Monday, September 10, 2012

Preferring God to People

I had a friend years ago who laughingly admitted to me that she "prefers God to people."  I had never before heard that phrase from anyone, and it cracked me up.  She went on to say that she is not always very good with people--that she isn't a, "people person."  I told her I begged to differ because she'd always been super great and relational to me.   I asked her why she felt this way.  She replied that people are "difficult at best" at times, and that God is unchanging, unfailing, and totally perfect.  I agreed.  God describes Himself most often in the Word as being the embodiment of "love."  So how can people rank competitively when God possesses all those amazing traits and descriptors?  Well, she's right.  They can't.

Sadly, I totally related to her comment.  I find myself at my happiest and most peaceful when I am alone with God.  I just need a lot of space and quiet in my life, and when I don't get it, I feel overwhelmed. Some people fear being alone.  Though I don't like the idea of growing old alone or dying alone, being alone is almost my favorite pattern of existence.  I was an only child and I had an only child, so being around people all the time is actually rather foreign to me (and can be rather exhausting for me).  I learned at a very young age to entertain myself and find creative ways to fill my time.  Those are skills I still possess.  Honestly, I am grateful to God that He has taught me how to flourish on my own without being overly co-dependent on anyone but Him.  Naturally, I am somewhat dependent on my husband, Matt.  He has been my dear friend since we were nine years old, and has been my best friend and the love of my life for more than a quarter of a century now.  So my dependence on him is obviously rather high.  But overall, I do just fine flying solo.  In the words of my only child, Allie, who also functions well on her own, "As it turns out, I'm one of my favorite people to hang out with!"  She kills me.

When Allie was about eleven years old or so, we were considering having another child. We'd paid off student loans, I'd used my teaching degree full-time for several years, and we felt like we could finally afford to do it fearlessly.  It felt like the right time not only financially but seasonally, as well (we agreed we could afford for me to stay home with the baby, which we both felt was so important).  So we began to pray about it and "try."  Though not firmly set in our decision, we felt that by "trying" we were at least attempting to give God more leverage if it was in His plan, just in case (not that He, in His sovereignty, really needed us to do that--if He wants you to have a child, you'll have one)!  So we would pray and agree to talk about it again in a month to see if we both agreed to go forward with the idea.  But the deadline would arrive and we still wouldn't be unified (in fact, we'd flip-flop and be on opposite sides than we were the month prior)!  So one night, in our discussion of trying to make a bonded decision, we asked Allie if she wanted a brother or sister (not that our 11-year old's opinion was really going to be our "deciding factor").  Her perky, polite, matter-of-fact reply was, "No, thank you!  I'm good!"  After several months of not agreeing, no "acts of God," and our daughter saying "no thanks" to the idea, we decided to call it quits and just keep our family the way it was--as the "three peas in a pod" and "three musketeers" we'd always been.  Matt and I finally decided that "we were good," too.  All that to say, our Allie has learned to "fly solo" quite well in her life, leaning on God (and her new husband, Kale, of course)!

At times, when God spurs me to get out of my comfort zone and befriend someone, I want to use my daughter's quote to Him and say, "No, thank you!  I'm good!"  But there are down sides to this personal preference of living.  One is, you don't learn to lean on others very well.  Sure, you have your handful of close relatives and a few close friends that you let into your private little world much more than others.  But for the most part, you kind of keep people on the fringe.  Even writing this blog was a huge step for me to, "put myself out there."  When I think about why I prefer not to do that, it always boils down to one thing--fear.  When you've been burned by enough people, you rationalize (sometimes without even realizing it) that it is easier to begin preferring God to people and "flying solo," instead of setting yourself up for more disappointment and pain.  You also realize as you get to know people that no one is really "normal"--I mean who are we kidding?  Everyone has their issues, struggles, and personality flaws.  Some of us are just more functionally dysfunctional than others!  Plus, other people's expectations of you can be rather high, as well--and you may not want or even be able to fulfill them (maybe you do, but you're scared you won't).  People are work, and we don't always want to have to work at something.  We'd rather keep to ourselves and not have any new baggage or burdens with which to contend.  So we view people as "problematic" at times, and we "prefer God" instead.  God is perfect and He is always there with us--energizing, refueling, and strengthening us.  People, on the other hand, can drain us dry.  God doesn't hurt or fail us--people do. God is always trustworthy, and the loyalty of others can wax and wane (for a whole plethora of reasons).

Clearly, we need God in our life much more than people.  But God says we need Him so we can be strengthened in our servitude to others, as well as, in our relationships with them. We are not called and equipped to be islands.  We are ALL called to be encouraging and in service to one another (not just those blessed with the spiritual gifts of encouragement and/or mercy)!  God's Word says plainly and early on in Gen 2:18, "The Lord God said, 'It is not good for the man to be alone.'"  Also in 1 Corinthians 12, we read about how in the body of Christ we all have a part to play, and we all are in need of the other parts (people) in the body in order to be whole.  In Ecclesiastes 4:9-16, we read, "Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up! Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken."  In Hebrews 10:25, we are told to not give up meeting together with our fellow believers, but to continue to encourage each other, especially as the end nears.  We see clearly in all these verses that we were not meant to live secluded lives, avoiding people at all cost--in actuality, we need each other.

We can use the reason that we "prefer God" as an excuse to keep ourselves guarded from the trouble that inevitably comes when you truly let people into your life.  We can even begin to think we are more "spiritual" for avoiding all that trouble and nonsense in order to focus more fully on Him.  I personally, have found myself flat out telling God that if He desires for me to be more involved with people, then He is going to have to either toughen my skin or make people a lot easier and nicer to be around!  But God showed me recently that He doesn't desire that I have a "tougher skin"--quite the contrary.  What He desires is for me to just love people with a reckless abandon to the point that I cannot be so easily hurt by them because my focus is on them and their needs.  When I view others as higher than myself, and seek to love and fill them, not looking to receive anything back and not expecting much, people cannot disappoint or hurt you so easily (and when they do decide to reciprocate your love, you feel especially blessed, overjoyed, and surprised that anyone would be so loving back to you).  But being repeatedly and profusely hurt by others is really only something that occurs if you sign off on it.  You have the power to decide to allow that to take place.  Sure, when someone hurts us, we may have a right to have that hurt initially, and many times, it isn't our fault that we're hurt.  Problems are just a part of life, and the feelings we have in reaction are God-given.  Furthermore, it is completely ridiculous to think we should never expect things from each other--certainly reasonable things.  We should expect things at times, just as God expects some things of each of us in our walk with Him.  But we cannot hold onto the hurts we suffer from others, and we have to decide how to handle it so that we do not harbor them.

Sometimes when we cannot get past the pain dealt to us from others, it is best to forgive them and move on from the relationship (as I've blogged about previously).  Perhaps all that God wanted you to give them or glean from them has taken place.  Some relationships are definitely seasonal.  When you are not a big "change" person, and when you are someone who loves people pretty easily and rather excessively sometimes, you tend to want to cling to all relationships.  It is difficult to view people as, "seasonal."  I know God knows this about me, and that He loves that I value those He created in His image as much I do.  But God says some relationships are just that--seasonal.  I am relearning this truth, yet again.  Balancing God's desire for me to love with a reckless abandon (and not get a "tough skin"), but also with a guarded, practical mindset about the reality and different purposes of relationships, is a hard balance for me.  I confess that I recently told God that it is too hard.  I have told Him that what He is asking is a flat-out contradiction--loving with a reckless abandon but letting go, too?  How do I love people like that and at the same time, view them as replaceable, seasonal, and temporal, just in case that is in His plan for that relationship? That is something about which I will continue to pray and ponder.  Thank goodness He isn't afraid when we argue with Him and take a while to figure things out.

Obviously, we cannot use a bad relational experience as an excuse to not try again at relationships, not trust again, and to become a "loaner."  God wants us to learn all we can from the bad relationships so we can react better the next time and make wiser choices at the start (or perhaps the experience was a test by God on our ability to love the "unlovable" or on our ability to love unconditionally--if so, any love we've dealt is not a waste.  He will bless us for it)!  We also learn a great deal about how to treat others by those who have done us wrongly (and by those who have done us right, for that matter).  I don't think we value and fully appreciate the great relationships we find or have if we don't have anything less than great in which to compare them.  But it isn't wise or fair to transfer the bad stuff we have experienced in challenging relationships onto everyone else we meet.  People are all very different.  At times it can feel like we are shopping for the perfect pair of jeans--it is costly, we don't really like it, and we may even fear it.  We think we'll never find the right pair.  But then all of a sudden, shazam!   We find it--and we are blessed immeasurably with just the right fit!  People are like that, too.  We can't expect that every person that enters our life will be a forever bosom buddy or the perfect, lifelong fit.  It just doesn't work that way and it isn't realistic.  But if we don't put ourselves out there, we'll never find people that are the right fit and we can sure miss out on some tremendous blessings by living "loaner" existences.  We have to be willing to do some "people shopping" from time to time--not only in order to be used by God more than just a handful of times in life, but also to be blessed by Him from the stuff we learn in new relationships.  People are well-springs of knowledge.  Everyone has traveled different paths with greatly varying experiences.  The scope of their unique intellect and the myriad of their personalities is vastly interesting.  I have never met and befriended anyone from whom I didn't learn something.

God wants to bless us for moving forward in trust with Him, as well.  As His Word states in 2 Timothy 1:7, "For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind."  God does not want us to be fearful of relationships or in bondage to them, either.  He has called every believer to ministry and to the worldwide spreading of the Gospel (Matt. 28:19-20).  If we fear people, or on the flip-side, if we are spinning our wheels in profitless relationships, we cannot do the ministry to which we are called.  People are our ministry.  I have thought a lot recently about how God says He created us in His image (Gen. 1:27).  I am guessing that He doesn't just mean physical image.  If that's true, then we are also supposed to be the embodiment of love to each other, just as He is to us (1 Jo. 4:8).  We should all strive for His character traits in our own lives.  I have posted and blogged about love, and how when you show truly sacrificial love to someone, you get nothing out of it (other than the good feeling that accompanies it).  If we all loved each other in that way, we'd all have our expectations met, and no one would feel the need to declare that they, "prefer God to people."   Real love is life-giving, it isn't life-receiving.  I have to remember this in my own dealings with others often because it is easy to genuinely love without receiving for a while--maybe even a long while.  But after a time, it is human to expect some reciprocation.  But reciprocation isn't always the way it goes down, even if ideally it should be.  The challenge there is to keep yourself in check and not let that imbalance taint the relationship (which it many times does and will inevitably destroy it if prolonged).  When I genuinely love someone, I just love them for them--not for me or what I can get out of it.  But if someone is consistently not reciprocating, it could be a sign you need to move on and give love to someone who cares to receive it.  Even God "lets go" and "moves on" when people don't reciprocate His love, repeatedly turn away from Him, and reject Him or His truths (Romans 1).

God does want us to prefer Him to people.  But we shouldn't prefer being by ourselves to loving others out of fear and past failures.  Just as the old saying about J-O-Y goes, "J-Jesus first, O-Others second, and Y-Yourself last."   John 13:34 sums it up well: "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another."