Life is confusing. It’s a mess of gray spaces and forks in the road. And we have all kinds of people and sources telling us how we should live! Even if we believe in Jesus and the Bible or other religious teachings, the number of ways to interpret what we read is endless. Signposts point everywhere. Roads end and start without logic or reason.
So how do we do this? How do we live this crazy life? God has given us resources to live, even in the confusion, and we follow the path that seems best in the given moment, but it’s hard to see that best path even with these teachings and tools.
God also gives us a living and tangible resource in other people. Maybe they are people who have already experienced various stages in life, or who have the incredible gift of intuition and insight without having to live through something to give guidance.
Whatever the source, most of us have advice that we live by, messages that shaped our current steps and ways of thinking, even if we’re not aware of it. And sometimes we’re still trying to live up to these words that struck us so hard in the heart that they stayed with us.
Over the next few weeks, I’ll explore some of the words of wisdom from people in my life that continue to come to my mind in various stages of my life. Without further ado, here is the first golden nugget:
Find the people who value you for who you are, not what you do
In my university, there was a Bible professor named Dr. Watt. He was a rockstar on campus, not because he was young and hip or even spoke often on campus. But he was one of those people who was calm and collected all the time, just exuded an aura of nonjudgmental experience that didn’t just spill out on everyone when it wasn’t wanted or needed. He was Australian, rode a motorcycle, and had a glorious silver beard that inspired the unofficial nickname “Australian Gandalf” among certain circles of people. I’m talking about him in the past tense, but he’s still very much alive and we have spoken since my graduation.
Anyway, back in university, I never had a formal class with him, though I did take a book study he led focused on the topic of freedom (turns out it’s not always what you think, but that’s a topic for a different blog post). One day, we sat down to a one-on-one lunch in the school cafeteria, and honestly, that one lunch gave me a lot to consider, things I’m still considering years later.
When we had our lunch, I was fresh off a semester studying abroad, and I was feeling the alienation of my social circles changing without me and honestly feeling isolated because my vastly different experience of the last semester had put me on an island away from everyone else.
I’m not trying to say my experience was better or had more value than other people who had stayed behind. But I felt like I had changed as a person and didn’t fit in where I had before, in the places where my friends still felt comfortable and found their refuge and community.
So I told him this, that I felt like I had changed and come back and everything was so similar while I had changed so much. The following is our conversation as best I can remember it.
He said, “This is something I also experienced from my young adult years. And even now I experience it. Going to conferences or lectures or even coming home from a day of work, I feel that disconnect.”
“How do you cope with that though,” I said. “It’s a hard thing to go through life feeling disconnected from everyone, even if you get used to it.”
“You really learn that it doesn’t go away, you learn to live with it and accept that it’s a part of life.”
This conversation branched. I thought about how I felt like people didn’t care that I’d been gone in that they didn’t care about hearing my experience. No one asked the good questions. Just “You’re back! Good.” And life went on. It made me think about how often my life at the time was spent prioritizing helping my friends and acquaintances with their problems, but I didn’t feel like any of them really knew me. Very few of them bothered to ask me how I was doing.
Disclaimer, I’m not saying my friends were or are bad, nor am I saying I was ever “the better friend.” Some of that is my responsibility. I was giving in one area but not in others. There are things I could have done about that, but that’s a different blog post.
“Find people who know how to ask those questions. Not just the who, what, when and where, but the why and the how.”
With this thought process in mind, I asked him if he felt the disconnect from even the students and teachers he worked with. I don’t remember how we finally got on to the following conversation from here but there was a logical progression.
“People either value you for who you are for what you do,” he said. “You’ll largely find that people value you for what you do rather than who you are. It’s not a bad thing, and it doesn’t mean those people are bad. It’s just the way things are. The important thing is to find the people who value you for who you are and not what you do.”
“So how do you find those people who value you for who you are and not for what you do?” I asked.
“Very few women, and even fewer men, know how to ask good questions,” he said. “Find people who know how to ask those questions. Not just the who, what, when and where, but the why and the how.”
This was a challenge to me as well. 1.) I wanted to be sure I was one of those people and 2.) I wasn’t sure that many of the people I knew at the time were those sort of people. Granted, a large hindrance to finding people who ask those questions is that I was surrounded by people of a certain age who just haven’t gotten to the point where they’re doing that. Largely, most people at that age are inward focused on their own growth and problems, not on others. That’s just natural. Some people never get past that point. But hopefully youth turns outward as it progresses to full adult.
The takeaway is to choose your close friends carefully. Set boundaries (though be flexible) and be aware. And also, be the friend you want to have!
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