Friday, August 1, 2008

What Matters in Friendships

[This is something I have recently been struggling with over the past few months.  In other words, I wrote this mostly for myself as a way to verbalize a few stray thoughts that might be lost if I didn't write them down.  But then, of course, friendships can be tricky things for everyone.  So perhaps you will also be encouraged by this.  :-)]

“I hate you!  You’re not my friend anymore!”

I can vividly recall yelling such words to numerous childhood friends over the years.  It’s what kids do.  You’re best friends one week, then the next you’re sworn enemies.  One minute you’re sharing lollipops; then the next you’re pulling each other’s hair out. 

I met one friend at a “Pioneer Girl” meeting once when I was around four years old.  The both of us secretly agreed to become best friends right on the spot – “Hi, my name is Bridget.  Do you want to be my best friend?” – “Okay!  My name is Katie!  Let’s be best friends!”  A few weeks later, we couldn’t stand each other.

It’s not that little kids have terribly calloused, mean hearts.  It’s just that when you’re little, going through a dozen or so friendships every month is easy – you simply use each other for however long the fun lasts.  And then, when the other guy starts getting on your nerves – well, there’s plenty of other kids to pick from, so why bother sticking it out with this piece of mold?

We laugh at such childish attitudes, and yet, how many of us still harbor this same kind of mindset even when we’ve grown?  Of course, we probably (and hopefully!) don’t act the same way as children, but in all honesty, many of us still do foster that same kind of mentality.  How many of us see friendship as something to use for our own benefit and enjoyment, rather than as a means to benefit others and make others happy?  How many of us have dropped good friendships over the years simply because we no longer enjoyed the other person’s company?

I’ve come to realize that, for the most part, I have viewed friendship in this way – as something to primarily benefit me and make me happy.  I am annoyed when I feel as if I’m being ignored.  Irritated when a friend refuses to listen to my advice.  Hurt when he or she would rather do something else instead of hanging out with me.  It’s a philosophy that says, “I am in this relationship for my benefit, and I want you to make me feel special.”  Perhaps I never think this outright, but in application, I far too often do.

How many people out there have viewed friendship as a means to benefit themselves?  I can’t imagine I am the only one.  It is a simple testimony to human nature, the selfish tendency to place ourselves before others and before God.  It is this tendency that has completely twisted the meaning of friendship and turned it into a self-serving, self-loving concept.

You see, friendship should not primarily be something we benefit from; instead, it should be an opportunity for us to benefit others by drawing them closer to God.

Jesus is called a “friend” of sinners.  If Jesus were a friend of sinners according to the self-serving definition, do you think he would have stripped himself of power and glory and born the punishment for our sins so that we might have a relationship with God?  What did we ever do for him?  He befriended us and loved us long before we ever even knew his name.  That’s not exactly what I would call a beneficial relationship on his part.  And yet he did it anyway, at great cost to himself, so that we might know God.  It’s perfectly selfless, and perfectly loving, and perfectly amazing.

Christ died so that I might know God.  So that I, a perfectly undeserving, utterly sinful human being who took no interest in Christ whatsoever, could share in Christ's glory and actually know God Almighty on a personal level.  Christ's friendship with me has given me the ultimate relationship with God.  It's amazing.  The only thing I can conclude from such an astounding fact is that my own earthly friendships should try to emulate in some small way this kind of love.  In other words, like Christ, the ultimate goal of my friendships should be to strengthen the other person's relationship with God, the only friendship that will ever bring lasting joy.  It's a simple thing to recognize, yet more often than not I find myself failing to apply this to real life.  

But when you think about it, this is the only way we can become true friends, not by having a good time and enjoying each other’s company, but by building each other up and drawing one another closer to Him.  Christ’s friendship with us has given us the ultimate relationship with God.  Therefore it only makes sense that the primary purpose of all other relationships should be to strengthen this ultimate relationship with Him.

It all boils down to our worldview.  If we recognize that God is ultimately the only being in existence who can make things matter, then we will naturally seek to place Him at the center of all our relationships.  And if we place Him at the center of all our relationships, then it will only be natural for us to draw one another closer to Him.  And furthermore (stay with me now!), if we are primarily focused on drawing one another closer to Him, then we won’t be busy sulking over bruised egos and damaged self-esteem when we are ignored, or forgotten, or taken advantage of.  Instead, we will use these moments as opportunities to imitate Christ's own love toward us.

But just how many of us are this kind of friend?

Wednesday, July 9, 2008


[I'm veering away, a little bit, from the "end of the matter" theme with this post, but I pretty much couldn't help myself. I found this "poem" of sorts scribbled in one of my old notebooks the other day, and couldn't believe I had forgotten all about it up until a few days ago. I thought it might be worthwhile sharing on my blog, so here it is!]

Timidity crawls in the shadows,

not wanting to be seen or heard.

She quietly flows with the hustle and bustle,

not wanting to stick out.

She does not care what she is doing

as long as she is never noticed.

When I wrote this, I was fourteen years old and passionately struggling against numerous fears and anxieties that wanted to hold me back from taking steps forward – fear of man especially. I could feel myself being tied down by the world, tied down and stuffed into a little box called “Acceptance.” In other words, my desire to be “accepted” was keeping me from living for God. And when I realized this, I knew that something had to change. I knew that if I ever wanted to be of any use in this world, I could not let my fears – however strong they may be – dictate my life.

So I wrote this little “poem” (if it can be called that) to describe the kind of person I did not want to become but would become if I allowed my fears to box me in. "Timidity crawls in the shadows" – Do I want to be the one cowering in darkness or the one that is shining her light in dark places? "Not wanting to be seen or heard" – If I am never seen or heard, then how will I ever give testimony to God’s love and grace? "She quietly flows with the hustle and bustle, not wanting to stick out" – As a Christian, I am called to flow against the tide of the world, not with it. "She does not care what she is doing as long as she is never noticed" – How will I ever make a difference in the world if the only thing I care about is not being noticed?

I never wrote anything to describe the kind of person I did want to become because I already knew that I should be striving to be like Christ – and in my house, I can read about him just about anywhere I look! I wanted this poem to serve as a reminder to me every time I was tempted to just timidly “blend in” with the rest of the world. I wanted myself to read this and say, “No! That is not who I am, and it is not who I want to be!” I want to be like Christ, and no amount of fear, worry, or anxiety will keep me from following him.

Monday, June 30, 2008

I Don't Matter?

[For those who are curious, expect a regular post on this blog at least once a month (more if possible!) but for when it's not possible, then just once. So...this means (and if you're smart, you might have figured this out already) that if you want to save a lot of time and energy, you should only check back either at the very end or at the very beginning of each month. Hope this helps anyone who was curious! :-D]

Here’s a thought somewhat connected to the thoughts from my previous post:

If God is the only one who can make things matter, then God is ultimately the only one who matters. And if God is the only one who matters, then I – insofar as I live for myself – don’t matter.

Wait – hold on a second – did I just hear myself right? Did I just say that I don’t matter? Come on now, I couldn’t have really meant that. I mean, after all, if I ever want to do anything special with my life, I have to believe in myself, right? Isn’t that what everyone says? In order to “get to the top” and be successful, I first have to respect myself, follow my heart, and look out for “Number One.” I’m supposed to look deep within myself to find my inner worth and thereby discover that I am capable of doing great things simply because I am special by my own merit.

At least, that’s what everyone tells me. Therefore, how dare I say that I don’t matter? Why…a statement like that might be bad for my self-esteem.

Our whole culture revolves around self – me, my wants, my goals, my dreams, my ambitions – it’s all about living for ourselves and getting the most out of our lives. We are told that the answers to all of life’s problems are deep within ourselves, and consequently, nobody ever stops to think that maybe the “answer” isn’t actually within us at all.

For me, one of the most difficult things I could ever do is to NOT live for myself. It goes against the very grain of human nature. We live for the things we love, and let’s face it, most of us love ourselves. In fact, if you think about it, this is probably why catchy phrases like “follow your heart” and “respect yourself” are so popular – they simply encourage us to do what comes naturally. They don’t challenge us to see ourselves for what we really are.

And what are we really? For that matter, what am I? Am I really all that special compared to other people? I could spend my whole life living for myself, furthering my goals, following my ambitions, satisfying my desires, clamoring for everything this world has to offer, and in the end, I would just die like everyone else, and all my greed wouldn’t really seem to matter anymore.

So here’s the question:

Do I really want to waste my life on myself?

If I live for myself, then everything I do on this earth would be pointless – my life would be a waste of breath. It all gets back to the main point: If God is the only one that matters, then as long as I live for myself, I don’t matter and everything I do is pointless. It’s a simple logical progression.

But here’s the flipside:

If God is the only one that can make things matter, then God is ultimately the only one who matters. And if God is the only one who matters, then I – in so far as I live for God – do matter.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

The End of the Matter

[I signed up with blogger forever ago -- sometime last year -- and I truly, truly did have the *full* intent of posting lots and lots of blogs right away. But then life got the best of me, and I pretty much forgot all about this little place until a few weeks ago. Well, make a long story short, it is I who have now gotten the best of life. :-) Hence, posting blogs should be much more feasible over the next few months. :-) And so! Without further ado, here is my first blog post! *applause*]

I read a book once, and it changed my life forever. It revolutionized my outlook on life. Not that I was actively seeking any kind of life-altering experience or anything. The book simply came to me at a time when I was just beginning to ask some of the questions that it answers. In many ways, it is one of the first “philosophic” books that I was ever able to connect with personally. I’m actually sitting at my laptop with a narrative copy of it right now – it’s cover is black with red lettering, and on the back it says: “What does a man get for all the toil and anxious striving with which he labors under the sun?”

It’s the book of Ecclesiastes, for those who don’t recognize the quote. My mom, knowing it to be my favorite book of the Bible, recently bought a single, narrative copy of it for me. *smiles*

I first read the book years ago, apathetically flipping through the chapters, not exactly understanding what I was reading and not necessarily caring either. As I was reading, my older brother came into the room and asked me what I was doing. “Reading Ecclesiastes,” I remember mumbling. “Oh really?” he said, “And what’s that about?” “Oooh…” I said tentatively, “it’s about how everything in life is meaningless.” I looked at him blandly, but then, as if by a sudden spark of inspiration, I quickly added, “except with the Lord.”

Suddenly, a whirlwind of meaning seemed to sweep over me, and I was dumbfounded by the fact that such a profound statement could come out of my mouth. “Everything in life is meaningless except with the Lord.” The thought was revolutionary.

I remember staring at my brother for a short while just taking the thought in. Everything in life is meaningless, I thought. Is there anything in this world that is not utterly futile in the end? People try to find meaning through any number of desperate, empty solutions. Wealth, success, fame, reputation, relationships, status – but what’s the point? It’s like building a castle made of sand. It’s never going to last, so what’s the point of building it in the first place? Nothing in life lasts. Nothing brings the satisfaction you think it should bring – so what’s the point? Why does the sun bother to rise if it’s only going to set again? What’s the point of living if you’re only going to die?

“What does a man get for all the toil and anxious striving with which he labors under the sun?” The question suddenly took on a whole new meaning. “What will I get for all my toil and anxious striving?” I had never thought of rewording the question like that, but now it just seemed natural. That was the whole point of the book!

I looked back down at my Bible and saw for the first time what the “preacher” was trying to communicate. With my new eyes, I started from the beginning and read the entire book through again, my interest finally culminating in the last two verses:

“The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.”

I reread these last two verses several times before finally looking up. This was the answer! This was the point! People scramble endlessly trying to find some kind of meaning to their life, yet more often than not they fail. Why? Because they never look beyond themselves; they never search beyond the futility of this world. People are so busy playing with their sandcastles that they never notice the towering palace before them. But if they were just once willing to look beyond themselves and into the eternal mysteries of an immutable God, they would find a reality that is far more real and solid than anything this life could offer.

Everything in this world is passing. There is nothing that will not fade with time. There is no pleasure that will not grow stale, and no relationship that will not bring disappointment. If we want to find lasting joy, we must find purpose in something that will not pass away. In Ecclesiastes 3:14, we read that “whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it.” God is the only thing – the only one – who is lasting. His reality is eternal, and His purposes unchanging.

As for me, my life is nothing more than dust on a chalkboard – the things I do today are just as easily erased tomorrow. What is my life in comparison to eternity? A hundred years from now, all of my “toil and anxious striving” will amount to nothing more than a name on a gravestone. It all seems so futile.

All of these thoughts flashed through my mind in an instant as I stared at my brother in the living room. And I understood it all. Since that day, there have been many times in my life where I have asked myself, “What’s the point? Why should I bother?” Yet it is at those times that I am driven to the words of the preacher in Ecclesiastes. Nothing “under the sun” lasts – “all is vanity and a striving after wind” [Ecc.1:14]. Without God, everything is meaningless; and yes, my life would be completely and utterly futile if I never looked beyond what this empty world “under the sun” offers. If I ever want my life to amount to something of significance, I need to be rooted in something eternal and unchanging. In other words, I need to be rooted in the everlasting God, for He is the only one who can make all that I do “under the sun” last in eternity.

This is, in essence, the reason why I chose to name my blog “The End of the Matter.” As Solomon put it, the “end of the matter” is to “fear God and keep his commandments.” In the end, this one simple truth really is all that matters, for God is the only being in existence who is capable of making what we do truly last.

I have found lasting purpose in God; and therefore, I know that my life will matter even when I am dead and gone and nobody even remembers my name. Even during my lifetime, when I am endlessly striving after some unseen goal and everything I do seems to be amounting to nothing. God makes it matter. It is this simple truth that has revolutionized my life and now drives the purpose behind everything I say and do – including this blog.

“The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.”

Because I fear God, my life matters. What makes your life matter?