Okay, sometimes I could be a good friend.
And sometimes I could be manipulative. Kind, because I needed help fixing my car, funny because my teacher might let me out of an assignment, thoughtful because the person might open a door for me. The friends that felt like I had more of an agenda than a relationship didn’t stay my friends for the long run and who could blame them.
Now let me introduce you to my dear friend, Pride. She’s not anything like I used to be. She is so kind, always saying really encouraging things to me. The other day she was at the house and she said:
“You’re such a great mom, listen to how your daughter prayed just now! That’s because of you.”
I blushed and gave myself a checkmark on the mom scorecard.
One time, after a difficult day of taking care of some issues with my Dad, she said:
“You’re really wise you know, how mature in your faith, I really admire you.”
I felt the tiredness ease back and I lifted my head a little higher.
And just yesterday she sat beside me while I worked on some art.
“You’ve got talent you know, you should find a way to show off,” she coughed quickly, “I mean, use your gifts.”
I just love spending time with her, with all her affectionate words she’s got to be a really good friend, right?
I mean she wouldn’t have an agenda, any reason to lift me a little higher in my own esteem, all the while setting the stage for my fall. I feel ashamed even suggesting that of her.
It’s just that lately her friendship’s become a bit of a burden. (Okay, a lot of a burden, just between you and me.) I’ve been trying to figure out how to focus on Christ during this month of celebration and I’ve talked to her a few times about how overwhelmed I’ve been feeling. But she seems to think I should shove that feeling aside.
“You know those people at the nursing home are really impressed when you bring them gifts each year. Remember how the one lady said she couldn’t believe all that you do and that you have the time to think of her as well.”
“I don’t know if I can this year though,” I answered back, hoping for some understanding.
“But you look like, I mean, you are such a great mom when you go in there with your troop of kids and hand out handmade gifts, of course you have to do it.”
“I know, but we’re so busy and I’m having trouble settling down with Matt in the evenings and I still have to think about family gifts and I have to make sure every day that we do school is filled with amazing advent activities.”
“Oh, of course you have to do the family gifts. And they should all be handmade, you can’t pass up an opportunity to impress someone. And you definitely have to have the perfect plan for school activities, I mean you need some things to post on your blog right?”
At that point, her friend, Works, joined us for a Peppermint Mocha.
“Oh, are you guys talking about Christmas? Have you gotten all of your service projects lined up, you know you’re kids will be selfish for the rest of their lives if you don’t get better organized. My family is going to do the Angel Tree, and serve dinner at the shelter, and we’re going to go ring the bell for the Salvation Army, even our two year old is getting involved….”
I drifted out of the conversation as they continued to list off their service projects. Are they really going to do all of that stuff? How do they handle it all?
I really like these guys, I tell myself, I can learn something from them.
And they seem to really like me, I respond back to myself, a little less certain.
“What in the world does any of this have to do with preparing your heart for Jesus,” an entirely different voice joins in my own private dialogue.
“I have to do all of these things or Christmas won’t be special, or spiritual, and people will think less of me,” I venture to this new voice.
“You seem to have forgotten something on your list,” the voice calmly answers back.
“What? Let me look: service projects, handmade gifts, the Christmas choir at church, meaningful family advent… is there really more I have to do?” I ask wearily, but with my pen ready to make the list complete.
“You forgot love.”
“L-O-, ” I stop writing.
“You can do all of these without love. And you can walk through the next month without experiencing any of Christ’s love for you.”
“You mean,” I paused, trying to sort it out,”I shouldn’t do any of the things on my list?”
“No, you should let love shape how those things look. Maybe your gifts for family have more to do with thoughtfulness than how impressive your hand-made gift looks. Maybe the Christmas choir is a gift to your children out of love because they’re excited about it, maybe you’re loving the nursing home workers by choosing to bring them a card and a small gift. Maybe you don’t do these things because they make you feel really good about yourself and a little extra spiritual this month, but you do them because you know a love that so great you can’t keep it to yourself.”
I think back to Pride’s words and try to reconcile them to the words of this new friend. Pride and Works made me feel the potential to be lifted high, but they also made me feel incredibly heavy, so heavy I didn’t know how I was going to get up the rickety pedestal they put in front of me. But with this friend I felt no desire to climb, instead I wanted to lift others up with this love he was talking about. And something akin to peace was settling around me.
“Hey, what’s your name, ” I call out.
“Spirit,” he said.
If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and knowledge, and I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over may body to hardship that I my boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.”
I Corinthians 13: 2, 3