My Problem with “Valuable” Friendships

2 02 2011


 I have a huge problem with the word, “valuable”, especially when it comes to relationships. I hear it tossed around so much, that I believe it has lost the power and appeal it was intended to have and has adopted a completely destructive (albeit well-intentioned) meaning. “Tomi, you’re friendship is valuable to me” doesn’t mean anything to me anymore, precisely because of the word “valuable.”

When I hear valuable, I hear abandonment. And I think I’m right in hearing this, for when things are labeled “valuable”, they are abandoned, untouched, left alone for fear of some outside force or circumstance altering or affecting it. I don’t think “valuable” and “friendship” or “valuable” and “relationship” should be the same sentence anymore. Yes, I’m calling for a divorce.

If “valuable” implies importance and value, then the subsequent actions attached to the word valuable shouldn’t apply like they do. China dishes are valuable so they are rarely used. Diamonds are valuable so they’re rarely worn (well, sometimes). Expensive furniture is valuable so they remain unused in that sitting room that no one really sits in. Let’s face it, valuable has become code for “used rarely”.

And that’s where my problem lies. Friendships and relationships can’t be “used rarely.” They must be used often, especially in circumstances where they can get messy, damaged or broken because that is the point of their existence, to last and to last well. This, to me, is the definition of valuable: often used so as to experience its longevity.

I mean, when I think of something or someone having value, I can’t help but turn to Jesus. Jesus is the epitome of what valuable meant and still means. His value rested not only in who He was, but in how He still lives. He was tested and beaten severely and proved valuable. He died, but His value came in His re-living. In Jesus we have the space and the opportunity to re-examine value. Value is something that is not kept aside and protected or ignored (because that’s just what we do with it), but value is something that is used, often, even brutally, and still lives.

Herein lays my frustration with friendships. If a friendship is valuable to you, use it. Don’t use it when you need to fill you “black friend quota” or your “I hang out with a Muslim quota” but use it because you want to, you need to, and you need it to move forward another day a changed and better person. If that’s not what your friendships are for, stop lying to yourself and others.

I urge everyone who is reading this to be honest with yourself and release people and yourself from the torture of neglected friendships. They hurt and are not serving a purpose as something valuable should. If a friend means so much to you that you are actively a friend back to them, keep it. If not, make it clear that you have a good association, but stop abusing the word “friendship”. If you want to honor someone’s value, be around them, be with them: love them in this way if you truly consider their heart and their soul “valuable.”  

Let’s stop hurting people, especially in the church. White lies aren’t the Christian thing to do.

The Wisdom of Proverbs (Proverbs 3:16-18)

22 12 2010

Proverbs 3:16-18
16Long life is in her right hand;
in her left hand are riches and honor.
17Her ways are ways of pleasantness,
and all her paths are peace.
18She is a tree of life to those who lay hold of her;
those who hold her fast are called happy.
I missed my reflection yesterday due to a combination of factors including limited computer access and laziness (I still had the option to hand-write it if I were super-serious, but since there’s no use crying over spilled milk I’ll move on). Later on today, I get to reflect twice!
In verse 16 God’s wisdom holds things in her hands that we do not need but that we desire. Oddly enough when I read this passage, my mind automatically roams to a rap song from the late 1990s that narrated the antithesis of this three-fold blessing. The song was called “Money, Power, Respect.” It named money, power and respect as the trinity of penultimate happiness, love and success. It named these three things as important to be added to a person in order to make it. But this trinity of success is best supported by aggressive action, instinctual defensiveness, and a tough mentality that survives on “I need to get you before you get me.” It thrives on paranoia.
And it thrives on paranoia because is it self-attained. It is not given; it is taken. Therefore, it must be defended to the death, guarded from everyone, and it can never be truly enjoyed because it was acquired only to be briefly flaunted and largely guarded.
Verse 16 presents a different trinity of success similar to but different than MPR. They are transformed from ordinary desires to spiritual desires. They offer expanded definitions of longevity, wealth and respect. They take on a fuller meaning than immediate comfort and typical demonstrations of success. Long life, riches and honor are advertised as the possessions wisdom so gracefully carries in her hands, offerings of some sort ready to be released in a worship space or at the foot of some altar.
But not at our feet. At least that was not what I was expecting. I didn’t expect the offering to be something available to me, but I expect it to be something I would have to hope for, wait for, but most importantly something reserved for the perfect saints. Not me. But it is for me.
There’s something holy about the right hand. It is a place of distinction and honor, and it holds long life. It holds longevity, legacy, continuation. Like a prized possession and a treasured gift wisdom’s place of honor lifts up life.
The left-hand is important too for it holds two things, riches and honor. It holds wealth and distinction. It holds an abundance of stuff and love and many other things coupled with respect from others, being looked upon and considered highly. It holds things given to us by family and strangers, the earth and by God. It enhances what the right hand holds.  
But wisdom not only holds intricate and life-changing details about ourselves, our calls, and our destiny’s. Wisdom paves ways. Verse 17 describes wisdoms ways as pleasant, and her paths as peace, not peaceful, but peace. Ephesians 6 paints this delightful picture of the Gospel as the Gospel of peace that our feet are shod, or covered with. Our feet are covered in the preparation of the Gospel of peace, of the way it has made for myself and for others. Wisdom treads down that same path and we are to follow her. The ways of wisdom are pleasant and the paths of wisdom are Gospel-like. They are peace.
Wisdom carries life-changing desires, creates paths towards peace and is a life-source. If we cling to her, her life runs through us and empowers us. If we become rooted in her, we gain life and we gain happiness.
Prayer: Lord, we want to be happy. Give us Your wisdom. Lord, we’re desperate for Your wisdom. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.

The Wisdom of Proverbs (Proverbs 3:13-15)

19 12 2010

Proverbs 3:13-15

13Happy are those who find wisdom,
and those who get understanding,
14for her income is better than silver,
and her revenue better than gold.
15She is more precious than jewels,
and nothing you desire can compare with her.

Wisdom is supposed to do something to us. It’s supposed to change our demeanor. It’s supposed to invoke in us a sense of divine satisfaction where we submit to this feeling called happy. It has this power to determine our mood and how we think about life from that moment until the next moment. It lives in time and does something to how we receive life where we enjoy it and relish it and cherish it. It’s supposed to make us smile.

But that’s only if we find her.

Happy are those who find wisdom. It’s almost as if we’re happy because of the action of finding. It’s almost as if we take more satisfaction in achieving discovery. It’s almost as if the journey creates the path towards our joy when we finally reach this destination called wisdom. When we finally find her, other emotions may very well exist within us, but the dominant trait we bear is happy. The journey towards happiness witnesses to something great within us, the ability to search albeit not consistently, but nevertheless we search. The destination attests to our determination to discover something we do not already have. We look for it in hopes of one day having it. Just like with school where we work for years for the end-result degree, this journey towards wisdom may take years of work, some good and some bad, but in the end, work. We are constantly moving in a direction to have something that, in my opinion, we’ve already started getting all along the journey. Like the building of knowledge in school, our wisdom is built upon day to day repetition of journeying and searching.

We meet her on the way, we realize we’ve been alongside her when we fall and we shudder, partly in fear and partly with amazement when we realize that we had been journeying without her guidance for so long.

The same applies to understanding, revelation, realizing reality—wisdom unfurled.  

We go get her. We take the active steps of retrieval and end up successful because we resolved to make the journey in the first place. To me this is fabulous news, that we are rewarded for the effort, not the performance but for wanting her and going to get her. Because this requires discomfort and not having control, and not searching perfectly, and not saying all the spiritual things we think we should, and not having an organ or three-part harmony because our wailing and crying out in desperation isn’t supposed to harmonize or match up perfectly or play out smoothly. But we encounter real, raw life and errors and the daunting reality that our spiritual journeying is ugly and dirty and soiled and soaked in our human efforts, but honored by the pure Holy Spirit.

We are honored as we seek the honor of finding and getting wisdom and understanding.

Our work is honored. The income of wisdom (and understanding) is more than what money can bring or imply. The income is more than the things we work our entire lives to get so we can live in or with them, but the income is something that lives in and with us. It never leaves us. It never leaves us broke…although we had to be broken to earn her.

Wisdom’s return in our lives earns more for us than gold could ever earn. The knowledge, keenness, awareness, smart-mindedness etc. gives us more than what we think we need to survive. We need wisdom to survive, not gold, not silver, not a big church, not a four-bedroom house we don’t use properly, not more clothes than we can ever wear, not attention from men who we know will never love and respect the way God does…we need wisdom, not stuff or attention from certain people, for wisdom tells us what to do with stuff and people and feelings and touch circumstances and mourning and lament and joy and happiness. Wisdom has the wherewithal to keep us one step ahead of the best dreams we can conjure up for ourselves.

We have to give up the dreams of others that we’ve adopted for ourselves. Cliques cant do for us what God’s wisdom has done, continues to do and can do. Doing whatever we want can’t give us anything better than what God’s wisdom can. Hating people and parties and races and classes can’t give us anything that will help and heal us like wisdom can. Music can’t touch wisdom. Our perfect spouse, our perfect selves, our “I’m not imperfect” attitude that we’ve made into an idol can’t outdo wisdom. For wisdom and understanding doesn’t put up with that. She calls it out; she calls us out, out of wherever we are struggle into a struggle with purpose. We battle ourselves and God and the devil and wisdom teaches us when and how to fight and when and how to surrender.  

Wisdom is on another level than our desires. Our desires fall short, look bland, and appear miniscule in the face of wisdom. When we understand and realize that the wise thing to do trumps what “we feel is the best thing for us” then we’ve begun to allow wisdom to journey with us as the leader through this uncertain life. In this journey we will know for certain that our happiness didn’t come from us, but in our decision, in our will to trust wisdom and to follow God.

Prayer: Lord, we want Your wisdom. Kill whatever You must within, around, above, and chained to us so that we may submit to a Perfect Will ultimately working towards our happiness. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.

The Wisdom of Proverbs (Proverbs 3:11-12)

18 12 2010

Proverbs 3:11-12

11My child, do not despise the Lord’s discipline
or be weary of his reproof,
12for the Lord reproves the one he loves,
as a father the son in whom he delights.

The fun themes keeping coming, don’t they? If you skimmed the first line before reading the entire passage, you probably had the same reaction that I did, “Great, another discipline/correction passage.” The dread is searing and heavy. But reading through it carefully, the passage causes us to do the oddest thing. It causes us to pause. It causes us to stop. It causes us to rest our racing minds and busy hearts and think about what it’s saying. That’s the great and hard thing about reflecting and meditating on a short passage of scripture; it forces us to finally consider what we’ve been avoiding, to finally address what we’ve been running away from, to stop and face our fears or uncertainties, questions and confusing doctrine we’ve been taught or even came to conclude ourselves. It forces us to face the uncomfortable, the “I’ll take a rain-check on this” spiritual moment that affects us everyday but that we avoid consistently. It forces us into a realm of reality and truthfulness that we have no choice but to encounter. In pausing, we cannot rush past what we don’t want to encounter but we see it and then encounter it head on. We do the adult thing and face our realities. We move past the childish tendencies to bypass challenges and face them directly.

And in doing the adult thing, we find our child-status reasserted. God’s voice in God’s wisdom is heard gently but clearly heard. God calls us “child,” we are tenderly reminded we are God’s child in this teaching moment. And when God addresses us with such tenderness, we can hear the love and the concern and the desire for our well-being. What’s more, the love is evident, especially in the warning issued forth: we should not ignore God’s correction; God only does it because God loves us.

We know God’s correction in two ways it seems, discipline and reproof. Discipline is the withholding of privilege or even physical correction. It’s residual action. It sounds like “I’m doing this because I love you/this is going to hurt you more than it hurts me/you’ll understand why I’m doing this when you’re older,” something a parent would say while issuing a time-out, grounding or spanking. Reproof is the intense present moment of correction which, nine times out of ten, directly precedes the discipline. It sounds like “You know you’re not supposed to open the door for strangers/eat dessert before dinner/talk back to your teacher/watch TV before you finish your homework.” It is the verbal narration of what was done wrong. Sometimes it includes an explanation why it is wrong, and other times, we already know why before we do it and our parents know that we know, hence the lack of explanation why.  

Although discipline and reproof may conjure negative images or nightmarish recollection, we have to admit that, to a certain extent, it worked. It caused us to do a number of things: 1) understand that our parents had power over us and our decision-making (whether we liked it or not); 2) relate differently to our parents; 3) relate differently to people, concepts and ideas (whether it’s with caution, suspicion, trust, respect etc.); 4) think before we acted.

Somehow because of correction’s place within our lives as the third parent, we were made smarter, better, wiser, sounder, keen. The correction that may have been hurtful or painful to our little childish hearts, ways of thinking, reasoning, and desires is now extremely helpful. We don’t follow strangers down a dark alley, we don’t touch hot stoves, we don’t pay too much for car insurance, we don’t cook with too much butter, we don’t go for days without brushing our teeth, we don’t steal from our co-workers, we don’t overfeed the fish – we are smarter because of all the warnings we received, all the “ah, ah, ah’s”, “don’t even think about it’s” and “remember not to’s.”

We have to admit it, we got a lot of good advice from our parents or guardians because they simply experienced things first and more and were gracious enough to pass along the wisdom. Where else would we get wisdom if not for someone else? Sure God can give wisdom but God sends the people to alert us to something, warn us of this person or to listen to this or that. God uses people to channel God’s love and wisdom. Good guardians or good parents are the closest avenue to experiencing God fully in that way.

God takes action, God verbally warns because God loves us just like our teachers, parents, guardians, older siblings, friends or family do when they teach us something about life because they have run into the struggles life presents. God does not parent us in this “I’m now going to point out everything you’re doing wrong so you can be the perfect person” manner. God’s love is a holy love that I honestly don’t think we’ll ever be able to grasp nor understand. We can feel like we understand, but I really don’t think we do.

God delights in us.

We make God happy; we give God joy. We, sinful human creatures, make our Creator happy. I don’t understand the depth of love that would allow that to happen.

But God does. God is that love. If God didn’t offer us correction, we would have to wonder if God cared about us. But if we feel that God is always closing doors, not speaking, staying away, maybe we should examine what is going on. Maybe God is closing doors because God has something else, but maybe God is closing doors so that we can get back to the basics and realize Who created those doors. Sometimes I think we use the “closed doors” metaphor to describe our benefit, but we overlook the fact that God is closing those doors from the inside waiting to be alone with us so that we could again realize in wonder Who this God is that loves us so and wants to be with us. Maybe God is not speaking because we didn’t ask the right question. Maybe the question shouldn’t be “Lord, what am I supposed to do with the rest of my life? I know You know and am trusting You will reveal it to me.” Maybe it should be “Lord, what do You want me to do today?” Maybe God is staying away because we wandered outside of God’s holiness; that’s pretty scary. It’s scary to move so far away from God that the God who is more vast than vastness itself is far from us.

When we realize that God corrects us not only for our well-being, but ultimately to serve our purpose in worshipping God through being who God has created us to be, then we’re getting somewhere.

What does God delight in about you? Are you existing within that space of God’s pleasure? God wants you to, that’s why correction is necessary and pleasure-producing for our betterment and for God’s enjoyment.

Prayer: Lord, enjoy us. May we all realize and live what this means for us and for You. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.

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