I remember wise counsel I received at the first job I took upon getting out the military. I was in a vulnerable place in my life for different reasons making this even more memorable. “You see all this,” he says, while pointing with his finger in a circle at all the items decorating each co-workers desk, “this is all an illusion, it’s not real.” Being the analytical person I am, I chewed on this for days. It came to my mind again as I began writing about something that happened the other day with a friend.
This friendship has lots of history. I love and care for her though. She needed something from me. What I was able to give wasn’t how or what she expected from me. Through this situation and others I am learning about healthy relationships. God is doing for me what I can’t do in and of myself – exposing patterns of thinking and behaving that have been familiar, comfortable places for as long as I can remember.
Weeping may endure for the night but joy comes in the morning! (Psalm 30:5)
When all this happened with her I felt manipulated and angry. Immediately, I remembered something I read in a book about how to recognize unhealthy, self serving relationships and what steps to take to have healthy, loving ones. Of course it always begins with self and that is where I started. At the point that I felt manipulated and angry I started praying. Once my thoughts began to align with Christ, instead of, “who does she think she is” and “what is her problem” and “I am done with this friendship,” I asked the Lord how to respond to her. So I responded to her in the form of question. The question remained unanswered by her, which I thought was probably a good sign. It reminds of the times that Jesus asked people questions; a word fitly spoken is precious (Psalm 25:11, my paraphrase) and that I prayed… that it would cause her to ask the Lord to check her motives.
The heart is deceitful and wicked above all else, who can know it. (Jeremiah 17:9)
Making matters worse, the next day came and my friend and I were faced with yet another situation, so I was careful and slow to respond. Not to mention I had other things going on that day so I needed some quiet time to work through it. I couldn’t get that quiet time until I was finished with those things, of which she was aware of; making her demands of me why I felt manipulated in the first place. At that point, I was certain the unanswered question I asked the day before would have an impact on what was now happening and it did. I struggled greatly with how she didn’t see this as a problem.
Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable and keeps no record of wrong. (1 Corinthians 13: 4, 5 – NLT)
It was one of those situations where confrontation had to happen, because a kiss from the enemy is deceitful but faithful are the wounds of a friend (Proverbs 27:6). And so our conversation began. When she told me that I wasn’t there for her and what I should have done my first thought was to get defensive (unhealthy behavior) rooted in pride (unhealthy thinking). But I stopped myself. I remembered that friends will disappoint and wound! The only one truly faithful is God. We hear and know that in our head but until faced with the dark night of the soul and all that’s left is God it’s not revealed knowledge (wisdom). When we remove hope in people and situations and make God our hope, it frees us to experience mutual, loving relationships.
Her response was one that may be yours now: “But God uses people, you do have a role as my friend, what about the body of Christ, sisters and brothers holding each other’s hands up in the battle.” Of course, this doesn’t excuse us from the call to love. But when we don’t or can’t meet an expectation this doesn’t necessarily mean we haven’t loved. So what do we do when someone hasn’t done what we expected or thought should happen? Therein is the main point of this post.
When the Israelite’s demanded a king from Samuel while lying on his death bed and Samuel knew it wasn’t a good idea, Samuel prayed to the Father first. God told him to give them what they want, appeal to what they think they need (based on what they were seeing – the circumstances, or the appearance of what seemed to be a better idea) and anointed Saul as king.
They ran and brought him (Saul) from there and when he stood among the people, he was taller than any of the people from his shoulders upward. (1 Samuel 10:13)
But what do we know in hindsight about Saul – he went crazy, he was probably just as unfit emotionally and spiritually as Samuel’s sons, who Samuel originally set over the people to judge, not rule or govern as kings do. God’s intent was that His law would be their guide and seen as the “ruler” to live by.
We also know in hindsight all through the books of I & II Samuel and I & II Kings that when we look to man or circumstances (what we see) rather than God, more often than not we end up more disappointed. On the contrary, I think God’s intent as we see in the New Testament (grace and love rather than law and government) is to learn how to trust God in people, and let people serve as the means to come alongside or to affirm what God has done or said in any particular situation. This surely looks different, and frees us, but most importantly keeps God as God and people as people.
God doesn’t want to be our last resort when we find ourselves in dark times.
So after I said to my friend that I can’t always “be there” for her when “she needs me” and she responded that that’s all the church as ever been to her, “not there for her” I remembered the times felt disappointed by church folk, I remembered “the dark nights of the soul,” and that all we have is Him, and that was what I told her. There was brief silence. She said something else in sarcasm, making it clear that she still wasn’t happy and felt that I should apologize or acknowledge my insensitivity to her need and so I said nothing and our conversation ended.
This brings me to the second point, the first being that Love is what’s real and remains and second is the illusion of control (remember the friend at my first job after the military). The control we think we have will get us every time, our needs were meant to draw us to the Father (just go back to the Garden). And because we are created with emotions, our emotions or feelings, if not anchored in truth will cause great trouble. Brian Borgman in his book, Feeling and Faith: Cultivating Godly Emotions in the Christian Life, puts it best:
As we explore how to obey Gods commands that involve emotions, we do not begin with the emotions or an emotional experience; we begin with the mind and the truth. (Chapter 5)
I have been told that I’m more pragmatic and while in some cases I find that very challenging, especially being a woman, but in this situation with my friend I am glad I lean that way. I think it keeps me grounded in the midst of emotional situations; and empathy (my first strength according to Strength Finders test) is my greatest ally, although at times it seems the enemy, it keeps me sensitive to those around me.
Closing this post seems impossible because there is yet no conclusion to the situation with my friend. While we work out our salvation and sanctify our emotions through truth, I am thinking she and I may need to revisit the things said. Its hard work, familiar patterns of thinking don’t just go away once were saved and filled with the Holy Spirit. Rather as our identity in Christ is revealed to us, we began to recognize patterns of wrong thinking a little quicker, and as a result and through the Spirit working in us are able to respond rather than defend… but they don’t just go away.
I have been praying these verses for those close to me, try reading it out loud, its powerful:
I pray that we may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that we would walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power, for all patience and longsuffering with joy; giving thanks to the Father who has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light. He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, in whom we have redemption through His blood and the forgiveness of sins.
This verse goes onto say which I think is the most powerful way to end this post: He (that is Jesus) is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him! (Colossians 1: 9-16) This truth girds and sustains me in times like this!