Mom always used to tell me, "If you want friends, you have to show yourself friendly." Easier said than done when you are an introvert! As a kid, one of the hardest struggles I had was actually breaking into a new circle of friends. I was devastated when a school year came to an end, because I knew a long summer awaited me and I would have a new class with new classmates the next school cycle. So, although it was inevitable that I'd have a new group of chums next year, I still dreaded it so much. I rarely extended myself - always waiting for someone else to make the first move. It was hard work to make friends - so I often just settled for eating alone or playing on the playground with little to no interactions with others. I might have been labeled as a "loner" by some, and as a little "stuck-up" by others - depending on how they wanted to see me. On the inside, I was miserable - because I wanted to be welcomed into the circles and longed for deep friendships. I just didn't know how to go about making them, nor did I have the skills developed to keep them! I envied those who made friends so easily and were the "bells of the ball", so to speak. If you looked back now over those early years, you might think I had some pretty deviant behavior - because I acted the class clown, did things I shouldn't have done in order to get attention, and generally lived a "fake life" because I wanted people to "like" me. I remember a conversation I had with God one day well into my young adult years. In it I conversed with him about how lonely I was and that I really just didn't know how to be a friend. In those moments alone with him, he began to share the truth of my mom's sage advice. It just came with something new I didn't have on my own - his presence to guide me into the depth of relationship I so hungered for in the first place. What a relief to finally be able to step out in faith in relationship and find I didn't have as much to fear as I originally imagined! His presence made all the difference!
You will keep your friends if you forgive them, but you will lose your friends if you keep talking about what they did wrong. (Proverbs 17:9 CEV)
Probably the second piece of advice my mother gave me about relationships which I will always hold onto is the one we all have heard a time or two: "If you cannot say something nice about someone, don't say anything at all." Who knew mom was quoting scripture, but just not verbatim? As a kid, we also learned the sing-song adage: "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me." Ummmm....anyone other than me figure out that one was an outright lie? Words do hurt. Words wound deeply - sometimes even more than the sticks and stones! Words "haunt" you for a long time after they are spoken. Broken bones and bruises at least heal! The truth sets us free, but unkind words, spoken without thought and often kind of spoken with a hint of anger or jealousy - they simply put us in bondage. Why? What another says about or to us either inflicts hurt or it carries healing. Really, there are no "neutral" words!
Maybe this is why Solomon gave us this advice on relationships. We will do more to keep (and make) a friend when we are able to forgive, or overlook a slight. People just make mistakes on occasion. Truth be told, you and I will make some today. We will blunder - no matter how hard we try to say the right things and act the right ways. What we may not realize is the power we possess over the way those words or actions may be able to affect our relationships with each other. WE have the power to either release or hold onto what we view as a slight. WE have the power to overlook an offense, or tuck it away into the recesses of our minds to be held against that individual for time and eternity. WE have the power to speak love by our actions. When we truly learn to let go of past offenses, we engage in a new level of depth within our relationships which we will never get to when we can only focus on what another has done wrong.
It took me a long time to learn to let go of the things another does "wrong" in the relationship. It took probably ten years after my marriage ended to really truthfully let go of the anger, hurt, and mistrust I had built up during the ten years we were married. If I read this passage correctly, WE are the ones to maintain the relationship's health - not the other way around. WE might expect the "other guy" to be more conscious of their words, actions, and the like, but in truth, they will blunder, too. When they do, WE are the ones to take the lead in letting go of the offense. This is God's way! This is one thing I can honestly say I saw modeled in my home. Mom and dad had a depth of love which showed mutual respect for each other, endured many a hardship, and always revealed a pretty solid picture of love. They bantered with each other, even shared a few heated words on occasion, but always revealed the importance of forgiveness. The strength that gave the relationship was evident in the depth of their commitment to each other.
I don't think we know how valued we are until we realize the value of another. What do I mean by this? As long as we only see life through our eyes, we never really see what another sees. When we begin to see things as they may see them, we might just broaden our perspective a little. The "other guy" didn't always intend to hurt you with their words or actions - but because they are human and do "human stuff", they did. You didn't intend to hurt them back, but you are human and you do "human stuff", right? When we let go of what another "does wrong", we show how much we actually value the other individual. In time, they come to feel appreciated, loved, and even "valued" in the eyes of another. For some, this may be the very first time they sense they are valued by anyone! To be a friend, I think we need to show our "forgiving side" - just sayin!