I was the kind of kid who sent a Valentine’s card to everyone.
You know in grade school, when we’d decorate our brown paper bags and staple them to the strip on the wall. Then classmates could drop one of those perforated character Valentine’s from the grocery store in them. Then you get to collect your cards and read them.
There may be something sweet about that. And there can be something sweet about that. But I think I’m learning late in life a lesson a lot of people learn a lot earlier. I was just kind of always friends with everyone. I had an amazing core group, and I’m learning it just so happened that the people who were in my classes and in the activities I was involved with are some of the most amazing people I know. Diverse. Varied opinions, beliefs, political convictions, personal orientations, desires in life, style. And just amazing. Friendships with amazing people just sort of naturally happened.
So I kind of think I thought everyone was amazing. My dad used to warn me that I am way too trusting of people. I have this sort of ‘trust everyone’ syndrome. It worked for much of my life. After all, love trusts, right? And if you love people, you trust them, right? I even got to where I could biblically defend my ‘trust everyone’ mindset.
Yet there is also a reality that Jesus had an inner circle – guys he invest in and could at least hope to count on!
One of my dear friends and inspiring walking buddies enlightened what for me was a sage perspective. She’s one of those people that when we get together and walk, sometimes 3 hours later my husband will come driving around the neighborhood looking for us to be sure we’re ok! We just walk and walk and talk, and the time just flies. She’s a great listener with great wisdom, and I am blessed to call her a friend.
She shared something valuable with me as I started to realize this ‘friends with everyone’ thing wasn’t working so well anymore more.
“In my later years, I’ve started to think about friendships a bit differently. I used to think more about believers and outreach – spending time with believers and spending time outreaching in the community. Yet recently, I think a bit differently. I consider which relationships support me and which ones take energy to invest in.”
This was interesting to me. It was a different take on the concept of connecting with others and reaching out to others.
“Sometimes believers support me – it’s more of a reciprocal relationship. And sometimes believers take energy. Sometimes nonbelievers take energy to invest in them. And sometimes they are delightfully energizing relationships.”
True, right? Not all believers leave you feeling built up in the Body. And not all unbelievers leave you feeling like you’ve just engaged in spiritual battle. Some believers feel more like outreach, and some not yet believers feel more like energy, love, and care for your soul.
Paying attention to that has been so valuable for me. Working in ministry, I get used to the dynamic that I pour into people. That’s what we do. I don’t think about myself. Now that may sound godly, but strengths taken to an extreme are weaknesses, and I applied that to a fault. True relationships, true friendship, have a give-and-take reciprocal relationship. It isn’t selfish or wrong of me to want to get something out of the relationship. It is wise of me to consider if this is a reciprocal relationship or an investment-only relationship. Do I feel like I also sometimes get something out of this relationship, or am I only serving? Because if my life is filled with investment-only relationships, I end up drained, depleted, and unsupported. It may take years or decades to get there.
Yes, we are called to invest in others. Yes, there is value in reaching out to those who have nothing to give back. Yes, there is value in spending time with both believers and unbelievers who feel more like an investment-only relationship.
Yet not if that is the entirety of my time.
And not if that is my inner circle.
My inner circle should be mostly reciprocal over time. It is not selfish or wrong to desire to benefit from a relationship. We are certainly not talking about extremes here where the relationship is entirely for my benefit, but instead taking a pulse check on occasion that the people I have in my inner circle are people who build me up, people who energize me, and people who I feel like I benefit from being around.
For some of y’all, this is crazy obvious. For others – like me! – it can feel selfish or self-centered. Part of my eye-opening was just sheer, utter depletion. Part of my eye-opening was relationships where I felt like I was giving more than all I could give and the other person still wasn’t happy. I had to figure out something different. And part of my eye opening was understanding assertiveness. Perhaps oversimplified,
- Assertiveness is considering yourself and the other person. It is self-respect balanced with respect for others. Even Christ had a will: “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39). He had a desire and expressed it, yet was willing to do God’s will. Even the most sacrificial Christ was assertive.
- Passiveness is not considering yourself and simply doing whatever the other person wants. It is pleasing others at the cost of caring for yourself. It is believing others needs are more important than your own – always, to a fault. It is having a hard time balancing this verse: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Not more than yourself. Not without considering yourself. Not simply, “Love your neighbor.” But “Love your neighbor as yourself.” It sounds godly and can feel godly to ‘forget’ the ‘as yourself,’ yet the Lord put it there for a reason!
- Aggressiveness is only considering yourself.
Echoing one of Maxwell’s leadership principles, it is important that your inner circle people are adders or multipliers; they add value to *you*. For those (like me) who might be concerned this is selfish, I would add from experience: it is valuable to invest in others, be available to others, and reach out to others, but your inner circle is different. To lift others up well, you must “look for only lifters for your inner circle.” (Yes, there are seasons when reciprocal relationships enter into a kind of investment-only period. I’m talking about in general in your life, are you always pouring out for others, or do you also have places and people who energize and add value to you?)
It’s so funny. I did this pursuing a spouse – I was intentional about whom I wanted to marry and carefully considered the qualities and character he must have. And then I simply love everyone else! And yes, that is valuable, and I love that I love people. Yet it’s kind of crazy to think about – that I am so intentional about one, then so all-endearing with everyone else. So I’m getting better – I’m being more intentional about who energizes me, and like choosing a spouse, more intentional about who is in my inner circle.
And it’s energizing. It used to be that when I had a free moment or afternoon, I’d think, “Who needs something? Whom can I help?” And there is value in that. But I swung the pendulum too far. It’s not *all* about *always* caring for others and praying for them and investing in them.
For me, it’s the little things, too. Take Facebook posts! Some are more consistently complain-y than is energizing for me. I used to think, “Oh, I need to be aware of what is going on in their lives so I can pray for them.” And that may be true – the Lord may ask me to be intentional to invest in their life and lift them up. But it is also ok if the Lord does not ask that of me for me to hide posts that consistently drain me. Then checking Facebook on occasion can be a fun pick-me-up, not only a place to care for others.
I have reluctantly come to accept this: The whole airplane face mask analogy exists for a reason. I’ve got to take care of myself, too. I’ve got to have a valuable, energizing inner circle. Caring for myself will help me best care for others. And more intentionally care for others. And enjoy caring for others. And enjoy life!
Being intentional to pack energizers – believers and nonbelievers! – in my life has been so valuable. And some investment-onlys – believers and nonbelievers! – is a gift, too. They all are valuable. In balance. And in the right circle.
photo credit: Contest for Moms