“You have the gift of encouragement,” a friend said to me.
Her comment surprised and pleased me. I had given her a simple compliment, “Your eyes look so pretty today.” This happened about 14 years ago, and back then I didn’t realize how much my positive words blessed others. Since then, I have learned how powerful encouragement can be, and I find it a huge honor to be able to uplift those around me. In recent years, my greatest joy is to inspire others by pointing them towards Jesus. Every struggle we face can be dealt with more courageously when we fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. I love to listen and support women, because so many women I know are facing such challenging circumstances in life.
This verse often comes to my mind when I find myself continually being in the role of helping others: “We that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves.” -Romans 15:1-
But sometimes…it gets lonely.
Most people I know have “bigger,” more present, more physical struggles than I do. Often, I find myself not sharing too much about my heart.
Last summer I was lying out in the hammock reading Restless: Because You Were Made for More by Jennie Allen. She wrote:
“Who do you need? We don’t just need people; we need the right people. Sometimes finding the right people takes discipline and effort. And then when we find them, we have to fight for them…If any part of you listening to these words right now thinks to yourself, I don’t know if I have enoughof the right people in my life, you probably don’t. We all fell in love with shows like Friends because we deeply want to have “our people.” Close friends and mentors don’t fall in our laps. You search and invest, and then you allow them to be imperfect versions of what you were hoping for in your head. Most of us are waiting to be invited, waiting to be pursued, waiting for friends to come to us. But that’s not the way it happens…So initiate. Then, when you come together, initiate depth. Great conversations come from great questions and honest answers. One of the ways I grow and experience God is over queso and salsa with kindred friends talking about deep things. It takes initiative to ask deeper questions and sheer bravery to give sincere answers. Pray and find ways to take your friendships to a deeper level.”
When I read that, something in my heart leapt. I desired a friendship with someone who loved Jesus passionately and pursued Jesus wholeheartedly. Someone who could challenge me, encourage me, and share with me the things she was learning from the Lord. And one person came to mind.
Ruth. *(name changed)
Her children had been through our preschool. She had a quiet and gentle faith, and she clearly had strong trust and confidence in the Lord. Years ago, when her first child had been in our preschool class for a few months, Ruth was out on the preschool playground while her kids played. We (the preschool teachers), watched her from the window. I asked, “What is it about her that seems so special?” My friend and fellow teacher said, “I think it’s that she’s not consumed by the things of this world.”
And my chest kind of ached. A longing. I thought, “I want people to be able to say that about me.”
At that time, I did feel consumed by the world. I was trying so hard to impress people and to look physically attractive and to seem perfect. It was exhausting. And I didn’t like myself for it.
And I wanted to be more like Ruth. Her beautiful heart inspired me.
Over the next few years, because I learned to surrender every part of my life to the Lord, I became less consumed by impressing others and all-consumed with pleasing Jesus. And I like myself for it!
I did develop a very caring friendship with Ruth over those few years, but after her children graduated from preschool, we didn’t see each other much. But last summer, as I was reading Restless I suddenly realized, “I want to see more of her! She is the type of person I want to run this race with!” I texted her right then to tell her the kind of blessing she was to me and how precious her friendship was. I told her we should see each other more! She replied that she loved that idea. I thought, “Yessss. I really need this.”
In spite of our busy schedules, we did manage to have a couple of coffee dates over a few months. But…life is just so darn busy. I work and she volunteers heavily at her kids’ school. Plus trying to balance husband, kids, family, church, chores, errands, etc….We just didn’t get together much. I felt disappointed. Not by Ruth as much as by the situation. I remember telling God, “Hmmmm. I guess she’s not the one.”
But then, through the Breaking Free Bible study I was leading, I started to become friends with another woman whose faith I admired. She was passionate about Jesus. She was an encouragement to me. She texted me Bible verses and said she was praying for me. The things she struggled with were similar to mine, typical things such as marriage, kids, job, lack of time, etc. I suddenly thought, “Wow, God is bringing me a strong warrior to run this race with, and I didn’t expect this! Awesome. Maybe she’s the one.”
But guess what? Again, life is so busy. And this awesome lady has other great friends, which is a good thing. Sometimes Facebook can make us feel left out, right? We see people we would like to spend time with hanging out with others. Without us. Which hey, they have the right to do! Good for them! It’s just hard sometimes to have to see pictures of it. Admit it, you’ve felt that too. So again I figured, “I guess she’s not the one.”
So…a few months ago, feeling discouraged that I hadn’t found this kindred-spirit-Jesus-chasing-BFF, I was praying and thinking about my dearest, best friend from college. She lives in California. We remain close through texting, and few-and-far-between phone calls. That night I found myself wishing my family could move back to California, so that I could see her and spend more time with her. I thought she would definitely be “the one” to meet my need. She has always been the most wonderful, loving, inspirational friend, very devoted to Jesus, and she can challenge me to be more like Him even when we are thousands of miles apart. It could only be like a Dream-Come-True if we lived near each other, right??
And then God showed me something. Suddenly I realized she’s just as busy as any other woman I know, with a job, husband, kids, house, church, etc. Suddenly I knew, even if I lived close to her, we would rarely see each other either. That’s just the way this stage of life goes. It’s so dang busy.
And then I heard God speak to me in my heart. “She’s not the one. I’m the One.”
I felt my spiritual eyes open. Oh! I had forgotten. God is the only one who can meet our deepest heart’s desires. He is the only one designed to fulfill us completely. No friend, spouse, child, leader, etc., can ever make us feel completed. Only God can. He designed us to need Him.
My Women’s Bible Study class had been studying Malachi: A Love That Never Lets Go by Lisa Harper. One of her lessons really impacted me, and that night when God said, “I’m the One,” He brought a certain illustration back to my mind.
In our books we each had this heart diagram. The author, Lisa Harper, directed us what to write in each ring of the heart. The very center was labeled HOH. Holy of Holies. If we know Jesus, we have God’s presence with us at all times, and He is the only one that fills our deepest needs.
The following rings were labeled, in order of importance:
PJJ-Peter, James, John, (which stands for our BFF’s)
8GG-remainder of the disciples, (which stands for other close friends)
5K-aquaintances and friends
The author said this: “We are hardwired for relationships with other people, but we must go to God, our living water, first. Only God can fill the broken places.”
This is what God reminded me. He told me, “I’m the One.” It was so precious. I suddenly knew that it was OK that not one of my friends could be everything I needed. Nor could my husband. Nor could my children. Because that’s God’s job. He’s awesome at it. He sees my every need and concern and always has time for me. He never tires of me.
And with that reminder, I can sigh in relief. Thank You, thank You, thank You, Jesus.
I wrote this for me, because I needed to be reminded this week, but I wrote this for you too. There is no perfect friend. There is no perfect spouse. There are no perfectly grateful children. So if you are waiting for those people to come into your life, or waiting for those people in your life to change, it’s time to stop waiting. They aren’t going to be everything you need. Only God will.