Just this past month, my husband, Bobby, our children, and I took a trip back to the US to visit both family and friends. We decided we would cut down on travel time to visit others while in the States, as we had experienced in the past how so much time is swallowed up by commuting. We rented a huge lake house instead!
Largely the trip was meant to honor my family, as our local friends would often ask us when we had last seen my mother. “Oh, it’s been about three or four years.” None of our local friends remained unmoved by that comment, as some couldn’t go a year without seeing their family back home. I realized that this was a cultural reflection of my care for my family. Though saying my kids were young or tickets were expensive was acceptable, they were just excuses. [In reality I had a deep-rooted fear of American life and culture, but that’s another topic altogether.]
Reflecting on Types of Visitors
Even though our main purpose was for family, we didn’t cut out visiting friends altogether though. Since we rented the lake house, our friends and family could stay with us instead. The place was packed the entire time we were there. We held a friends’ barbecue and a family barbecue, and though the family barbecue was just as it should have been in my opinion, I was convicted by the friends who were coming to visit us.
I don’t want to sound ungrateful. I’m not. Those who came blessed me to my core. It’s just that I had asked many to come visit, and I was perplexed by who was choosing not to come for many different reasons.
I noticed many of our friends who were making long distance, out-of-state treks to see us were actually people my husband had significantly impacted. Two families with three or more kids were taking off time from work and traveling hundreds of miles to see our family. I was having difficulty getting my friends who lived in the area to come and see us, not even jumping to examine my out of town friends.
That really caused me to pause. I know that friendships can fall out with distance and time, but did I want to be the type of friend who repaid friendships that I believed as meaningful with silence? In comparison, Bobby had made a real effort toward upkeep in these relationships that mattered so much to him. But I had isolated myself from relationships I had considered meaningful once upon a time.
But what was the cause of my seeking isolation and apathy? Was it out of complacency and foolish busy-bodying? Was it out of fear of forming relationships that had caused pain in the past? Was it a general devaluing of relationships for the good of others, elevating myself and my needs above others and their needs?
Upon reflection, though my American friendships are understandable as the main social media they use is blocked in my current home, my friend upkeep among locals isn’t all that great either.
I decided in my mind to make a visit to a particular friend at the beginning of the month prior to our trip, and by the end of the month, I had still not seen her, at my own fault.
Another example of how I treated relationships played out at work. While in the office with an education industry connection, he teased me, “In normal conversations, people respond ‘I’m fine, thanks. How are you?’”
Still another example, when I reviewed chat messages with an accountability friend, she consistently asked how I was doing, how I was walking and what I was struggling with, but it took me near a month to respond with asking how she was.
I felt my consideration of others, even in the moment, to be linked to my heart orientation toward people and relationships.
Truth of the Good of Relationships
But I can’t simply just change actions and hope it makes a change in my heart. I need to see that people matter, relationships matter, and that they are good for mutual growth.
Here are a handful of verses about relationships, particularly convicting to me:
“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 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.”
“So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.”
“Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”
“ Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.”
These verses seek relationships that are mutually encouraging, deep relationships, pointing one another away from sin. A type of relationship in which you know the other’s sin is bound to get messy, where much grace is needed. Conversations within these relationships aren’t going to be rife with, “How are you?” and “Did you see the weather today?”
Repentance from Selfishness
They also point to doing good for others, especially those in the household of faith. When I am focused on myself, I’m not thinking about how I could be a blessing to others. I’m thinking about what pleases me and fixes my own problems. I’m really just selfish. A life of selfishness is not the type of life that these verses are calling me to.
I know that if I kept a written log of my thought life, so much of it would focus on my wants and needs, and I’d truthfully be ashamed by what I would have to write down. If I’m really honest with myself, I see this type of selfishness play out not just in friendships, but also in my relationship with my husband and my children. Yet I say these are the people I love the most in all the world.
In view of what the Bible calls me to, I can turn to Christ, who loved perfectly and laid down his life for his friends, so that he could make them co-heirs. He washed their feet. He bore their sins on the cross. He loved them even after they doubted him and rejected him. He sought to fulfill their most foundational need, salvation, but he fulfilled their physical and emotional needs, too. He has loved me in this same way, too, dying for me when I was an enemy of the cross. I can take hope in knowing that it is his plan and pleasure to change my heart to love others in the same way he loved them. In the same way he loved me.
God, I know I am not able to love as you have loved, and my heart is so selfish. I would much rather seek out satisfaction to my own needs rather than seek to alleviate the pangs of others. I pray that you would help me to love selflessly, with or without knowing that the help will make an eternal impact and last a lifetime. Help me to take hope in your promise that you will change my heart if I come to you humbly.
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Photos: Vanessa Jencks 2017 (All Rights Reserved)