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.

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