I have been reading Never Unfriended by Lisa-Jo Baker and it has birthed a lot of thoughts and conversation between my husband and me. Thoughts primarily on the discussion of being intentional with our time and efforts with each other and the people around us.
Due to various reasons we recently stopped attending the church we’d been at for 2.5 years, which has taken us out of that consistent rhythm of community and fellowship that we loved and thought would naturally keep up outside the church walls. Reality is much different which, I’m not proud to say, made us bitter and angry toward people and events even more so than we already were. We chose to leave church for a season to reassess and reevaluate, but we didn’t realize that Church would leave us as well. I can’t place blame on anyone, people are just imperfect, myself being at the top of that list, and I think we want and expect things more than we verbalize them which is where the hurt sets in.
When you’re hurting and weak, feeling alone and confused, the thing you need most is people to stand by you to hold you up. When the people you expect to be there aren’t, bitterness and anger set in quicker than a snap of the finger and grace exits the backdoor even faster. Because it is so much easier to look at everyone else and judge or be jealous than it is to look at yourself and ask what you would do if you were in their shoes. How would you respond? I obviously don’t respond well.
It is taking me
months years to get over myself and move past my selfish, self-righteous responses to others and see it through their eyes and the eyes of Jesus. And I’m still working on it. Probably forever. Because, if I’m honest, I am often so busy being angry and offended that I have no time or thought to put into being grateful, graceful or intentional toward anything or anyone else.
One of my sayings that I quote to other people and often hate hearing repeated back to me, because well….truth hurts, is “be better not bitter.” If you stick around long enough and read what I pen, you’ll hear that phrase a time or two because I wholeheartedly believe it holds weight and truth to the life we want and/or choose to live. So my husband and I have discussed how we don’t want to remain bitter and live constantly offended lives because that leads to such an unhappy and angry existence. We’ve been talking about how we can be more intentional with our efforts to people around us. It’s a work in progress. A slow one, but a work nonetheless.
In Lisa-Jo’s book she says that “we first have to face the ways that we are part of the problem” before anything else can be helpful or healing.
Recently my husband and I were driving to go help a friend one afternoon and I was so angry, so self-righteous in my attitude toward going to help them because it felt like time and time again we got left out of going to lunch, the movies, etc. And as we were driving in the car on our way to their house, I kept asking him why we were going, why we kept going and kept helping, anyone at all, ever? Because some days it just hurts too much. And his simple, profound reply was “because I feel like that’s what Jesus would do, even he had people who rejected and betrayed him” and the truth of that statement made me weep. He was right. I can’t control how other people treat me, or reach out, or don’t, but I can control my attitude and my heart towards them. I can choose to love people as Christ has loved us, over and over again, even when we forget Him or ignore Him.
I am in no way perfect and I suck at communication more than I would like to admit to. I long for and crave deep friendships but being intentional with other people causes you to be so vulnerable and that is so scary sometimes. Because what-ifs linger in the air like the humidity of a hot August day in Mississippi. The what-ifs stick to you and you seem to be swimming through them every moment you’re in the presence of others, talking, trying so hard to be yourself, be real, and wondering all the while if they will ever take you in, just as you are; broken and messy. If we don’t expose our hurts though, if we don’t risk being messy and true to one another, we will never find or build true, lasting relationship.
I want to be the kind of friend that I want to have, which requires a lot of soul searching. What does that look like? How do I become the friend I want to have without conforming or denying myself? I don’t want to bend so that people will like me, I want to grow and change so that I can be a better friend and confidant to others. I crave being included and being affirmed, it’s my receiving love language and it’s also my greatest weakness. Baker writes, “we have worshipped at the altar of inclusion when we were built to worship at the altar of the only living God.” Conviction hurts.
I have to constantly catch myself when I start being overly concerned with everyone else’s perception or opinion of me. God knows that this is a weakness of mine, but I think He uses it to nudge me closer to His heart and back into His word, the only affirmation I need. Being intentional without the concern of whether or not the receiving party will return the intentionality is such a hard space to willingly walk toward, but I believe it’s what we are called to do. We need “to learn to spot these panicked urges for approval as a big, loud, screaming neon sign that my universe-sized hunger for affirmation needs to go running to the universe-sized God” (Baker).
Jesus was the best friend: He was selfless, intentional, forgiving, gracious, compassionate, and present with those around Him. If we look at scripture we never see Jesus moping in the Garden that he didn’t get invited to that party, or stewing at the Last Supper because no one stopped to ask how He was feeling about the recent highs and lows of His life. Why? Because Jesus sought people out first, because that’s who He is by nature. God pursues us and has since the beginning.
So to be the intentional friend you and I desire to be, we simply have to look at the life of the literal best friend that ever walked the planet. When community doesn’t seek you out with that phone call, text, or kind note, our response should mirror that of the community we want, not the one that has hurt or seemed to have forgotten us. Hurt people tend to hurt people, but Jesus didn’t model that and I don’t want to either. Baker states the beautiful truth that “we find that God (1) starts from a loved position, (2) acts righteously, (3) uses the community to transform us, (4) accepts reality and forgives us, (5) gives change a chance, and (6) is long-suffering” which is how I want to respond and live. May the life of Jesus and those He’s put in my circle change me, make me a better friend, sister, spouse and daughter.
When I think about the friend I want to be, I think about the women God did place in my life to hold me up, through this season and others. When I remember these women, I stop being so cynical, so hard on everyone else because of how gentle and fierce their love is for me and for others. These women who cried with me, prayed over me, dealt with my long texting rants and intense emotions. These women who fought for me and invited me in. He gave me women who would sit with me in my pain, welcome me to their homes and love me in my hurt and confusion. While I was feeding every tiny lie that people didn’t care, these women stuck by me and continued to be the hands and feet of Jesus to my tender and messed up heart. They lived out the truth of Jesus’s life: loving people well.
I learn best by watching and what I’ve seen from the lives of these women who’ve surrounded me is that by sharing our messy lives, ugly tears, belly laughs, and dirty jokes with each other, we see the real side of one another and still choose them again and again. Sticking around through the highs and lows is hard, sometimes even I don’t want to listen to me, but it is so refreshing and life-giving to our souls when people stay. And these women stay.
“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work; If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 NIV)
I will never claim to be the best friend, but I can hope and strive toward being the friend to those in my sphere, at my table, or in my kitchen that I would want them to be to me. Intentional living is hard, but Jesus didn’t say the road would be easy and wide, He walked it first so He should know. May we walk in His footsteps and live with arms and doors wide open to our beautifully chaotic lives.
©2017 by Josie Blakeney