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5 (Fruitful) Truths For (Imperfect) Friends

Friends sitting at table
Friends Who Fit Me

Even though no zig-zagged, half-heart BFF charm has ever graced my neck, I really love my friends. I’ve been given some great ones. Lately, I’ve been thinking how much my friends fit me.

I mean how they shape, form, fit and transform me. I’m learning. 

Truth #1: No one likes jealous, clingy friends. Enjoy a bunch of (imperfect) friends.

My jealous bone came out in 6th grade when my friend Jill spent the night at Teresa’s without me. I pouted. Then Mom’s sage advice clicked: being clingy will drive friends away.

If you think of yourself as a needy, leaky love tank waiting to be filled, you’ll probably stay that way. You won’t have many friends. Mom’s advice made sense and I stopped pouting and soon Jill – and Teresa- were both my friends.

But I still try to take mom’s advice to heart. I get it about how if you love someone, set them free and if they come back they’re yours and if they don’t they never were. That.

But I’m not too proud to say I need friends. A bunch of friends. Because no one soul can bear the load of me, and no one friend can meet all my needs. Friendships flourish when we don’t expect all from one. 

Paul knew this too. He had a big bunch of imperfect friends. 

Truth #2: No one outgrows the need for (imperfect) friends. Not even saints.

For the last month, I’ve been studying the last half of the last chapter of the last epistle that Saint Paul wrote. Paul who wrote the magnificent theology of Romans 8 and set the doctrinal record straight.

But do you know what was on Paul’s mind at the end of his life? His friends. His fickle, deserting, imperfect friends.

Paul ends his second letter to Timothy with mention of no fewer than 17 friends (18 if you count Timothy and 20+ if you count “the brothers”). Verses earlier, Paul wrote those triumphant words, I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. He spoke about the crown of life  that the Lord would award him. You’d think that would be the end.

But it wasn’t.

Paul eagerly- desperately?-wanted to see his friends. Do your best to come to me soon…Luke alone is with me (4:9,11). Paul was a spiritual guy. He’d already been caught up to the third heaven (2 Cor. 12:2). He knew what it was to set his mind on things above and not on earthly things (Col. 3:2). 

And Paul really wanted to see his friends: Jesus- soon, Timothy- now.

Truth #3: You can love Jesus and (imperfect) friends. It makes both loves sweeter. 

John Stott explains how these two desires, to be with Jesus and to be with our friends, are not incompatible.

One sometimes meets super-spiritual people who claim that they never eel lonely and have no need for friends, for the companionship of Christ satisfies all their needs. But human friendship is the loving provision of God for mankind. (John Stott, Message, 120)

In other words, if you say you’re beyond the need for human friends- maybe because you’ve been burned by friends- you’re beyond the Bible. Paul had been burned. Paul was deserted by his friends at his first defense in Rome, but said, “May it not be counted against them!” (2 Tim. 4:16) 

(Have I mentioned yet that our friends won’t be perfect? That they will fail us even as we fail them. They will hurt us and we will hurt them. Count on it. There will be the giving and taking of wounds. But that needn’t end our friendships. It’s par for the course. In fact Jesus made Peter- as in Peter denied the Lord and cried Peter- his Rock to build his church.)

Commenting on Paul’s words at the end of 2 Timothy, John Piper clinches the point:

Don’t feel you must choose between the supreme love and delight you have in Jesus and the pleasures of Christian friends… The joy of a Christ-centered friendship is meant to magnify the worth of Christ as the common treasure of the friendship and this deepens the sweetness of the friendship.

Because maybe behind our choices, it’s God who chooses our friends. And because He does use (imperfect) friends who fail us to shape us into Christ’s faithful friends.

Truth #4: God shapes us through our (imperfect) friends. Welcome the rub. 

We are the friends we keep: the faithful and the unfaithful, the timid and the bold, the new and the old. We need them all. Failing friends, failing kids, failing wives can still be our friends- our  sweet friends, John Piper says. God brings them into our lives and they all play a part in the people we become.

God works in us through the friends he gives us.

A few weeks ago a friend told me how she’d asked another friend if there were any “blind spots” in her. That question is not for the faint of heart. But, if she could do it, I could too, and an hour later I asked her the same of me. What she said is another post and I’m not recommending you do the same. But I am suggesting that you have you’re close enough to others to feel loves frets and rubs– divine sandpaper on our rough spots, if you will.

Sometimes that hurts, but it need not be painful. Being with a soft-spoken friend helps me to speak more gently. Time with a big-hearted friend makes me want to be more generous. Being with a self-controlled friend makes it easier to skip bedtime snacks. Sanding me smooth. 

But most spiritual growth is slow. Sometimes we don’t recognize the tools. We might even ask, God, how are you actually working in me?

In Chapter 7 of Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis gives this memorable answer. 

…[It] is rather like the woman in the first war who said that if there were a bread shortage it would not bother her house because they always ate toast. If there is no bread there will be no toast. If there were no help from Christ, there would be no help from other human beings. He works on us in all sorts of ways...He works through Nature, through our own bodies, through books, sometimes through experiences…

Now here’s the kicker:

But above all, He works on us through each other… Men are mirrors, or ‘carriers’ of Christ to other men… That is why the Church, the whole body of Christians showing Him to one another, is so important.

We need friends because they are one of God’s choice tools to transform us to be like Jesus.

Truth #5: (Imperfect) Friends fit us for heaven. And we are fit with them. 

As I write, we’re deep into the Advent season.  And the Advent is about preparing Him room. It’s about making space for the Savior.

But this year, as I shop and bake and wrap and read it’s dawning on me that Someone else is doing the lion’s share of preparing. For all the thoughtful stocking stuffing and gift wrapping he does, I don’t mean Jim.

All this while, Christ is preparing us, fitting us. He is rebuilding our ramshackle houses, transforming our stinky stables, and sanding our rough trim to make a fit throne room for the King.

The last line in Away in a Manger nails it: And fit us for heaven to live with Thee there.

It strikes me that He might just be doing that through (imperfect) friends. 

In Him the whole building is fitted together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.

Ephesians 2:21-22

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For Pity’s Sake: 4 Pitfalls Of Pity

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You have the rare ability to see both sides at once. The glass is half empty and half full to you, lauded Mr. Baughn. You see shades of gray.

Mark Twain quipped that he could live off a good compliment for two months. That’s a gross underestimate in my case. Because those words from Mr. Baughn- senior year, English Lit- go back 25 years.

The reason I mention them now isn’t (mainly) to hail the power of praise or to encourage shades of gray. I bring them up, because they help explain why this pity thing keeps surfacing.

The Good Side Of Pity

Sympathy is good and it’s bad. In fact, if you don’t have pity at the right times, not to overstate, but you might be a cold-blooded psychopath. And the Bible commands us to have sympathy (1 Peter 3:8).

Rightly placed pity is godlike and divine. Jesus Christ had pity (Matt. 9:36, 20:34, Luke 7:12-15). We are to be like Christ. We are to have pity.

The Pitfalls Of Pity

But the glass is also half-empty. While we are to weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15b)- we are to express our pity with discretion.

Being overly empathic, leading with our hearts not our heads- as when we don’t consider the long term and get lost in emotion- can hurt us and those close to us. Too much pity- or what this post is about, pity misapplied- might actually be harmful. Like when we know that our disappointment is clearly God’s appointment. Or if you always cave when your five-year old cries at bedtime, and decide he can stay up.

Pity is good. Like many good gifts it can be misapplied. And lately I’ve seen a lot of misdirected pity.

Here are four ways I think our pity may get misdirected.

1. Pity is misdirected when it is self-focused.

Self-pity is of the devil, and if I wallow in it I cannot be used by God for his purpose in the world. –Oswald Chambers, My Utmost For His Highest

Self-pity– the kind defined as a self-indulgent dwelling on one’s own sorrows or misfortunes- would land squarely in the first category.

I’ve written about this again and again. I suppose it’s because I’m too sensitive- that sensitive – and self-pity is one of my besetting sins. Time and time again this line from C.S. Lewis rings in my head: Indeed what is commonly called “sensitiveness” is the most powerful engine of domestic tyranny. How we should deal with it in others I am not sure; but we should be merciless to its first appearance in ourselves.

Merciless. Like we were to the carpenter ants that bored their way through the ceiling and dropped onto our living room floor. They were destructive. We showed them no mercy.

Be intolerant of your own self-pity. Strike it at its roots. Distract yourself if you must-write a letter or wash the floor like I did Sunday afternoon.

But show no mercy to pity directed toward yourself.

2. Pity is misdirected when it is used to hold joy captive.

I’ve been re-reading The Great Divorce. It’s C.S. Lewis’ imaginative, instructive tale of a bus ride through heaven and hell. Near the end, we meet Sarah Smith in heaven where she’s reunited with her (shrinking) husband Frank, fresh off the tourbus from Hell.

In this scene, Frank is bemoaning the fact that her joy- both on earth and now in heaven-is not contingent on his.

You who can be happy without me, forgetting me! You don’t want even to hear of my sufferings. Don’t, you say. Don’t make you unhappy. And this is the reward–

Stop it at once, she said.

Stop what?

Using pity, other people’s pity, in the wrong way. We have all done it a bit on earth, you know. Pity was meant to be a spur that drives joy to help misery. But it can be used the wrong way round. It can be used for a kind of blackmailing. Those who choose misery can hold joy up to ransom, by pity. You see I know now. Even as a child, you did it. Instead of saying you were sorry, you went and sulked in the attic. Because you knew that sooner or later one of your sisters would say, “I can’t bear to think of him sitting up there alone, crying.” You used their pity to blackmail them, and they gave in in the end.


Those who choose to focus on their own misery will not be allowed “to blackmail the universe: that till they consent to be happy (on their own terms) no one else shall taste joy.”

Pity must never be directed so as to hold joy- ours or others’- captive.

3. Pity is misdirected if it never spurs us on to action.

Let us not love in word or tongue but in action and with truth. –John the Apostle

So there’s pity and there’s pity. And we must distinguish between the two. Because only the pure, active one will endure.

Continuing from The Great Divorce,

The action of Pity will live for ever: but the passion of Pity will not. The passion of Pity, the Pity we merely suffer, the ache that draws men to concede what should not be conceded and to flatter when they should speak truth… that will die. It was used as a weapon by bad men against good ones: their weapon will be broken.

‘And what is the other kind- the action?’

It’s a weapon on the other side. It leaps quicker than light from the highest place to the lowest to bring healing and joy, whatever the cost to itself. It changes darkness into light and evil into good.

 

Pity in this “passion” sense is not necessarily noble. It might just be a knee-jerk response or a veiled way of rejoicing that I am exempt from that particular suffering. That I am healthy, my husband has a job, my boys get decent grades. My pity may simply be an expression of my joy in not suffering that way.

Clearly the, “add-a-sad-emoji-and-be-glad-it’s-not-me” expression of pity is not a crowning virtue. This “pity” demands nothing from us and may just be an expression of underlying selfishness. It is certainly not heroic.

To add a sad emoji can be a kindness. But if out pity always stops there and doesn’t leap to bring healing and joy, it’s merely sentimental.

But if it’s never action and truth, it’s not enough.

4. Pity is misdirected if it doesn’t reflect God’s just mercy.

Virtuous pity, or what Thomas Aquinas calls ‘misercordia’, is married to justice, regulated by reason, and structured by doctrine. –Joshua Hren, “The Problem of Pity”

Joshua Hren’s Touchstone magazine article is super insightful. In it, he draws from Dante’s Inferno to explain why we must discriminate among pities, and “learn to measure our mercy against the just mercy of God.”

Hren cites a scene in Canto V, where in the circle of the carnal, Dante meets Pauolo and Francesca. As a result of their illicit affair, “these lovers glide through Hell’s whirl like grotesque mating doves.”

When Francesca sees Dante, she recognizes his pity- and, Hren writes, “pounces on it, telling her own ‘piteous tale.'” As she explains her sob story of “how love had led them there,” Paolo stands beside her as both of them weep. Seeing them, Dante felt, “my sense reel / and faint away with anguish.”

With that, he begins his descent into the Inferno, prepared “to face the double war / of the journey and pity.” In other words, Dante realized, misplaced pity is, in a certain sense, the enemy.

Hren, and Dante long before him, recognize that many (wrongly) think that pity should be indiscriminately expressed toward the other, whether that person has cancer or a married friend confides that keeping a secret life is so trying.

Hren concludes, “we ought not to pity the sinner to the point that we try to rearrange the architecture of Hell.”

Jesus Hurt Peter

The germ for this post came on Easter Sunday as I sat reading just past our pastor’s sermon text.

My eyes stopped at John 21:15. It’s in the context of the conversation that Jesus had with Peter after the bread and fish breakfast on the beach.

Here’s the part that arrested me:

The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”

Knowing all things, Jesus could have said, “I’m sorry Bud, I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings.” But our Lord, who was moved with compassion at times, didn’t pull his punches. He said, for the third time, “Feed my sheep.”

But there’s more: Jesus’ next words to Peter explained how he would die a martyr’s death. No mention of pity here.

But we know Peter loved Jesus. And Jesus loved Peter.

Therefore, pity must not equal love.

Break My Heart For What Breaks Yours

For the record, midway through the writing of this post, my husband loved me without showing an ounce of pity. Jim knows the tell-tale signs of my self-pity and they were starting to ooze Sunday afternoon. So, in love, he showed no mercy. Don’t go there, he simply said.

Sometimes pity’s a beautiful thing. Other times it’s ugly. And I only know one way to determine which it is: Break my heart for what breaks yours, is how the song goes.

But maybe the flip side is, don’t let my heart break for what does not break yours. Or at least, don’t hold back from speaking truth in love even if it hurts. Like Jesus did to Peter.

By the way, only an abounding, discerning love can do this. With so many shades of gray, that kind of love is the only way to avoid the pitfalls of pity.

And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ to the glory and praise of God.

Philippians 1:9-11

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Winter’s Past. Go On Into Spring.

We have the power either of withstanding the spring, and sinking back into the cosmic winter, or of going on into those ‘high mid-summer pomps’ in which our Leader, the Son of Man, already dwells, and to which He is calling us.

C.S. Lewis

The last JoyPrO was about pain that’s real and pressing and all creation groaning and our way-long delayed spring.

That was last week.

Winter Is Past

But it’s 78° today. Windows open, shorts on and the daffodils are smiling at the doves.

Spring came this way slowly. But, as C.S.  Lewis wrote, the great thing is that the corner has been turnedThe winter is past, the snow is over and done. The flowers appear on the earth, the time of singing has come, The corner has been turned- at least, outside.

And who in his right mind wouldn’t prefer spring over winter?

Don’t Sympathize (With Yourself)

But some don’t. Sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I prefer to wait in the cold and withstand the spring.

Don’t get me wrong, My heart thrilled in the breeze in the season’s first big bike ride today.  I mean the inner spring. The one Christ said wells up to eternal life. I mean, if I’m not careful, my soul lingers in woe-is-me winter. I’ve noticed that when my soul winters linger it’s because I’m stuck sympathizing with myself. 

Now sympathy for others is good and right. It’s beautiful. We are called to weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15b) and to have sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind (1 Peter 3:8).

But our hearts are supposed to feel tender toward others, to be directed outside of ourselves.

I know- too well- that melancholy and self-pity are a slippery, wintry mix for my soul. They tend toward dark nights. When I sympathize with myself, I choose winter over spring. I choose not to turn the corner and I deprive my Help, my God, of glory.

But my inner self loves spring. Which is why I’m on a sophron quest, a self-control, sound-mind mission to not let my emotions rule me. It’s why I’m learning to distract my wintry thoughts by thinking on excellent and lovely things. To get a grip and push the brakes.

Get a Grip. (Talk to Yourself.)

It is a work. And a process- a Spirit-guided process.

But taking myself in hand is the only way I know to get my soul to spring. Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote a book called Spiritual Depression.

Here he  explains why we must get a grip.

This other man within us has got to be handled. Do not listen to him; turn on him; speak to him; condemn him; upbraid him; exhort him; encourage him; remind him of what you know, instead of listening placidly to him and allowing him to drag you down and depress you…

We must talk to ourselves, instead of allowing “ourselves” to talk to us! Have you not realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself? You must say to your soul, preach to yourself, questions yourself “Why are you so downcast?” (Spiritual Depression, p. 20)

Lloyd-Jones is only echoing the Psalmist’s 3,000 year-old cure for the downcast soul that can’t – or won’t- turn the corner from winter into spring.

Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are so in turmoil within me?

Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God. 

Let’s take ourselves in hand and leave winter behind.  Hope in God, O my soul. Don’t withstand the spring.

We do have that choice. The flowers don’t. The crocus can’t choose if it will come out in spring or not.

But we can.

Go On Into Spring

We can choose.  

There is, of course, this difference, that in the natural spring the crocus cannot choose whether it will respond or not. We can. We have the power either of withstanding the spring, and sinking back into the cosmic winter, or of going on into those ‘high mid-summer pomps’ in which our Leader, the Son of Man, already dwells, and to which He is calling us. It remains with us to follow or not, to die in this winter, or to go on into that spring and that summer. (C.S. Lewis, “The Grand Miracle,” God in the Dock)

There is a season for everythinga time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance. And God knows it’s not for me to determine the times and seasons he’s appointed. 

But spring has sprung and it is mine to choose if I will get on with it. If I will hope-in-God obey and rise and follow Jesus.

What will you choose?

My beloved speaks and says to me:
“Arise, my love, my beautiful one,
    and come away,
 for behold, the winter is past;
    the rain is over and gone.
 The flowers appear on the earth,
    the time of singing has come,
and the voice of the turtledove
    is heard in our land.

Song of Solomon 2:10-12

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For Poor Ornery People

I wonder as I wander out under the sky
How Jesus the Saviour did come for to die
For poor on’ry people like you and like I;
I wonder as I wander out under the sky

John Jacob Niles.

Do you know that old Christmas folk song, I Wonder As I WanderDo you like it?

I never did.

But it’s growing on me.

Just Plain Ornery

Because far too often, I’m just plain ornery.  I turn grumpy and stubborn when my will is not done and impatient and harsh when my rules are crossed.  Other times I crave man’s praise and sulk when thanks doesn’t come. Sometimes my skin’s too thin and my heart’s too hard. That’s when I crumble into an ugly selfish heap.

I do.

In every case, poor and on’ry pretty well fits the bill. And there’s nothing like the Christmas rush to provoke ornery, at least in me. Which explains why I’m humming this tune a lot these days.

It fits me- I. I am prone to wander from the joyful obedience of faith and I feel it.

I simply am not naturally nice.

Driving in a Hard School?

Which is why I’m filled more and more with wonder anymore- in awe that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners. Poor on’ry ones, maybe like you, for sure like me.

I’ve shared this quote before. But I stumbled on it again this week and let’s just say it was a Godsend  for this poor, on’ry mom to whom nice does not alway come easily.

If you are a nice  person- if Virtue comes easily to you- beware! Much is expected from those to whom much is given. If you mistake your own merits what are really God’s gifts to you through nature, and if you are contented with simply being nice, you are still a rebel…

But if you are a poor creature- poisoned by a wretched upbringing in some house full of vulgar jealousies and senseless quarrels- saddled, by no choice of your own, with some loathsome sexual perversion- nagged day in and day out be an inferiority complex that makes you snap at your best friends – do not despair. He knows all about it. You are one of the poor whom He blessed. He knows what a wretched machine you are trying to drive. Keep on. Do what you can. One day (perhaps in another world, but perhaps far sooner than that) He will fling it on the scrap-heap and give you a new one. And then you may astonish us all- not least yourself: for you have learned your driving in a hard school. (Mere Christianity, Book IV, Chapter 10)

Is yours a wretched machine? Are you beset and tempted to sin, within and without? Poor and ornery? Keep on. God knows.

Known by God

Keep looking to Jesus. He knows. He’s familiar. Honestly, it’s why Jesus came. Christmas happened to show us that God not only knows us, He loves us. With great love.

He knows all about it. He knows our frame, David wrote. Which means, we are known. Paul slid that blessed truth in to build his don’t-be-led-astray case to the Galatians, but the clause is rich it could stand alone,

But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God…

Known by God. The Father’s children are known by Him. And loved by him to boot. What could be better?

Maybe only  this one other thing: He came to buy back us poor ornery one with his blood. Someplace else  it says that Jesus, had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.

To make propitiation. That’s New Testament fancy for atone for our sins. ForJesus the Savior did come for to die. 

Jesus the Savior did Come for to Die

Can you say good news of great joy?

God came to earth as one of us, like his brothers in every respect. He suffered when tempted and we will too. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you (1 Peter 5:10).

He’ll fling that old, wretched machine on the scrap heap and then we’ll forever be free from sorrow, free from sin. Restored, confirmed, strengthened and established. No more poor, ornery. The God of all grace will bring it to pass. 

So fight the good fight of faith. Resist the devil, firm in your faith. Do what you can. Repent of your sin. And keep on. Get back up. Don’t buy the lie that no one knows your struggle or pain. Or that no one cares.

You are known by God and He does care. He knows what a wretched machine you are trying to drive. Jesus our Savior did come for to die. 

To save sinners. Including poor on’ry ones like you and like I.

 The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.

1 Timothy 1:15