There’s a really sweet walking path at a beautiful park near my home. It borders Lake St. Clair, and just across the water is Canada. Every time that I’ve gone there, I’ve taken photos and sent them to people to share the magnificent views of the sunrise, a fishing boat quietly passing by, or a storm cloud approaching. But when I began seeing out-of-area text message charges on my phone bill, I realized that with Canada being so close, I was being charged as though I was in a different country. So I stopped taking photos, and instead, began to bring my headphones and listen to music. But one morning I was taken by surprise when three police officers and a pretty big dog appeared suddenly from behind me, and decided that I needed to be more aware of what was happening around me. Apparently, they were only trying to catch a stray dog, but I nearly needed CPR (and a change of pants).
Now when I walk the path at that park, I leave my phone in my car and just enjoy the views all by myself. What’s amazing is that without the distractions of trying to take and text photos, or listen to music, I am able to really just clear my mind and enjoy a good walk.
Last week in particular, I noticed the trees. They are just barely starting to change colors with the weather cooling off and autumn approaching. There was this one tree, though. It was standing in a row of trees just like it, except that this particular tree was now dead. No leaves. No green. No other beautiful colors. Just a lifeless trunk with leafless branches surrounded by beauties that were making some pretty loud sounds as they blew in the wind.
I was actually wishing I’d had my phone with me to snap a picture, not just because it was such a peculiar site to see death in the middle of what looked so pretty, but because it made me think of people. It’s pretty easy for us too, to want to be in the middle of what seems like the best crowd of folks, only to die a slow death……
Just because those other trees looked beautiful, doesn’t mean they didn’t carry some crazy disease that eventually choked and killed that now dead tree that stood among them. That can happen with people too. I’ve thought a lot about that lately, and talked about it today at length with my friend Sarah.
“The righteous choose their friends carefully, but the way of the wicked leads them astray.” Proverbs 12:26
Have you ever thought about who you surround yourself with, and how those people influence you? I’ve heard it said that we become like the five people we spend the most time with, so we ought to choose carefully.
When I lived in the South, I picked up a bit of a southern accent. When I returned from Nova Scotia this summer, I sounded just like my cousins. (I love a Nova Scotia accent!) We begin to look and sound just like those around us. But who we surround ourselves with affects us more than just superficially. Some of those changes may take a little longer to recognize for the one being influenced, but those watching are likely to see the changes a little sooner, and those who love us best will love us well enough to tell us.
I had a friend a long, long time ago who didn’t seem to like any of my other friends. She was always encouraging me to give each of them a “wide birth,” though there never seemed to be any good or legitimate reason to end those friendships. The more I hung around with her, the more I found myself starting to think just like her. Slowly, I watched as my friends began to distance themselves, and eventually, I had to end that friendship. It wasn’t healthy for me.
“Make no friendship with a man given to anger, nor go with a wrathful man, lest you learn his ways and entangle yourself in a snare.” Proverbs 22:24-25
Friends who are quick to forgive, prompt to ask to be forgiven, those who are generous, or rarely complain….. I’ve been around them as well. Those qualities are more quickly recognized, perhaps not only because they are so rare and therefore, stand out, but also because let’s face it – those qualities are so attractive! Friends and family that say the really, really difficult things – and say them because they genuinely love me, even knowing they risk hurting or losing a friendship….. Friends who tell you when they begin noticing some changes that are not so attractive. These are treasures!
So I sat here tonight on my couch pondering those I am currently surrounded by. I thought about why I have chosen to surround myself with them. I don’t want to end up like that dead tree in the middle of what looks like healthy ones. We all know what’s on the outside often is not a true reflection of what is on the inside. I’ve walked into a lot of homes that have the greatest landscaping, and been greatly surprised and disappointed at the filth on the inside. Let’s be honest – people can be the same way. Those who preach forgiveness, yet refuse to speak with friends and family members. Those who harbor unforgiveness – and laugh about it. Those who seem to live two lives – swearing like a sailor on a Monday, sitting in the front pew on Tuesday. My Pastor always tells us to ask ourselves if our behavior reflects Christ because whether we believe it or not, our behavior is pointing those around us in one or two directions – toward God, or away from God.
“But if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” Matthew 6:15
Yesterday a friend told me to pray for her heart. “It’s ugly. I need prayer,” she said. She caused me to more honestly think about my own heart. A few hours later I told a friend about someone who I can’t seem to have a conversation with, without them purposefully trying to insult me every single time. “Just love them,” she said. I thought, yeah – I can do that. I thought about my friend who loved me enough to tell me one of the hardest truths I’ve ever had to hear a couple of years ago. We laughed about it, but in all honesty – she might have saved my life!
Someone else told me recently that they would NEVER forgive someone. Someone else I know actually went to a prison and forgave the man who killed his brother. I have a CHOICE about which one of these people I will allow to influence me.
And I have one friend in particular whose heart is breaking as he loves someone so well that he risks losing his relationship with her. He doesn’t realize how well he models for the rest of us how to love well, and how to make his relationship with God his first priority. Wow.
What about you? Are you surrounded by people who are not encouraging you to forgive? Are those around you feeding your broken relationships with reasons why you should maintain them just that way – BROKEN? Or are they encouraging you to forgive – or maybe even to ask for forgiveness? Who are your five people? Do they reflect Christ? Or do they foster self-centeredness and isolation from those who have nothing from which YOU will benefit? You know, Jesus had nothing to gain from those He chose to surround Himself with. He came and He served. He didn’t just cut people off when His relationship with them had no benefit to Him. He said things that were difficult for His friends to hear because He LOVED THEM WELL.
Do the people who surround you look like Jesus? Do they help you to look more like them, or more like Jesus?
“Do not be deceived: “Bad company ruins good morals.” 1 Corinthians 15:33
I’m going to get dressed and take another walk tomorrow morning at that park. I’ll take pictures of that dead tree and share them when I get a little farther away from Canada so that I don’t get charged extra this time. No headphones, though! I want to be able to see around me without any distractions, and I don’t want any more sudden surprises showing up from behind me. Do you know what else? I am absolutely certain God wants us all to be keenly aware of our surroundings, including the people in our lives and their influences on us!
“Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.” Proverbs 11:14