Soup and Buns
Friends or acquaintances?
Loneliness can make you pretty sad. In lonely times, you may ponder your relationships and realize that they are superficial. Perhaps you have wanted to strengthen them and not known how. Perhaps you have tried, but you have not yet been successful. It may be that a little analysis and understanding could head you in the right direction.
In the realm of relationships, there are four categories that people fall into: strangers, acquaintances, companions, and friends. Strangers are those whom you haven’t met yet; the other three categories can somewhat overlap.
Acquaintances and companions
Acquaintances are people whom we have met. They may be neighbors, fellow students, customers or co-workers. They may also be the majority of the members of our church. We know them by sight and reputation, and may feel comfortable having a conversation with them. The level of the conversation is usually superficial, pleasant, and relevant to our activities or the weather.
Companions are the people whom we are together within a specific group. We function together because we are together. But as soon as we graduate, retire, or move away, we rarely stay in touch with most of them. The group defined our activities and without its structure, we drift apart.
Friends are on a level above these categories. Some will be close and one or two may get the title of “best friend” within your lifetime. Friends enjoy, love, and encourage you. They stick by you in difficult times, and are never an intrusion. Friends don’t keep track or keep score. Friends understand you and share your deepest griefs and your highest joys. They help when necessary and possible. This connection rarely disappears, for even if busy friends live far apart, they still value contact.
I read about a tribe in an African country where each person is assigned a friend when he is young. This person is his official best friend, and they are to care for one another throughout their lives. It is considered as sacred a relationship as marriage. What a remarkable way to honor friendship, instill loyalty, provide security and prevent loneliness! The people there didn’t move away from home, so outside of death, this friendship was a certainty in a person’s life. It was stability, a fact to be counted upon.
To call everyone a “friend” on a daily basis is sometimes easier than trying to subdivide into all of these categories. But it can be helpful to analyze and determine which of your companions you might like to encourage to become your friends.
From one to the other
How do you change the categories?
A friendship must be built. Proverbs 18:24 states, “A man that has friends must show himself friendly.”
From this we learn that selfless effort is the way to get started. I'll note it is somewhat like a dating relationship, even as I'll quickly add I am not talking in any way about a sexual attraction. Two people are determining whether the other person’s company is worth an investment of their time. Usually, one person is more proactive in pursuing the relationship at the beginning. It helps to know that. This is not necessarily because the friendship is undesired by the other party. Rather, it is just because the other person is busy, isn’t as eager for company, or is kind of lazy about that sort of thing. Let’s face it, it’s easier to relax at home than to get out and interact with people.
Think about your companions and choose someone who might be “friendship material.” Now it is time for both action and patience. Think of an activity that you might enjoy together and call with an invitation. Or just call to say hello and talk for a while. If it goes well, try it again after a week. Take joy in the slow progress, and be patient because depth takes time. If nothing comes of it, still give it a try at another time, and/or choose someone else to befriend.
Don’t be discouraged if the person doesn’t issue invitations to you or initiate the call, as long as he or she is glad to hear from you and spend time together. Some people aren’t good at initiating but they enjoy responding.
On the other hand, if you are accustomed to responding and not initiating, and you really want friends, you might want to pray for courage to get the process going instead of feeling sad that no one is calling you. As we put forth the efforts to build friendships, we can also pray and ask God to provide for us in this way, because a friend is a gift from God.
We should also realize that others may need to have our care and friendship. It is important not to get so caught up in our own little worlds that we neglect growing closer to the members of our congregation.
This first appeared in the December 2007 issue of Reformed Perspective. Find more of Sharon's articles by clicking here. This column is one of several dozen collected in her book "Soup and Buns," which you can purchase by contacting the author at sharoncopy1@ gmail.com.
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Soup and Buns
How to approach a porcupine
Some Christians seem quite like porcupines. They are so bristly and sharp that people are reluctant to come close to them for fear of getting hurt....
Soup and Buns
Should Introverts be expected to act like Extroverts?
“You are a wonderful person and I like you. But now please shush.” This quotation from a tongue-in-cheek article by Jonathan Rauch in The Atlantic Monthly summed up his premise that Extroverts do not understand or fully appreciate Introverts. Although I knew that I was an Extrovert, I found the actual definitions a bit surprising. Tiring… or energizing? Introverts are people who “find other people tiring,” who need to re-charge after a certain amount of socializing. They mull things over inside their brains and then talk about them. Being alone with their thoughts is as “restorative as sleeping, as nourishing as eating.” One suggested motto for them is, “I’m okay, you’re okay – in small doses.” Rauch’s own formula is that he needs “two hours alone for every hour of socializing.” A Google search estimates that about 25% of people are truly Introverts, but in the “gifted” community they are a majority. Extroverts are “energized by people, and wilt or fade when alone.” They figure things out by discussing them with other people, and think by talking. They tend to dominate social settings with their “endless appetite for talk and attention.” Understanding is a one-way street Society in general views Extrovert behavior as more desirable, and this can sometimes be taken to a fault when Introvert behavior is criticized or not appreciated for its strengths. For instance, an Extrovert might be described as outgoing, happy, bighearted, vibrant, warm, and as a confident leader who is “a real people person.” Introverts are often described as loners, reserved, guarded, and taciturn (inclined to silence; reserved in speech; reluctant to join in conversation). It is as though an individual’s worth is determined only by their observable interactions in a group. Rauch suggests that Introverts more often understand Extroverts because the latter put all of their thoughts and feelings out on the table. His concern as an Introvert, is that: Extroverts have no idea of the torment they put us through…. Extroverts have little or no grasp of introversion. They assume that company, especially their own, is always welcome. They cannot imagine why someone would need to be alone; indeed, they often take umbrage at the suggestion.” I wonder if any other Extroverts find themselves cringing and remembering times when they too felt offended because someone didn’t want their company. Other differences Extroverts tend to think that a lull in conversation is a bad thing, and they can feed off of small talk or deep conversation and enjoy large groups. Introverts need more time to think through what they will say and tend to dislike small talk while enjoying more meaningful discussion, especially in a more private setting. Extroverts feel a need to “draw out” the Introverts and get them to participate, because to them participation is essential. Since they cannot imagine that a person might enjoy sitting quietly off to the side, they take on the role of encourager. Unfortunately, it often comes across to the Introvert as controller instead. Smiley face :) Expectations exist regarding facial expressions too. Smiles are expected as part of good manners, so we give them whether we feel like it or not. Often if a person’s face goes to its default serious expression, people jump to the conclusion that he is upset or depressed, whereas he might just be pondering a weighty subject or listening to conversations around him. Rauch suggests that Introverts may be less smiley, but not necessarily less joyful. The differences are something to be considered in regards to church and family activities. As one Introvert explained to me, “At Ladies’ Bible Study, I often start formulating an answer to a question, but by the time I figure out what I want to say they have all gone on to a new subject or maybe even several subjects, so I rarely get to say anything.” Perhaps this is why some people feel more at home studying the Bible and praying with only a few friends. I wonder if our quick-sound-bite culture has lured us away from valuing long pauses with time to reflect? I’ve read that in some Japanese company meetings, they present the information and then sit in silence for a long time while everyone just thinks. What an Introverted thing to do! My friend went on to say, “The same thing happens when our entire family is together.” Some family members would prefer more two-on-two social activities and fewer or less lengthy whole group situations. It is possible to consider both the Extrovert’s and the Introvert’s preferences. Conclusion God tells us to love one another, and the more we understand one another, the more we will know how to keep this commandment. We may have lived our entire life thus far “not knowing what we didn’t know.” But now, we know. This article first appeared in the May 2012 issue. Sharon L. Bratcher’s “Soup and Buns” book includes 45 of her RP articles. For information contact [email protected]....
Soup and Buns
Do not worry...
Cheer up, ye saints of God, there’s nothing to worry about! Nothing to make you feel afraid, nothing to make you doubt. Remember Jesus never fails, so why not trust Him and shout – You’ll be sorry you worried at all tomorrow morning. I have often sung this little chorus to remind myself not to worry. But it is hard not to worry about ourselves and our loved ones. We face ill health, accidents, fear of pain, career problems, loss of income, fear of poverty, and worries about all sorts of other sufferings! Dr. Richard Gaffin preached a very good sermon on the topic of worry. He began with the very familiar Matthew 6:25-34, which says, in part: “…do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?... For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.” Why do we worry? Is it normal? Is it a solution, a part of life, a coping mechanism? 3 that lead to worry Let’s think about these three words: forgetfulness, pride, and ingratitude. We worry because we forget who our God is. He is the Creator of heaven and earth. He is our Father. “He loves me so much that I do not doubt He will provide whatever I need for body and soul. He desires to do so because He is my loving Father; He is able to do so because He is Almighty God” (Heidelberg Catechism, LD 9). But why do we forget? We forget because our pride gets in the way. We look at life as a circle where we are the center. We ask ourselves: what are my needs, and my desires? We develop a level of expectation as to what we want to have. This pride sets us on a spiral of desire that leads to frustration and anger when we do not get what we want, and worry is one of the results. What do we worry about? All worrying is about suffering and loss. We do not want anything to happen that we consider “negative.” In every instance, it comes down to being concerned that our desires will not be satisfied. That’s a pretty harsh way to look at a devastating loss, though, isn’t it? But when we pray “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done,” we acknowledge that our place is as the clay in the Potter’s hands. We forget that He loves us, and instead we fear that He might not give us what we want. We fear He will decide differently and we will not like it. Humbly... The way to be free from worry is to humble ourselves before God. This is, as Dr. Gaffin preached, a “distinctly Christian contrast to the unrealistic outcome of pride.” When we are humble, we see ourselves exactly as we should be, as we are. A humble Christian sees that the God with the mighty arm will work things out. Then we can be free of worry, and stop acting like the unbelievers. But we forget because we do not spend much time in prayer. Our pride shuts us up inside of ourselves, making our prayer superficial. But prayer is where God reminds us where our hope and faith are. It is a means of grace that He has provided. It is the opportunity to cast ourselves on our God and to be taken lovingly in His arms. He allows us to leave the matter with Him. Still, we forget and become ungrateful. We are no better than the Israelites, as we often forget all that God has done for us. Unbelievers have every reason to worry because they “bear the wrath of God.” Those who fear death end up fearing life also. They cannot teach us how to live. We, however, as God’s people have the deepest source of genuine thankfulness, and no good reason to worry. Conclusion Now, there is also a difference between genuine constructive concern and counterproductive worrying, and we must prayerfully ask our Lord to help us to discern that difference. A pain in the chest should cause concern and provoke a visit to the doctor if not an emergency call. And it is our normal human response to feel afraid or sad or grief-stricken at given times. But the definition of worry is: “to torment oneself with, or suffer from, disturbing thoughts; fret.” We must leave the “what ifs….” with the Lord. It is the humble, prayerful, thankful Christian who can be free from worry....
Soup and Buns
If only there was a way to avoid life's traffic jams...
Mile after long mile, the cars on the eastbound turnpike lined up because of a multi-vehicle accident. Initially, I was glad to be traveling westbound and spared from being the storyteller with the tale of the “terrible Christmas Eve traffic jam.” After eight miles of vehicles, traffic on the other side became normal. I was alarmed that there were no signs of the “jam” on the eastbound. Unknowing drivers were getting on the turnpike completely unaware of the mess that was just ahead. I had endured one of those jams recently, and I desperately wanted to pull over near the toll booth and wave my arms at those about to enter. I wished for poster board and markers, and I felt willing to give an hour of my time just to stand nearby and warn people: “Don’t get on the eastbound! There’s a terrible traffic jam and you may get stuck for hours!” So many people were going to be inconvenienced and upset. If only there was a place to safely and legally do this! Would they even believe me? Would they change their minds? I expressed my concern to the toll taker when I arrived: “Isn’t there some way that you could warn the drivers not to get onto the eastbound turnpike?” With little concern, he shrugged, “They should listen to the traffic report on the radio.” Full of good advice In a similar manner, those of us with a few years behind us watch as young people make decisions that affect their entire future. We have learned from both our good and our bad decisions and we feel certain that “if they would just listen, it would save them a lot of heartache!” “Study hard!” we say. “Finish your degree!” “Don’t quit that job until you secure another!” “Don’t waste money!” “Don’t date anyone who won’t make a good mate!” “Wait until marriage to have sex.” We are full of advice on every subject! As we move along the road, our expertise increases: we buy homes and vehicles and learn from the blessings and difficulties. We marry and have children and learn which methods and philosophies work and which do not. But will they listen? We and our friends and acquaintances have been down the road. Wouldn’t it be ridiculous for us to make a poster board sign and stand up to warn those who are coming? Some are headed for trouble! If only there was a way to persuasively warn them. Would they even believe us? Would they change their minds? Will they listen to the “reports” that could warn them? The Apostle Paul tells us in Titus 2:1-8 that the older men and the older women are supposed to teach the younger men and the younger women how to think and behave. They are to be an example. The older men should be “temperate, worthy of respect, self-controlled, and sound in faith, in love and in endurance.” The older women should be “reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. Then they can train the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God.” Seek them out The Church needs Titus 2 men and women...and a wise young person will find “Titus 2” people to learn from. My first course in “Mothering 101” came from watching my Mom with my little brother Mark. I learned a lot of essentials, and was therefore less nervous about raising children than a lot of other women that I met. I spent time with two mothers in our church, watching them carefully as they loved and disciplined their children, and shared with me their strategies and reasons. These were life lessons – what to do in this and that situation, and how to apply God’s Word to everyday life. Books on “wife-ing” and mothering provided “Titus 2” people to learn from as well. I started out with Linda Dillow’s Creative Counterpart and Edith Schaeffer’s What Is A Family? and moved along to the excellent books on the family from Canon Press by Doug and Nancy Wilson and Shepherding a Child’s Heart by Ted Tripp and Age of Opportunity by his brother Paul Tripp. I avoided a lot of traffic jams because of the advice I received from those who had been down the road before me. The young do well to listen. And those of us who are older will do well when we teach and exemplify Truth to the young. “Exhort the young men to be sober-minded… a pattern of good works; in doctrine showing integrity, reverence, incorruptibility, sound speech that cannot be condemned, that one who is an opponent may be ashamed, having nothing evil to say of you.” – Titus 2:6-8 Sharon L. Bratcher is the author of “Soup and Buns,” and a “Bible Overview for Young Children” curriculum. She can be reached at [email protected]....
Soup and Buns
Finding the right words: use what you've received
During the Spring of 2004 my husband Dennis lay in the Intensive Care Unit at Temple University Hospital in Philadelphia. Surgery had led to his inclusion in “the 10% who develop complications,” leaving me both bewildered and overwhelmed. As day followed day with little improvement, I thought, “what if I lose him?” I prayed. I read my Bible. And others shared God’s words of comfort. An assignment Each time a brother or sister in the Lord called or sent a card with a verse on it, it became a blessed assignment for my day. These were the verses that I meditated on day and night. I probably could have found them myself – I have often been the one who shared verses with others – but my emotions were raw, my body was worn out with weeping and my mind was occasionally confused. The blessed assignment for the day directed my soul to a specific passage of Scripture which the Holy Spirit then used to comfort me. It employed my mind, leaving no idle room for despair. It assured me that we were not alone, for others cared about us. All of this infused me with strength. My mother searched for a suitable card and sent one to me that included her “favorite” Psalm 46. It arrived during a difficult time and I carried it around with me for several days. When worry began, I read it. When despair appeared, I read it. When fear tried to strangle, I read it. God was my refuge and strength, a very present help in my trouble. I was comforted and I lost the fear. When it returned again, I prayed Psalm 46 once again. During the 29 days that he was hospitalized, I met others who came quite frequently to the ICU waiting room. Three women feared for the lives of their sons. Two men were there often to visit their wives, Betty and Nina. I didn’t know anyone’s background or beliefs, but at times I offered to read my card to them and to pray. God’s Word does not go out in vain, and the Holy Spirit used those instances as He would. One evening I read Psalm 46 with Betty’s family as she lay dying in the next room. Nina’s husband invited me to come daily to read the Bible, pray, and sing to her. Nina had been in ICU for over 3 months, and she was eager to know the Lord. We both enjoyed the 15-20 minute visits. As it says in 2 Cor. 1:3-4, our Lord is: "the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God." Never before were these words so clear to me. I was weak and gained strength and then shared that strength with others. Calvin concludes Many people wonder what to do to encourage someone in difficult times. Some hesitate, afraid to err, or certain that “others have it covered.” Sometimes we are just so busy with our own schedules and goals that we don’t make the time to encourage. John Calvin says in his excellent Golden Booklet of the True Christian Life: We should seek the good of other believers. How extremely difficult it is for you dutifully to seek the advantage of your neighbor, unless you quit all selfish considerations and almost forget yourself. How can you perform the duties which Paul teaches to be works of love, unless you renounce yourself and devote yourself wholly to others? (see 1 Cor. 13). If this be all that is demanded, that we do not seek our own, yet we must not exert little pressure on our own nature which is so strongly inclined to love self exclusively and does not easily permit us to neglect self and our own affairs. Let us rather seek the profit of others, and even voluntarily give up our rights for the sake of others. Scripture urges and warns us that whatever favors we may have obtained from the Lord we have received them as a trust on condition that they should be applied to the common benefit of the church. Who do you know in your church or family or neighborhood that is undergoing trials right now? Calvin continues: Let this be our rule for goodwill and helpfulness that whenever we are able to assist others we should behave as stewards who must some day give an account of ourselves…. For we must not first of all try to promote the good of others by seeking our own, but we must prefer the profit of others. With just a few minutes of time, some paper and ink and perhaps a stamp, you will be, as an old prayer states, “an instrument of God’s peace.” Let us go and “comfort with the comfort with which we have been comforted by God.” This article first appeared in the October 2005 issue. Sharon L. Bratcher's "Soup and Buns" book includes 45 of her RP articles. For information contact [email protected]....