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Initiative in friendships: Obstacles

Thursday July 6 2017

Initiative in friendships: Obstacles

I wrote last week about Mary taking initiative to visit her cousin Elizabeth who was also pregnant with a miracle baby. I talked about the fact that Mary could easily have stayed home. Why might Mary have made a decision NOT to go visit Elizabeth?

She might have stayed home if she had wondered if Elizabeth would welcome her. She might have stayed home if she had a lot of fears about what might happen on the journey. She might have felt obligated to help her mother or take care of her younger siblings, and her sense of responsibility might have kept her at home.

In the same way, many people today find it hard to initiate with friends or potential friends because of wondering if the act of initiative will be welcome. Many people have fears about the whole process of taking action. Will something bad or unpleasant happen? And many people are so absorbed with immediate needs—household, family, work—that they find it hard to think about extending a gesture of friendship to someone who is not immediately present.

“Love is kind.” Love “believes all things, hopes all things” (1 Corinthians 13:4, 7). Part of the solution to the fears of reaching out in friendship comes from considering how to love the people with whom we are friends or with whom we might start a friendship. What would it look like to act in kindness to someone we know? What would it look like to believe and hope that our kindness will be received? Or to believe and hope that kindness is never wasted, that God will bring good things from it whether or not it is received graciously by the person to whom it is given?

When we reach out in kindness toward a friend or potential friend, we are mirroring the love of God that reaches into our lives. When we act in kindness with the hope of a positive response, but with the willingness to show love even if the response is tepid or negative, we are reflecting the character of God. The kind of initiative that builds true friendships is rooted in God’s love, full of kindness and hope, believing the best outcome may be possible.

Love carries its own reward. When we act in love, when we take initiative to show kindness and compassion, we are mirroring the character of God as shown to us in Jesus Christ. Every time we do that, we are participating in God’s work of transformation in us. Even if our act of kindness isn’t received very enthusiastically, we will be blessed if we trust that God’s love is shaping us into the people we were created to be.

One of my favorite poems speaks to initiative in relationships. I have loved this poem since I was a teenager who had moved a dozen times in her first 15 years. The poem affirmed all the effort I had taken to make friends every time we moved, and it encouraged me to continue to try to make friends in every new situation.

Talk not of wasted affection; affection never was wasted.
If it enrich not the heart of another, its waters returning
Back to their springs, like the rain shall fill them full of refreshment;
That which the fountain sends forth returns again to the fountain.
                  (Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 1807–1882)

(Next week: Overcoming fear. If you’d like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up under “subscribe” in the right hand column. This post is excerpted from my book Friending: Real Relationships in a Virtual World. For a complete list of my books, click here.)



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