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Life Is Not a Solo Sport

by Mike Baird via Flickr

by Mike Baird via Flickr

At first glance, running a half marathon (or writing about running a half marathon!) would seem to be a strictly individual endeavor. Whether you picture me enduring mile after mile a lone figure during a training run (which I have done) or up at 2am feverishly typing away on my iPad when inspiration strikes me (as I am doing right now!), it seems like strictly solo work.

Is my running a solo sport? Is my writing? Far from it! If I were just relying on myself, there is absolutely no way I would have crossed the finish line of my first race, or my first book, or my first anything worth doing in this life.

The Blessings of Friendship

I admit it: I need my friends. I need them everyday. I need them in every way. They are not a good option or an added bonus to my life: they are absolutely essential. I wouldn’t even try living life without them. My bottom line: life is not a solo sport. I need the blessings of my friends.

My friends give me encouragement. I can’t count the times when I had decided that it just wasn’t worth the effort to train to run 13 miles when I would hear someone ask how my running was coming. It seemed like there was always someone there when I needed it. I’ve had the same experience while writing this book– every time the project would just seem so overwhelming, a patient would tell me how blessed they were by my writing and ask if I was writing a new book. Without the encouragement of our friends, none of us would make it to our finish lines.

I don’t know about you, but I am also constantly in need of guidance. It’s so easy to get distracted and get your priorities off course. That little side path looks like a good idea, but if you keep following it you will end up in the middle of nowhere or worse. A good friend will know just what to say or do to get your perspective back on track.

Hope is hard to come by without faithful friends. When things look bad, and you start looking down that tunnel with no light and no end ( “Why am I doing this to my body? Am I crazy to be trying to run 13 miles? This is just never going to work. What’s the use anyway?”) it takes flesh and blood, someone you trust & who genuinely knows you & cares for you, to be able to look you in the eye and say, “You can do this. I believe in you.”

In the same way, strength & courage to persevere are what friends are for too. If I had no friends cheering me on, what would have kept me going when the way got tough and I could have just stopped? There is a force I can tap into more powerful than any Powerade or runner’s energy snack, and that is the power of true friendship.

When things don’t turn out as I planned, it takes a true friend to give true comfort. Comfort that truly heals a broken heart doesn’t come from a bottle or a burger or a book (even one written by a brilliant physician!). Real comfort comes from someone who really loves you, and no way else.

And at the finish line (& everywhere in between), who do you want to share joy with but your friends? When we achieve that goal we have strived for, how much sweeter it is when shared with the people who have encouraged & strengthened & comforted & been with you every step of the way? Why would I ever want to cross a finish line without the joy of true friends?

The Blocks to Friendship

When you think about it, why would you ever want to live life as a solo sport? And yet we often end up “running solo” more often than we would care to admit. Friendships are essential, and yet seem so hard to develop. Why is that? Maybe you can identify with some of these blocks on the road to friendship—

Pride: We’ve all felt this in our hearts– “Ewww— look at him, look at her. I mean, they’re, well, I just don’t think they’re my type.”–which is to say (whether we voice the words or not) we think we’re better than them, maybe just a few rungs up the ladder, in looks or intelligence or status or maturity or whatever. If you think they have nothing to offer you— they probably don’t. They have better things to do than spend their time with a prideful person. My advice: get down on your knees, and take a hard look at your heart. It needs an attitude adjustment before you’re ready to be a true friend.

Shame: Being a friend means being real. It means admitting we don’t have it all together, that we’re not the Superman or Wonder Woman we want to portray to the world. Well guess what– no one is. There’s hardly a day that goes by in my office that the tissue boxes in my patient rooms don’t get used. We’re not made of steel, and life can be hard, and that goes for everybody. So let’s drop the facade, drop the shame & the pride, and be willing to admit to another needy, imperfect human being that we need them as a friend.

Fear: Everyone has experienced looking for a friend and getting an enemy instead. To be a friend means to trust someone & become vulnerable. Sometimes that trust is richly rewarded, but sometimes out of ignorance, sometimes out of malice, our trust is betrayed. After you’ve been burned, it’s hard to reach out again without that fear of being hurt again. There’s no solution to this one: the only way to not get hurt is to never open yourself up. We aren’t meant to live alone. We have to keep telling ourselves that it is worth the risk.

Busyness: We live lives of frantic busyness, filled with work, filled with distractions. Our culture doesn’t lend itself well to making deep, rich friendships. Forming friendships take time, and lots of it. I don’t have any truly treasured friends that I have not invested dozens of hours in their lives. And I don’t mean dozens of hours just being in the same room belching during a football game either– I mean hour after hour talking about things that matter– hopes & dreams & faith & fears. I mean hours spent hiking down a forest path, enjoying a relaxed meal, or working on something with true value & purpose together. It takes time to forge the bonds that allow you to get past the pride & the shame & the fear to a oneness that can freely give & receive.

Which brings me to the last block to friendship: isolation. You add pride & shame & fear & busyness all together, and you get the scourge of our society: isolation. Isolation is a horrible malady, draining the life and vitality from our bodies and our souls. But isolation is the natural path we all drift towards unless we specifically fight against the pride, shame, fear & busyness in all our lives.

The Best of Friendships

Looking over my lists of the blessings of friends and the blocks to friends, I can see that both lists also apply to the best of my friends: God. Yes, I know it’s a cliche to talk about God as being your best friend, but when I take an honest look at what a friend is and what I receive in friendship— love, encouragement, guidance, comfort, strength, joy— what relationship gives me those things more than my relationship with God? Every day He loves me, guides me, strengthens me, comforts me. There is not a moment where He is not there to talk to, listen to, share every part of my life with.

Unfortunately, the same blocks to human friendship apply to how we relate to God as well. Our pride and other sins keep us from acknowledging our need for Him. Our shame keeps us from coming to Him when we’ve screwed up. Our fear that maybe He doesn’t love us or won’t care for us makes us hesitant to fully trust Him. And oh yes, time in His presence, which we each need daily to renew & deepen our friendship with Him, is usually the first thing to get crowded out when our schedule gets too busy. The end result is increasing isolation from God, instead of the increasing intimacy which we so desperately need.

With both human friends & with God, we can run two paths in life: the natural path of isolation, which certainly seems easier to follow, but leads to despair and a meaningless existence. Or we can choose the hard path of forging real friendships, which can be long and hard, but is full of rich rewards.

Which path have you been running? I challenge you to run the path of reaching out and forming real friendships that will bring strength & hope & comfort & joy, both for you and your friends. And I challenge you to truly treat God as your best friend, get beyond your blocks, open yourself up to His love & care, & invest the time daily to make His friendship the most precious one of all.

Acceptance

hug love acceptance friendship I ran into a little piece of inspirational art with the words,

“Just for the record there isn’t a thing I would change about you!”

Now, are those the words of deceitful flattery or foolish naivete?

Hopefully, neither.  When spoken in truth by a true friend, they are words of acceptance, words that say, “I know you aren’t perfect, and that you will continue to grow as a person, but I accept who you are right now, as you are, fully, without reservation.”

Acceptance. One of the most beautiful gifts we can give or receive.  And yet we more often feel the sting of conditional approval or even of outright rejection than the healing balm of acceptance.

Why is that?  Why is it hard both to accept and feel accepted in our relationships, fully and without reservations?  I see three common barriers to giving and receiving acceptance in our relationships:

  1. Lack of intimacy
  2. Failed expectations
  3. Hurt from wrongs

The first barrier is lack of intimacy.  I can easily go up to a complete stranger and say, “I accept you just as you are!”  The words won’t be hard to say, but they won’t have much impact on the person’s soul.  Why not?  Because I don’t really know that person. 

Our hearts instinctively realize that the only way to fully accept a person is to fully know a person, and that doesn’t happen very often in our society today.  One reason is that we don’t make the time to develop close soul friendships, to fully know other people.  The most meaningful words of acceptance I have had in my life are from people I have known for years and have spent many hours intentionally strengthening and deepening the friendship.  That takes time, effort, discipline, and a focus on the clear goal of increasing soul intimacy.  It doesn’t just “happen” unless you intend for it to happen.

The second reason we have a lack of intimacy is that we put on false faces & fronts of what we think other people want to see or what we want to be.  We think that by hiding behind a mask we will feel better because people will then accept us. Yet when someone accepts a mere charade of who we really are, then we often feel worse, not better. But when someone truly knows our soul, the strengths and the weaknesses, the gold and the dirt, and knowing all looks at us and says, “I accept you” —whoa, that’s powerful, that can change a life.

Jesus was a master in human relationships.  He intentionally engaged people at a soul level, and people knew he accepted the realthem. Take Peter the fisherman.  Overwhelmed at Jesus’ holiness and his sinfulness, Peter said, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”  He was saying, “I know you won’t accept me, I’m not worthy to even be in your presence.”  And yet Jesus became his closest friend.  Throughout the Gospel accounts Jesus is befriending tax collectors & prostitutes.  One religious leader harrumphed, “If he knew what kind of person she was he wouldn’t be allowing her to touch him.”  But the beautiful thing was that Jesus did intimately know others, in all their beauty and ugliness, and accepted and loved them.  So should we.

But we often don’t, partially due to the other two barriers to acceptance: failed expectations and hurt from wrongs.  We all know well the sting of unmet expectations: the friend who forgets to call, the spouse who isn’t nearly as caring as they were before the wedding, the son who drops out of college.  We have our image of what a friend or a coworker or a lover should be, and when the real person comes up short, then the coldness of disappointment appears.  Coldness brings distance, and the relationship can slowly die.  It can be one big disappointment, or a whole series of small ones, but the end is the same.

The key to overcoming failed expectations is not to judge people, not to set up the law that they must follow, and then act as judge, jury, and executioner of the relationship.  Jesus once taught on the poison of judging each other:

Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. (Matthew 7:1-5)

In Romans 14:4 Paul also taught against judging each other:

Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.

So, we are taught to not judge, to not compare people to our personal list of how they ought to be, because #1 we do not have clear sight to see their situation and #2 it is God’s place, not ours, to judge, to reprove, & to guide.  We are not their judge, and we are not their master, and they are not our servant. We are simply their friend, and we have to let go of expectations in order to accept them. There is no other way.

The final barrier is the barrier of hurt.  If we are close enough, for long enough, we will hurt and be hurt at the hands of each other.  We all make mistakes, sometimes trivial, sometimes devastating.  And often the deepest wounds are those given by close friends and family.  How do we get past those hurts to acceptance?

There is only one way: forgiveness. We cannot accept if we cannot forgive.  Here another Biblical character can teach us much: Joseph.  Beaten and left to die by his own brothers, then sold by them to be a slave. He ended up separated from all that he loved and cherished, in lifetime imprisonment for a crime he did not commit. 

Years later, he finally meets his brothers again, but this time as the regent of the most powerful nation on earth.  One word, and he can imprison, torture, execute, or enslave them.  But what does he do? He weeps & kisses them, and gives them the finest land in Egypt as a gift.  He chooses to forgive them, freely, fully, and accept them.

His brothers, even years later, had a hard time believing and accepting Jacob’s forgiveness.  When their father Jacob died, they thought Jacob’s acceptance would end:

When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “It may be that Joseph will hate us and pay us back for all the evil that we did to him.” So they sent a message to Joseph, saying, “Your father gave this command before he died,  ‘Say to Joseph, Please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you.’ And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father.” Joseph wept when they spoke to him. His brothers also came and fell down before him and said, “Behold, we are your servants.”  But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God?  As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.  So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them. (Genesis 50:15-21)

Joseph’s forgiveness and acceptance was unchanging. Why? Joseph himself gives the reason:  his foundational trust in the goodness of God. Joseph knew the original evil intent of his brothers, but also knew that God’s hand was upon him (“you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good.”)  Resting in God’s providence is the firmest foundation for a loving and lasting forgiveness and acceptance.

Acceptance.  It’s not easy. Are we willing to take the time to invest in each other’s lives, take down the false faces, drop the expectations, forgive the hurts?  I hope we are, every day, for only then will we give and receive the life-healing gift of acceptance in our lives.

Three Kinds of Buckets

splash by bubble_gum via flickrIn his book How Full is Your Bucket?, Tom Rath makes the point that everyone has an invisible “bucket” that gets filled both from words and acts of kindness that others do to us and from when we serve others.

On further reflection, I think in reality that we encounter people with three different kinds of buckets.  Most people you will encounter today have what I call a buddy bucket.  As you give of your time, an encouraging word, a small favor, or even a smile to a person with a buddy bucket you will (most days) get the same in return.  Both of you benefit from the “drops” of kindness that you put in their bucket.  What do you do with a buddy bucket?  Keep filling it up, and you will help both them and you.

However, you also have people in your life that have broken buckets.  It seems that no matter how many “drops” that you put into their lives, they don’t reciprocate.  If anything, being around them seems to drain your own bucket.  People with broken buckets often have them for a reason— there may be people or events that caused a deep crack in the bottom of their soul that neither you or even they are aware of.  What do you do with a broken bucket?  Keep filling them, pray for God to heal their hearts, ask God for more “drops” for you when you are around them, but be wise that they don’t completely drain you dry.

The third kind of person in your life has a blessed bucket.  You have a connection, a kinship with these people that you can’t put into words, but as the two of you pour into each others’ lives the water seems to grow and grow until both buckets are just spilling over and you’re laughing as you’re throwing buckets of water at each other and it never seems to run out.  These are the people that help you be ready to fill the buddy and the broken buckets that are around you.

So, who are your buddy buckets?  Your broken buckets?  Your blessed buckets?  And more importantly, what kind of bucket are you to the people in your life?

Vital Friends

I’ve heard of good friends, close friends, old friends, casual friends, best friends, even “just” friends, but I had never heard the word “vital” to describe friends until this book.  And that is exactly what Tom Rath proceeds to explain, that having friends, real, meaningful engaged relationships, is absolutely vital to our health, our well-being, and our personal and professional success.  Not “a good idea” or “important” but actually “vital”– absolutely necessary.

He starts the book by stating that so much of the focus on personal and professional success is on self-improvement.  But is that really the key?  His answer is, “The energy between two people is what creates great marriages, families, teams, and organizations.”  In fact, his first chapter is entitled, “Who Expects You to be Somebody?” where he wisely observes that it is almost always the influence of meaningful people in our lives that drives us to achievement.

The second chapter, “The Energy Between,” discusses how, “Focusing on the individual is too narrow — and focusing on the entire group is too broad.  The real energy occurs in each connection between two people, which can bring about exponential returns.”  His next chapter, “Better than Prozac?” cites some interesting research, including a Duke University study showing people with less than four close friends had more than double the risk of heart disease.

The most helpful concept he develops in the book is that of “the rounding error” in chapter 5.  It is easy, he says, to expect a friend to be “well rounded”— in other words, to be good at everything: inspiring us, being a companion to us, giving us an energy boost, expanding our horizions, and a dozen other different things.  This often subconscious expectation is both unrealistic (no one person can meet all our relationship needs) and a potential relationship killer, both in friendships and in romance and marriage. 

In a similar vein, he warns us of expecting friendships to be “reciprocal.”  In other words, I may be an energizer to my friend, but he may be a mind opener for me.  Expecting to receive the same of what I give to a friend again is both unrealistic and a potential relationship killer.  I surmise that is why the Duke health research found that it takes at least four close friends— because different people will speak different things into your life, and you need different kinds of friends to have well-balanced friend “nutrition” for your soul, just as you need different foods from different groups to give your body what it needs.

The second part of the book goes into more detail about the vital importance of friends at work, citing both anecdotes and research.  The final part of the book more fully develops his system of eight vital friendship roles:

Builder
Champion
Collaborator
Companion
Connector
Energizer
Mind Opener
Navigator

He discusses how these roles differ and how to develop these roles both in your life and in the lives of your friends.  The book also gives you an access code to a website where you can take a survey to help classify your own friends as to the roles they play in your life.

I realized the importance of my friends before I picked up this book.  But after reading Vital Friends, I had more appreciation of my friends, new insights into the nature of our friendships, and greater skills & determination to develop our friendships further.

More information on the book from amazon.com is available here.

Building a Roaring Fire

 roaring fire fireplace by degem via flickr

So you want to build a roaring fire, one that will keep you warm & toasty & won’t burn out?

Well first you need a safe, controlled place to build it.  I know that sounds obvious, that you don’t want to build it next to a gasoline tank or in a pile of hay, but it still remains step one.

Second, you need thick, strong logs, several of them.

Next, you start the fire with what’s known as kindling.  Kindling catches fire easily and immediately, and burns hot and bright.  BUT, it goes out as quickly as it caught fire, how long it will last is unpredictable, & you know no matter how hot it feels it will soon be over.

The kindling is vital: but it’s purpose is to get the main logs on fire.  May I repeat: the kindling really isn’t the fire that will keep you warm, it’s just the way to get there.  It’s the main logs that are the real fire; once they are burning brightly, they will keep out the fiercest cold.  Although they will need to be stoked from time to time, maybe another log added on here & there, and the fire watched closely, if you selected good logs to start with your fire will serve you well.

Building a fire is a pretty straightforward affair.  So why don’t we approach that other roaring fire that we all need the same way?  Is the fire of a relationship any different?

Why do so many now try to build it in unsafe, uncontrolled ways like hooking up?

Why do we keep falling into the trap of thinking that the kindling, sexual chemistry, is not the real fire that will keep us warm, but just the ignitor for the logs of friendship, shared goals and purpose, & solid commitment that, if properly lighted and tended, will burn for decades?  Or why do we think that one single log of a shared interest will last for decades, and not realize you need several logs, and you need to keep them stoked and watched?

How are you building your fire?

Piling Up Pebbles or Digging For Diamonds?

diamonds by Aquarius3 Vulgo August via Flickr

I’m not much of one for little poems found on the internet, but I stumbled across one last week that made me think:

Never take someone for granted
Hold every person close to your heart
because you might wake up one day
and realize that you’ve lost a diamond
while you were too busy collecting stones…

So, I thought to myself, am I piling up pebbles or digging for diamonds?  Am I spending my life accumulating piles of “stuff” or seeking out treasures that are far more precious?

The poem’s concern is about losing a “diamond,” a treasured friend.  As I thought, I realized the bigger problem for most of us is finding those “diamonds” in our lives.  When I live in a culture where most people don’t know the names of their neighbors who live down the street, where we haven’t been in the houses of most of the people in our Sunday School class, where we spend most of our spare time watching a screen instead of actually interacting with (gasp!) REAL PEOPLE, how are we going to find true friends?

So here are some thoughts on how to dig for diamonds, a few steps on the path to true friends:

First, you’ve got to know what a true diamond is, and its incredible value.  I think many people have never had a true friend because they don’t even have a frame of reference. That is, they don’t even realize what a true friend is, and what a precious treasure a true friend can be in one’s life.

If you’ve got a true friend, you have a treasure beyond words.  You have someone you can pour your heart out to, both the beautiful and the ugly parts of it, someone who will strengthen and encourage and heal, someone who will walk with you through the victories and the failures, someone you can truly share your life with.  Many people have never experienced friendship like that, ever. They don’t know what they are missing.

Others may have despaired of ever having a friendship of such depth & beauty. Some may have concluded that they’re not worth either having a “diamond” or being one themselves. But whatever your background, know this:  It’s worth it.  You can pile up mountains of success pebbles, but they will never equal the value of one true diamond friend in your life.

Second, diamonds are always found in the rough. No diamond comes out of a mine looking polished and brilliant.  In fact, diamonds don’t look much different than ordinary rocks at first.  So, if you’re thinking of digging up a “diamond” (1) who is always kind and giving and understanding and (2) who will never hurt your feelings and (3) who will instantly become your ultimate best friend, I have some news for you: that person doesn’t exist.  Instead of searching in vain for that perfect diamond, look at the imperfect people whom God has brought into your life, and be a friend to a “diamond in the rough.”

Remember, one of the wonderful things about friendship is that you can “polish” each other over the years and that both of you can become more precious and beautiful as a result of being together. Accept that there will be some rough spots along the way. Ever put gemstones in a rock tumbler?  Only by the long process of rock hitting and grinding against rock is their inner beauty revealed.  As the years go by, a true friend will bring out your true strength and beauty and brilliance as you bring out theirs.

Third, digging diamonds takes a lot of time and effort.  While people talk about “love at first sight,” there is no “friendship at first sight.”  Intimate friendships take time, a LOT of time, plus a lot of effort to develop.  Saying “Hi” at church or asking about their kids at a baseball game doesn’t cut it.  Being a doctor, I have the blessing of both knowing and serving people daily and usefully contributing to their lives. But even those hundreds of meaningful acquaintances are not a substitute for one deep friendship.

Let me give a personal example: My best friend and I started out having breakfast once a week ten years ago, and we kept that up for several years until I moved away.  We now enjoy a rich bond that has benefitted both of our lives in ways we never imagined, but it took over 100 hours one-on-one time to reach that level of friendship.

So, when was the last time you invested 100 hours in developing a friendship with someone?  When was the last time you invested 10 hours?  Friendship is like cleaning out your garage— it won’t happen unless you schedule the time, and then go do it.  Schedule time to email, have a list of buds to call on a monthly basis, pencil in a morning a week to have breakfast with someone.  When you think of something to do for a friend, do it right then.  Procrastination leads to many missed opportunities and sorrowful regrets. Remember, real friendships don’t “just happen”— you have to make them happen.

Which brings me to my last thought, you’ve got to dig the right way. Here are some “digging tools” to help you on your journey to true friendships:

Be a person who loves: If you’re around a person just for what you can get out of them, forget it.  If your primary reason for “being a friend” isn’t to serve them, help them, and love them, then straighten out your heart with God first.  Which brings me to my second point,

Be a person who gives: Think about how you can give to this person, of your time, of yourself, of your resources.  How can you wisely and meaningfully invest yourself into their life?

Be a person who’s “safe”: Ever had a well-meaning person give advice you didn’t need, when you really just needed someone to be there?  Ever had a person make you feel uncomfortable by immediately stating their opinion on an issue, not knowing you had a different perspective?  Ever had a person you just felt uncomfortable to be around, didn’t feel you could be yourself around?  DON’T BE THAT KIND OF PERSON!  You will never develop a friendship unless you’re a person who people feel “safe” to be around.

Be a person who listens: There will be a time to say something that’s hard for them to hear in the right spirit of wisdom and love, but most of us are way too quick to speak, and way too slow to listen.  Listen.  Listen.  Then listen some more.

Be a person who connects: This is the most challenging part of being a friend, learning to meaningfully enter deeper into another’s life to help them become all that God has intended them to be.  They will never let you in unless you are loving, giving, listening, and safe.  Once you are in, that’s where experience, wisdom, prayer, and reliance on God must guide you.  There is no formula, but there are resources that can help you think about what it means to be a good friend.  One of my favorites is Larry Crabb’s book Soul Talk: Speaking with Power Into the Lives of Others.

To be part of God’s great plan in the life of another through the ministry of friendship is one of the most fulfilling experiences God grants us in this life.  As Dr. Crabb states, “Dancing with the Trinity into the lives of others is the secret of joy.”  So go out there, start digging, start dancing, and find true treasure in your life.

A Cup of Cold Water

cup cold water drink“We are intimately linked in this harvest work. Anyone who accepts what you do, accepts me, the One who sent you. Anyone who accepts what I do accepts my Father, who sent me. Accepting a messenger of God is as good as being God’s messenger. Accepting someone’s help is as good as giving someone help. This is a large work I’ve called you into, but don’t be overwhelmed by it. It’s best to start small. Give a cool cup of water to someone who is thirsty, for instance. The smallest act of giving or receiving makes you a true apprentice. You won’t lose out on a thing.”  Jesus, from The Message paraphrase of the Bible Matth 10:40-42)

I wrote a short note to a friend last week. Knowing she had recently went through a trying time, I told her that she had a rare and precious soul.  I meant to just give her a few simple words that were true and directed to her heart. Just a simple “cup of cold water” from one heart to another.

To my surprise, she told me that those few words were the kindest thing that had ever been said to her. She wrote, “It is true that we do not say kind words to our friends often enough.  Especially when they are going through trying times, a few words of kindness can suddenly make them not feel as lonely or flawed in some way but special.  Life can be difficult.”

Frankly, I was stunned, on a variety of levels.  First, I marveled that sometimes just a few words “fitly spoken” (Proverbs 25:11) truly can have a real impact on the soul of another.  Second, I was saddened that no one else had done a better job than I.  Here was a woman with many Christian friends, yet over the years she had no memory of any words that had impacted her heart similarly.  Do we understand how much power we can have to speak into one another’s lives through the Spirit?  How often do we take the time to do it?  We have many stories of Jesus speaking into someone’s life, and their lives being transformed as a result. 

Can we not do the same? Purpose to say something meaningful to someone’s heart today, even if it is just a few words.  It doesn’t have to be profound or life-changing: it just has to be real.  For more thoughts on how to speak to another’s soul check out the book Soul Talk by Larry Crabb; I have read and re-read this book and it is chock-full of many wise and insightful truths about how God can use us to minister to each other.  

Everyone you meet today is thirsty.  As I remarked to a patient this morning, “Last time I checked, I didn’t know anyone living a picture perfect life.”  Give someone a cup of cold water today.

Love Like There’s No Tomorrow

Make the most of life that’s borrowed, love like there’s no tomorrow. 

That little couplet from the Stellar Kart song “Me and Jesus” has been sticking in my mind the past few weeks, especially since I’ve also been looking at the new Don’t Waste Your Life Group Study Kit to go through with my son.

What does a life that is not wasted look like? How do you know if you’re doing it right? Sure, if you’re in “vocational ministry” you’ve kind of got a plan handed to you on a platter, but what about people working 9 to 5? How do the rest of us make the most of this life that is “borrowed” from God (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)?  How do we actually, day by day, “love like there’s no tomorrow” (1 Peter 1:22)?

This morning I read an email from a friend— we’ve started discussing the differences between Sikhism and Christianity.  Emailed another friend telling her that a mutual friend’s house burned down yesterday.  Had lunch with another friend. Spent some time with another friend who had been brutally and unfairly fired last month; watched some NCAA basketball with him.  Talked to another friend about weekend plans.  Counseled another friend who is going through one of the most difficult experiences of his life, and can’t reveal it to anyone at his church. Talked (ok, listened) to my 82 year old Dad for half an hour.  Spent some time with my kids. Emailed Centuri0n asking him what he thought of Marvel killing off Captain America (his reply was not a suprise!). Watched my beautiful wife’s face light up when I bought her something she had been wanting for years.  And in between all that, saw some patients, went to the bank, took out the trash, and listened to that song while running in the neighborhood.

Yea, that about covers it for today.  All of those people I mentioned I loved, and chose to be a part of their lives.  Oh yea, to do all that I had to miss American Idol.

Make the most of life that’s borrowed, love like there’s no tomorrow

 

It Is Not Good For Man to Be Alone

Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.”  Genesis 2:15

Ok, so it’s been awhile since I did a Monday Media Meltdown, but I saw two movies this weekend that both made me go…. Hmmmmm….so here I go again with the amateur analysis. These two movies were radically different, but in another sense they were echoing the same theme: “It is not good that the man should be alone.”

elizabethtown orlando bloom kirsten dunstElizabethtown is a confused mess of a movie that I and most critics agreed had some good intentions but just couldn’t deliver. At least I found out from the movie that all people living in Kentucky are strange (Oh, but I already knew that by reading IMonk). (Oh, sorry, Dr. Mohler, I didn’t mean you.)

 

 

 

bridge to terabithiaThe other movie I saw was the brilliant and moving Bridge to Terabithia. Although very different and far superior, Bridge shares with Elizabethtown an archetype of artistic, creative male estranged from his father in a cruel world has perky blonde enter his life and through intrusive creative playful intervention and friendship rescues his soul, while also trying to deal with themes of friendship, death and dysfunctional families on the side.  Hmmm…… wierd.

 

 

But what both of these movies really spoke to me was the plight of living in a fallen world.  Even before the Fall, God stated that man was not meant to live in isolation, but in community.  After the Fall, the need for community is even greater, with our need to strengthen and comfort each other against the effects of the Fall, but unfortunately the Fall has severely damaged our ability to live in community, for we and the ones around us are warped by sin and act in selfishness.

That’s where the beauty of the new life in Christ comes in.  Because of Christ, we become spiritually alive, we are indwelt by the love and wisdom of the Holy Spirit, and we can truly pour God’s love and wisdom and strength into each other.  What these two movies hint at, we can experience in reality within the body of Christ: redemptive, transforming friendships that will one day culminate once again in a life of perfect community with God and with each other. 

That is God’s desire for us: to do the hard, sacrificial, joyful work of real friendship and community, to pour Christ into the lives of others and allow them to give to us.  Let us not just read about it, but do it, today.

The Importance of “Together”

not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:25 ESV)

This verse has for years often been thought of as applying to church services, probably because of many translations using a churchy word like “assembling” to translate the Greek and because it’s a convenient proof text for Christians to cram down the throats of “backsliders” who, usually due to complex issues within their soul, have stopped coming to church.

In reality, this verse is saying something much more important, much more beautiful, and much more neglected than showing up in a pew on sunday morning: We are meant to spend time together.

I once heard a anthropologist say that native tribes in New England spent about 20 hours a week in what we would consider “work”—hunting, gathering. What did they do with the rest of the time? Not watching TV or spectator sports or ipods plugged in their ears or commuting to work or even internet surfing on fabulous spiritual growth websites.

They lived together, they spent time together, they talked, they laughed, they told stories, they shared—they encouraged one another. And they did this in merely their own humanness, unaided by the supernatural oneness Christians share through the Holy Spirit.

What is it going to take for us to spend time together? Enough time to really make a difference in each others lives?

I talk to my Dad on the phone nearly every day. A few days ago I went over and spent two hours at his place, with no agenda, just to spend time. Even though we have an excellent relationship and converse by phone daily, we covered more ground and deeper ground in those two dedicated hours one-on-one than we did in dozens of hours on the phone. The phone, letters, internet can supplement real time spent together, but they can never replace real time spent together.

My best friend is the result of concentrated weekly time we pledged to each other years ago. Where we were once strangers, after over a hundred hours of time one-on-one over months, having breakfast, studying and memorizing the Bible together, watching movies, shooting guns—well, we have a bond now that has meant more to each of us than we ever dreamed of, that God has used in a powerful way, but one that could never have happened without large amounts of dedicated time.

When was the last time you devoted 100 hours to a friendship? 10 hours to a friendship? 10 hours to your spouse? Is there a problem here, in this culture, in this mindset of endless tasks and projects, accomplishing much with wilted, immature souls starving to death for real transforming spiritual community? God intends for us to live in community as He does within the trinity, he urges us to do so. Will we listen, and will we change?