I’ve never liked candy very much (I know, I am kind of odd like that). However, when I was younger, there was one brand of candies that I loved to eat…the lifesavers. These candies came in various flavors wrapped together in a roll. I think one reason why I liked the lifesavers is because they were packed in a fun, colorful way. My friends and I would use the candy as a kind of friendship-ranking system. Since packages had certain amount of lifesavers of different colors and flavors, we ordered our friendships according to those colors and flavors that we would be willing to share with each other. For example, the red lifesaver was the best flavor, and because of this you would only share those coveted red lifesaver with your closest friends. The orange life-saver was not so highly coveted, and because of this, you could share it with other friends that were not necessarily your best buddies. Lastly, the green lifesavers that were not so hot, you could give to anybody. It is fun to think back to the dynamics of childhood friendships. As we grow older, friendships (and relationships in general) get more complicated…and we can no longer explain them or categorize them according to the color of candy we are willing to share.
Last year, Merriam Webster added the word “frenemy” to the dictionary. The definition of a frenemy according to this entry is a person “who pretends to be a friend but is actually an enemy”.
Normally, the emergence of a word in any language comes from a need to be able to identify an object or phenomenon. Thus, we can assume that the fact that the word frenemy is now in the dictionary indicates that we have developed the need to find a word to identify those people who call themselves our friends but end up acting like our worst enemies.
DR. JEKYLL OR MR. HYDE?
The essence of a frenemy is a lack of clarity in the relationship; sometimes they seem to love you and care about you, and sometimes they act in a manner that contradicts this fact, and they end up hurting you with their actions or words…it is like the same person turns into two different -almost completely opposite- individuals. Frenemies are inconsistent in their relationships…and because of this inconsistency, they are hard to spot.
God wants us to have good friendships and relationships that build us up, and not relationships that damage us and bring us down. However, this is not always what we experience, sometimes our friends and the people that are close to us end up hurting us and betraying us, and we experience a lot of pain from those situations. There are times in which we make the sad realization that a friend is not really a friend, but a frenemy.
The bible mentions this kind of friends;
There are “friends” who destroy each other,
but a real friend sticks closer than a brother. –Prov. 18:24 TM
So basically, not everyone whom we call our friend is a good, sincere, true friend, and because of this, God tells us in his word:
“Above all else, guard your heart,
for it is the wellspring of life.” –Prov. 4:23
So what is this verse saying?
First, lets look at the meaning of the verb to guard, and the noun heart.
In the Old Testament, the word “guard” comes from the Hebrew samar שומר and it means to “preserve from harm” or to simply put, “to be careful with something”…normally you guard things that are very valuable, because the things that are not valuable do not need to be guarded.The word heart in Hebrew is leb לב and it refers to the seat of emotion, thought and decision. So what this verse is trying to tell us is that you need to be careful whom you give access to your thoughts emotions and decisions.
In any friendship or any type of relationship we always give our friend access to our thoughts, emotions and decisions, and because of this, it is necessary for us to be careful and to treat our heart as something valuable, and not give it away lightly to people who are not trustworthy.
CHOOSE YOUR FRIENDS WISELY
The quality of our friendships, is going to affect the quality of our life
Good friendships/relationships = good life
Bad friendships/relationships = bad life
Why is this a simple equation? Well, because the people you allow to influence your thoughts, emotions and decisions, are going to affect the type of person you become and ultimately determine the kind of life you aspire to.
“He who walks with the wise grows wise,
but a companion of fools suffers harm.” –Prov. 13:20
So we know what it means to guard our heart and why we need to guard our heart…
Now, we need to ask ourselves;
How do we do this? How do we guard our heart?
I don’t know about you, but when I was growing up my parents had a safe box in the house, where they kept their jewelry and stuff they considered valuable …however, you cannot take your heart and deposit it in a safe box, or in a bank, it is physically impossible.
So what do we do?
In order for us to guard our heart we need to develop one very specific skill; CHARACTER DISCERNMENT; to be able to look and understand the inner qualities of a person reflected in the way this person treats you and others.
Let’s look at an example;
Prophet Samuel and King David
1 Samuel 16
Samuel Anoints David
1 The LORD said to Samuel, “How long will you mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him as king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil and be on your way; I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I have chosen one of his sons to be king.”
6 When they arrived, Samuel saw Eliab and thought, “Surely the LORD’s anointed stands here before the LORD.”
7 But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”
8 Then Jesse called Abinadab and had him pass in front of Samuel. But Samuel said, “The LORD has not chosen this one either.” 9 Jesse then had Shammah pass by, but Samuel said, “Nor has the LORD chosen this one.” 10 Jesse had seven of his sons pass before Samuel, but Samuel said to him, “The LORD has not chosen these.” 11 So he asked Jesse, “Are these all the sons you have?”
“There is still the youngest,” Jesse answered, “but he is tending the sheep.”
Samuel said, “Send for him; we will not sit down [a] until he arrives.”
12 So he sent and had him brought in. He was ruddy, with a fine appearance and handsome features.
Then the LORD said, “Rise and anoint him; he is the one.”
13 So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the LORD came upon David in power. Samuel then went to Ramah.
DO NOT LOOK AT THE OUTWARD APPEARANCE
We have an example of God teaching Samuel character discernment. Samuel was about to anoint the next king of Israel, and God tells him not to look at the outward appearance. Why? Because God knows we tend to do that…people to rely on outward appearance –not just physical appearance, but other external attributes too such as personality and popularity– in order to choose the people who influence our lives. Is not that the case with celebrities and their market appeal?
When you are entrusting people with something very valuable such as the welfare of a nation, character is the most important thing to look at…in this case David was going to be entrusted with an entire Kingdom and needed to have the right character. Similarly we entrust our friends with our most intimate thoughts, dreams, fears and feelings, so we need to choose wisely.
In the movies, it is very easy to distinguish the “good guys” from the “bad guys”; the outward appearance makes it very easy to guess what the inner qualities will be like…the hero is -as a general rule- handsome, has an imposing presence and a noble nature which fits to his exterior. On the other hand the villain has no striking physical appeal, is correspondingly evil and an overall loser. The only thing is that real life is hardly ever like a Hollywood move, and sometimes the quiet, unimpressive type like David turns to be the person who can be entrusted with the most delicate matters.
HOW DO WE EXERSICE CHARACTER DISCERNMENT?
In choosing our friends, we exercise character discernment when
• Instead of looking at how popular this person is, or how big their network is, we look at whether this person treats others with respect and honesty.
• Instead of looking at personality ethics, we look at the character ethics of this person.
• Instead of looking at wealth and appearance, we look habits of this person, are they good or bad habits?
This idea about character discernment has been discussed very well in a book called SAFE PEOPLE (http://store.cloudtownsendstore.com/safepeoplebook1.html). According to the book SAFE PEOPLE are those people that you want to have in your life, as friends, or in romantic relationships, and UNSAFE PEOPLE are those people that are not trustworthy in friendships or other relationships because they do not understand the value of your heart. One of the main messages is that we need to develop and exercise the skill of character discernment.
Nowadays, we are constantly seeking to learn and develop new skills because we believe that this is going to help us have a better life. However we seldom think to develop the skill of character discernment…and this is an important skill to develop because it will influence the kind of relationships we have, and ultimately the kind of lives we will live. Here is a little summary that I adapted from the book to help us get started in trying to develop character discernment.
UNSAFE PEOPLE: FRENEMIES
• Do not admit their weaknesses
• Are religious instead of being spiritual
• Are defensive instead of being open
• Are self-righteous instead of humble
• Only say “sorry” but they never follow up by changing their ways
• Demand trust instead of earning it
• Lie instead of telling the truth
• Driven by insecurity
You are friends with an unsafe person if:
• You feel like you tell this person things about you, but this person hardly ever shares about him/herself
• The main focus of the friendship is to satisfy the other person’s needs
• You do not feel free to be weak/imperfect in front of your friend for fear of ridicule
• You feel like you need to live up to a certain “image” in order to remain friends
• You feel like you need to be a mirror to your friend (i.e. always echo his/her opinions, moods and choices)
• You are constantly being lied to by your friend
• Your friend does not respect your values and boundaries
• You never know on what ground you stand
Well, this is not a comprehensive list, but it might be enough to help us begin to understand where we need to look in order to find trustworthy, safe people. The good news is that all of us have at least one good friend, and that friend is JESUS.
“Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends…”
Jesus as a friend;
• Loves us and reaches out to us every day (constant)
• Accepts us as we are but also helps us to overcome our faults
• Is not selfish, or absent, but sacrificed his life for us
• He commands us to love others as he loved us
• Gives us confidence to approach others
JESUS, OUR LIFESAVER
Like I mentioned earlier, when I was little, we used to eat the brand of candies called livesavers. They looked like little doughnuts and came in different flavors. Their shape emulated the devices that were once used in order to save people from drowning. Have you ever felt like you are drowning in a bad relationship? Well, I guess then it is a good time to reach for a floating device, a lifesaver.
Jesus is the lifesaver; he can transform our life, and he can transform and redeem our relationships…we only need to ask him. We are called by Jesus to have a safe friendship with him, to look for safe people and to be true friends and safe people to others.