I believe—and you may disagree with me here—that we shouldn’t end friendships over this. I’m sure there are resources out there that will be better written and will disagree with this, and by all means, read them and prayerfully consider them.
But for me, I think of my non-Christian friends and how our friendships are not conditional on sharing the same belief. If I can continue to care for them, should I not continue to care for my Christian friend? Will shunning and abandoning her be a good thing to do?
Though there’s no easy answer, I think there are ways to stand by our friends and love them even when we don’t agree with their choices. To let them know that we will always care for them, and that it is still our desire, as their friends, to help them keep their faith to the very end.