Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Friendship, Naturally....Or, Kuyper's Napkin Ring

I've told the story many times, but I find it very interesting.  One of my mentors in the ministry, of Dutch extraction and a lover of all things Dutch (the product of a mixed marriage, his father was RCA and mother CRC).  Someone gave him a prize possession --a silver napkin ring owned by the towering theologian, pastor, publisher, university founder and Dutch Prime Minister Abraham Kuyper.

The inscription?  Proverbs 17:17b.  The b is important. Proverbs 17:17 says, "A friend loves at all times and a brother is born for adversity."  The b is "a brother is born for adversity."

And the lesson is, if you are only a friend to people when they make little demand of your time or energy, you're really not their friend at all.  You are acting sub-Christian; you are acting naturally.

I've observed this in the church --if a person is difficult or makes demands on our time and energy, we naturally lapse into self-protecting mode, and withdraw.  We want to be around cheerful people.  Nobody wants to sit with Job in silence.  I think sometimes Job's friends get a bad rap for their obnoxiously bad advice --but at least they were there with him.

Having gone through some low periods, as we all do, I know the demands that makes on friendship, and how little understanding people are who don't share that particular malady.  We withdraw from people who bring us down --we want those who will lift us up.  It's natural.  Misery may love company, but company generally doesn't like misery.  Sometimes being a friend just frankly stinks.  We naturally want to talk about football or the weather or politics.  We don't naturally want to plumb the depths of another's suffering to help lift him out.

I have known a few people with diagnosed borderline personality disorder, and others I suspect are afflicted with it.  It's one of the most intractable mental maladies of all, and distinctly unpleasant.  There are no shades of gray in relationship with a person with BPD --they are either your best friend or your sworn enemy.  If you've ever been written off by a person with no good reason, it may be that they have BPD.

Or, it may be that they are just acting naturally.  This hurts; I know.  I have wanted to take certain people and shake them and say, "You know, I love you, but you are a really horrible friend."  The friends that ceaselessly talk about self --it's natural to do that.  Dale Carnegie taught people to exploit that --people love to talk about themselves so, if you want to make a sale, get them talking about themselves, etc.  But, we would do well to learn from Dale.  There is a studied art to friendship, and part of it is learning how to converse --and say "but enough about me, how are you?"

The church is supposedly a supernatural community.  Why are we so often held captive to what we do naturally?  Why do people withdraw from us when times are tough?  Why, when a person falls prey to an illness do they sometimes receive few (if any) phone calls, cards, expressions of empathy, or offers of help?  There are times when it feels like a good idea, even to pastors, to give up on the church altogether.  But, then, you see that there are a precious few who do.  Praise God for them!  The ones who are living the transformed life, the ones who do care.

The church is often said to look just like the world in terms of morality, which is sad enough.  I think it's even sadder though, when the church looks just like the world in lack of empathy --when we allow ourselves the luxury of selfishness with time and energy.  If that's you and you're a Christian, you're like Peter in Antioch --your conduct is out of accord with the gospel.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this, Ken. In God's providence, this was our family's memory verse for today! And indeed, in His further providence, we had the ending section of Matthew 5 in our second family worship of the day (determined by the fact that it was just the next section in Matthew). We are not to love each other with a love that tax-collectors understand. We're supposed to have a crazy returning-good-for-evil love that can only be understood as coming from our Heavenly Father's family resemblance appearing in us. He's a supernatural Father, with a supernatural family, of which we are to bear the supernatural resemblance.