Friday, June 23, 2017

When Your Best Friend Gets Married

"A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:34-36).
A few months ago I shared about a weekend getaway my sister and I shared with some of our friends. What I did not share was the conversation my sister and I had on the drive home from that trip. We both agreed that the weekend was just what we needed, but at the same time my sister felt like something was off. Something was changing. She voiced her frustration and fear of the way her friends were treating her now that she was engaged and soon-to-be-married. 

There is a dual effect when two people within a group of mutual friends become an item. One side effect is all the single friends in the group feel left behind and left out. An exclusive relationship means people will feel excluded to some extent. This cannot be helped, no matter how ambiguous or undefined you keep your relationship and no matter how much time you devote to your friends one-on-one. At some point, you have to give time and attention to your relationship and your friends cannot be a part of this. 

The other side-effect is the single friends, feeling excluded, decide to be more exclusive among themselves. It is true that single people often have a lot more liberty and free time than a married couple or even a dating couple. Naturally, they are free to do a variety of activities that someone who is married or someone who is a parent will not always be free to do. But sometimes we forget that marriage is not some sort of redefining restrictive cage and that just because someone is married does not mean they stop being their individual self and needing their individual friends. 

My sister Ruth, one of my best friends for practically my entire life, is getting married this weekend. This means a big change for both of us. I had to move out of our apartment. She moved in with her husband. Naturally this change altered the nature of our friendship. Being friends is not so convenient for us anymore. We will no longer casually see each other in the evenings. If we want to hang out, we have to be more intentional. Our commitments are a little more divided now and will be even more divided this fall when I go back to school. The question for us then is will we let this kind of change and division destroy our friendship? Because it easily can. 

I could resent my sister for getting married. I know it sounds silly but it is a very real temptation and has been the very real outcome in a lot of friendships that dissolve or turn sour when a significant other enters the picture of a friendship and someone inevitably becomes the third wheel (been there done that a number of times haha I am a third-wheel pro, believe me!!) So my sister is justified in being afraid that once she gets married, her friendships will dissolve. 

While I understand the temptation to harbor resentment, I ultimately cannot understand people who feed their resentment and act on it. I want to encourage my single friends to be good friends to their married friends, to their friends who are mommies and daddies, because those friends need you just as much – maybe even more than before - after they embark on their marriage life. 

How do we go about doing this? How do we go about assuring that our friendships stay intact, especially when it seems our friends are so absorbed with their relationships and marriages? Here are a few suggestions.

1. Accept the fact that things are going to change. Adaptability is essential when it comes to good friendships. If you are not willing to adapt and adjust and instead have your heart set on resenting change, God, and your friends forever, then your friendships will inevitably dissolve as a result of your own stubbornness. I cannot express how thankful I am for my friends who were intentional about staying my friend even when my life turned upside down, when my brother died, when I moved, when I was depressed and sad all the time, when I sucked at communicating and being a friend, and all of the other times I failed to follow through, show up, and be there for my friends. I learned something really important through all this, that if anything else, I wanted to be that friend. I wanted to be that person who will always be there and be true no matter what changes. If I succeed at nothing else in life, I want to succeed or at least improve upon this. 

2. Do not let your fear drive you to isolation. When change sets in, we can start to fear that our friends will leave us, forget about us, etc. This fear can drive us away, drive us inward, and cause us to isolate ourselves. Instead of being hurt when our friends inevitably leave us, we decide to drive them away first. Beat them to the punch. Sometimes we do this without even being aware of what we are doing. We fail to realize that our withdrawn, resentful, and fearful attitude is effectively driving our friends away faster than any change of circumstance ever could. We also fail to realize that this kind of behavior will in no way diminish our own hurt when we inevitably lose a friend.

I have had friends who I thought would be there forever suddenly disappear from my life without so much as an explanation. It is probably the most painful kind of hurt possible. For a long time it was hard to invest in friends and especially hard to make new friends. There was always that fear of being rejected, being left behind, and being hurt. But we can never let fear rule our lives. Decisions made out of fear are always the decisions we regret. Fear leads only to misery. 

3. Communicate. When you are on the verge of marriage and big life changes, it is really easy to be unaware of the needs of your friends. If and when your friend hurts or neglects you in any way, you need to tell them. Just talk to them. I hate confrontation with a passion. But it doesn’t take a lot of confrontation to say, “Hey, could we hang out sometime this week?” or “Hey, I really miss spending time with you.” Or “Hey, what you said earlier really hurt my feelings.” Even if your friend is absorbed with their own plans and future, they probably do not mean to intentionally hurt you and the fact that they are unintentionally hurting you will most likely bring them down to planet earth at least for a bit. 

But you have to communicate. I cannot stress this point enough. Because if there is anything I hate MORE than confrontation it is the passive aggressive cold shoulder. Don’t passively aggressively shut your friend out, resent your friend, and then disappear and withdraw on your friend without an explanation. You are only doing damage to your friend and yourself. 

4. Own up to your own failures. Here is the thing. Friendship is a two-way street. And when one of your friendships dissolves, chances are you had something to do with it. While it might be more comfortable to always put the blame on everyone else, you have to be willing to look at yourself objectively and call out your failures and mistakes for what they are. Because we are all bad friends sooner or later. God knows I’ve been a really bad friend to most of my friends most of the time. If I did not have friends who were willing to give me some tough love when I needed it and stick around even when I was the most withdrawn and pathetic person ever, I probably would be friendless by now.

We have to recognize that we all need an incredible measure of grace from our friends and we have to be willing to give that same grace, to forgive, to leave off bearing grudges and resentment toward one another. This kind of discord and division is not the kind of love we have been called to as the ones called according to God's purpose. Think of the love of Jesus Christ, our Savior. Think of how constant and unchangeable his love is no matter what we do or how many times we fail him! Think of that kind of friend and strive to be that kind of friend. Because that is the kind of friend each and every one of needs even though we could never, ever deserve it.

What are some suggestions you have for friends going through big life transitions? Do you have any suggestions of how to be a better friend to your married friends and friends who are parents? Please share! I would love to hear your input. 

Friday, June 9, 2017

Being a Better Friend to the Homeless

I swiped my metro card and went through the turnstile. Trains on Sunday nights are infrequent, so as I waited I put my headphones in and started walking down the platform. Lost in thought, I passed a homeless person. I wouldn't have noticed her, truthfully, if it weren't for the smell radiating from her shopping cart. I got to the end of the platform and the train hadn't come, so I walked back, passing her again. As I went by the second time, I felt that tug at my heart, the one that says, "You should talk to her." So I turned around and sat down. "Hey. I'm Luke."

With the broader church's current interest in the poor and marginalized, there's a strong push to talk to homeless people. This is a good thing, but we need to be careful how we have these conversations. I often hear people encouraging others to ask a homeless person for their story, to help them feel valued or known or something like that. While I think the intent is good, I'd suggest that you pause for a moment before you ask a homeless person to tell you their story.

While the causes for homelessness are varied, they all have one thing in common: they all create shame. Job loss, eviction, divorce, substance abuse, a criminal record, or something along those lines are often present in a homeless person's past. In different ways, our society sees all of these events as failures, which then translates to us seeing homeless people as failures as well. So when you ask a homeless person for their story, you can unknowingly force them to define their lives by their failures, and make them talk about the things that they feel the most shame about.

Think about your own life and the things that cause you to feel shame. It might be failed relationships, sexual sin, infertility, lack of a career, or your body type, just to name a few. Now imagine if a rich stranger walked over to you, and within a minute asked you to tell him everything in your life about one of these topics.

You'd be appalled. But this is what we do to people when we ask the marginalized to tell us their story.

When you force someone to share their story on your terms, you create a relationship where you're superior and they're inferior. They're made to talk about things that they find painful, while you get to listen from the comfort of your good life. When you meet a person on the street or at a soup kitchen, they don’t need someone to remind them of the problems in their life. Instead, they need someone to believe in their God-given worth as a human being. They need someone who sees the equal value that every person made in God's images has. Someone who refuses to define an equal as a person who has the same lifestyle or background as they do.

So how do you do that? It can be difficult, but it starts with the question, how do I treat this person as my friend? You would never pry into the hurt of your friends' brokenness. The best way to develop a friendship with a homeless person is to find topics that interest them but allows them to not have to talk about themselves. A great topic with men is sports; I've never met a homeless guy who doesn't have an opinion about the Knicks. And with women, it's a little trickier, but if you can perceive that she may be a mom (in my experience most are), letting her talk about her kids or grandkids can bring such joy. And if you're eating a meal at a shelter with them, you can always talk about how you like the chicken or how you're looking forward to the dessert. These questions might seem simple, and you may have different ones, but the key is to talk to them like you would a friend.

And when you treat someone as a friend, with love and respect, they often become comfortable enough to share some of their hurt and pain. I was eating with a man at a church meal for the homeless, chatting about things, when he blurted out, "I don't know how this happened. Last year, I had an apartment and was working for a recording studio, and now I'm homeless." He then went on to tell me the story of how his life had fallen apart. At that point, all you can do is listen with empathy and affirmation. "Man, that's really tough." He didn't need my money or my sympathy; he needed someone who understood that his homelessness didn't take away his humanity.

Last night, as I sat down next to the homeless women, she looked up, surprised.
"Oh hey, I'm Chris," she answered. After we exchanged pleasantries and I gave her the fifty cents in my pocket, I noticed twenty tangled strands of green beads in her cart, so we started talking about the big St. Patrick's Day parade that happened last week. By the end of the conversation, she'd told me that she'd lived in New York City for twenty years, having grown up as a military kid in Paris. It turned out she knew a little French, and as my train arrived, I was able to tell her how cool it was that she could speak French growing up. As my train took me home, I thought about my butchering of the French language during a recent trip to Paris, and I realized she wasn't just my equal anymore, but she was now my superior.

Homelessness is difficult to solve, and I'm not under the impression that I made some monumental change in this woman's situation. But I want to encourage you to see people as people, regardless of how they look. At life's core, we're to value people not for their possessions or their lifestyle, but for their inherent God-given worth. That's hard to do, but it becomes possible when we think about how Jesus wanted to spend time with us even in our brokenness and stench. So let's not make homeless people tell us how broken they are, as if they're any worse than us, but instead treat them as friends who we respect and honor.

Hi, I'm Luke Finley! I'm a writer, entrepreneur, and in ministry. I love blue oxford button-down shirts and use the 😜 emoji way more than I should. I never set out to be a writer, but I love stories and ideas, and want to use my experiences to help you thrive.

To read more about Luke and subscribe to his blog see his official website.

Friday, May 26, 2017

I Wish I Could Say it Gets Easier

The story showed up in my newsfeed a few weeks ago. Her sister died in an accident. The week of college finals. Completely unexpected. The circumstances were so uncannily familiar it made me stop, took me back, took my breath away. Suddenly I was on the other side of this calamity, in the position of the dumb acquaintance, clumsily trying to come up with some comforting words to send in a message. It had been a few years since we had been in touch apart from social media, which does not really count. I never knew her sister and I knew I could not know the pain she and her family were suffering right now, but I could imagine. 

I wish I could come here and say that it gets better, it gets easier, and you stop missing them so much, but I want to be honest. It has been almost four years and I cannot say it is any easier. I still miss my brother every single day. I still think about him every single day. Even more so now that my life grows farther and farther from the life we shared. I wish I could share these friends, these experiences, and this life with him. I wish he could be here with my nieces and nephews and our growing family. And I know it will not get any easier. With every anniversary, every accomplishment, every wedding, and every birth – it only gets harder. But I can promise you this. You will get stronger. You will heal. You will learn to bear this burden with all of the grace bestowed upon you by our gracious Savior.

There is a long road ahead of you to that healing. I cannot tell you how long it will take. It might be months or years. In the meantime, do not hesitate to fall apart when you need to. Don’t be scared when the tears unexpectedly take over, because they will. You will find yourself hiding in the bathroom, in your bedroom, in your car a lot. You will uncontrollably burst into tears in front of strangers in public. You will go from happy to sobbing in a moment. You won’t feel like yourself for a long time and that is okay. Let yourself be broken. Let yourself fall apart. It is okay to be weak. Cry when you need to cry. Tell your loved ones and friends how you feel, as best as you can, when you feel you can. Do not hide yourself. Loss can be so isolating. It can feel like no one understands your pain, like no one ever could and maybe no one can, but they are still there for you and this is a weight you should never carry alone. Remember you are loved. You are remembered. You are seen.

Take your time. There is no timeline for grief. Months down the road, people may forget you are still hurting. For them the pain was yesterday but for you the loss is still as fresh and painful even a year later. Grief is the final act of love we have to give to those who leave us. Love never ends and consequently grief never really ends, but it will change, grow, and mature. It will not always be so fresh, poignant, new, and scary. Grief is cyclical. It comes and goes in waves and seasons. And no one can predict when those seasons of sorrow will take over you, not even you. So don’t bury your feelings simply because others expect you to be over it by now. You will never be over it.

Most importantly, remember your Savior. Remember the Man of Sorrows who knows your sorrow better than anyone. Remember his Word and his promises. Keep seeking him in worship, prayer, and in the fellowship of the saints. He knows your pain better than anyone. He loves you, your family, and your friends better than anyone could. There will be a temptation to withdraw from those around you, from the world, and even from him. You will be angry at him. You will be angry at the world, at yourself. Forgive yourself. Forgive those around you in their grief. Trust your Savior. Even when you are angry, broken, and confused, go to him. Cling to him. Suffering brings us to a place every Christian needs to be to truly know Jesus Christ. We convince ourselves in our pride that faith is about dressing up on Sunday mornings, always bringing our best to Jesus, and putting on a show for those around us, but Jesus says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light" (Matthew 11:28-30).

Also Read: 
Hope Was Never Meant to be Buried 
When You Lose Someone  

Friday, May 12, 2017

The Close

My apartment is a travesty of cardboard boxes strewn and stacked all over my bedroom and living area. Life is in upheaval. Everything is about to change and I am not quite sure what the future has in store. A lot of my friends are graduating from college this spring. Many of them are getting married, starting families, going overseas to teach, and accomplishing fantastic feats. This is a big year for a lot of people. It's a year of uncertainty, newness, and probably a whole lot of insecurity. Not every year has been this way for me. During the past few years I have felt mostly left behind, stagnant, and a little lost. While everyone was out making plans and making big things happen, I was just here, plodding along from day to day. But looking back I can see how the biggest and best things happened in the plodding, in the monotonous day to day, in the still quiet moments. That's where big things grow from.

If I am completely honest, when I first moved here I never thought I would be sorry to leave this place behind. I never thought I would look back on the last few years with anything but sadness and regret. I never thought that I would find a home here – find myself here – and put down roots of my own for the first time. As I move back to my hometown, it feels something like going home, but at the same time it feels so different. I am not sure how to describe it. It has been really difficult to write anything worth sharing here. Everything feels so uncertain and uncomfortable right now. But for all the uncertainty and inhibitions, I am incredibly happy and confident that whatever happens, God will have his way and I can trust his plan is good. As a sort of closing to this chapter of my life I want to share some of the biggest takeaways I have gleaned from the last few years.

Your heart is stronger than you think. I know this sounds clichĂ©, but I'm going to say it anyway. I am not speaking about the actual physical organ in your chest, though it is a pretty resilient and strong muscle. I am talking about your proverbial heart, your spirit. Heartbreak has literally killed people. There are people who have been physically overwhelmed with the stress and trauma of loss to the point of death. Still, even more people survive heartbreak. Maybe you are one of those survivors who has walked through the Valley of the Shadow of Death and remarkably come out the other side, alive, with your heart still beating. One thing heartbreak gave me was a gauge – a gauge of what I can and cannot persevere through in this life. There have been so many disappointing and sad days since I moved. There have been even more good days. Through it all, I know I can keep going. I know I can keep moving and living. This is the beauty and redemptive power of Jesus Christ. The things in this life that should break us instead mold us, bend us, and fashion us into his image. His grace sustains us. His hand forms us in the fires of this life. We don’t have to be afraid. We don’t have to resent trials and tribulation. We only have to trust and obey him.

Put down your roots. As a young adult, life is all about moving onto the next thing, whatever that next thing is. And if you are not moving onto the next thing, whether that next thing is marriage, a career, or an education, then you are obviously failing at life. When I moved here I never thought this would be a place I would stay in. I was thinking, “Maybe a year until I find the next thing I need to do.” Let me tell you a secret. The best things in life come when you decide to put down roots, when you decide to invest in the community, job, church, people right where you are. Putting down roots can feel scary, especially for an opportunistic personality like me, because putting down roots feels a lot like settling. Maybe the grass is greener on the other side, but maybe the grass over here would get greener if you just invested a little time and effort into it! Let me tell you another secret. The best things in life take time. Good things come to those who wait. So don’t be afraid to put down your roots. Don’t be afraid to take your time. Stop being in such a hurry to jump from one thing to the next! Invest where you are and be willing to have patience before you see the fruit of your labors. Just because it is not what you had planned or did not turn out how you expected does not mean life is not good or that good things cannot come from this. If you can see and enjoy the goodness even when circumstances are less-than-ideal then you are pretty much set for life.

It's okay to leave people behind. When I first moved from my hometown I was really scared how my relocation would effect my relationships and friendships. Now that I am getting ready to move again, a lot of the same old fears have resurfaced. There is a temptation to cling to everyone and everything in my life, as if my holding onto it will prevent things from changing. Life changes on you no matter what. The things we grasp after and cling to are typically the things we lose. Ultimately the people in your life who are meant to stick around will stick around. The relationships that you feel you have to cling to, grasp after, and fear losing are probably the relationships you need to reevaluate and rethink. I have had these kinds of friends and I have lost these kinds of friends and it was probably one of the most painful and simultaneously best thing that ever happened to me. Do not be afraid to leave people behind. If anything, moving and changing things up exposes our relationships and friendships for what they are. You might be surprised with the ones who stick around, the faithful few who are invested in you no matter what, but I promise those people will always be there. You will never walk alone, so go forward boldly.

You Might Like: 
Grief, Guilt, and Comfort for the Saint 
Why I Decided to Go Back to School || Confessions of a College Drop-Out 

Friday, April 21, 2017

How to Find Direction and Make Decisions (for the Chronically Indecisive and Directionally Challenged)

I have always been directionally challenged and indecisive, and not simply when it comes to navigating on the road. I have never felt like there was a crystal clear direction for my life, and while I have been able to feign indifference or completely fake it for the majority of my short life, my lack of direction has ultimately been a point of insecurity and fear. Last year I opened up about this in an article about what to do when you don’t know what to do. Since then I have grown a lot. I cannot say that I have arrived, that I know exactly where my life is headed and I have a thorough ten year plan - who in the world really does? - but I have come quite a ways and that in and of itself is cause for encouragement. 

Before I launch into this article, I want to establish a couple of things. Direction does not necessarily entail happiness. I know people who have their lives all planned out, who are focused and decisive as heck, who make all the mature choices at all the right times and I know that these people struggle just as much as the next human being to be satisfied and content. And while decisive focused people may seem less flighty, they are just as prone to doubt their choices and direction.

Also, direction does not necessarily mean having a ten-year plan or any sort of plan at all. It simply means you know where you are supposed to be and what you need to do for now. When you know you are where you need to be today you do not need to worry about where you will need to be tomorrow or next year. Direction is more of a security in who you are. Direction is trust and faith that our lives and our goals are ultimately not up to us but in God's hands. We can make our plans but God has his way - we don't have to bear the weight of that anxiety because he has taken care of it. 

My point is, do not mistake direction for security, joy, and contentment. It can be easy to pretend that our security and happiness comes from our jobs, our plans, our relationships, and our success but I think it has been proven over and over again that this is not the case. I firmly believe contentment is a state of the mind and heart - it is an attitude of gratitude and thankfulness that can and should be cultivated in any season. The Apostle Paul in the New Testament is an excellent example of this.

Before we confront our indecision and lack of direction we have to confront the source of it. I am convinced that a crisis of indecision—of not knowing what we want to do and not knowing where to go—is always a crisis of identity. If we would begin to know who we are, the decision-making and sense of direction would naturally follow. As Christians, our identity is firmly secured in Jesus Christ. To know who we are, we first must know who he is and be continually acquainting ourselves with him. We do this by reading His word and committing it to memory, by worshipping him, by coming to him in prayer, and by partaking in the fellowship and communion of the saints and finding our place in his church.

In short, put Christ’s kingdom and his righteousness first. And don’t worry about the rest, don't worry about direction – all of that will be added to you. 

One symptom of indecision, and a personal pitfall of mine, is people-pleasing. I have noticed this trend in my life. When I do not have a personal sense of direction or identity, I simply resort to people-pleasing and trying to measure up to all of the expectations everyone in my life has for me. Let me tell you, it gets exhausting after a while because everyone in your life will tell you something different – everyone in your life has a different idea of what you should do for school, work, and relationships. Trying to please everyone only leads to confusion and compromise. It’s exhausting and it’s not sustainable. 

When we put Christ’s kingdom first, we suddenly have a filter for all of the feedback we receive from everyone in our lives. We know how to prioritize the varying opinions and advice we receive every day. We know who to go to first for wisdom and we know whose input and feelings need to take precedence in our lives. 

Here are a few of things to remember as you transition from that season of waiting to knowing what to do and actually deciding what to do next.

Be content waiting for direction. There is so much that can be gained in simply waiting. Good things come to those who wait, it's true. Everything worthwhile is worth waiting for and God always has the greatest good in store for those who love him and are called according to his purpose. So do not be afraid or restless in the waiting. I know it is difficult when we often do not even know what it is we are waiting for or when life seems to be passing us by. It is tempting to make impulsive choices and decisions we do not really want to make simply because we are afraid of staying in one place. But the strongest roots come from the times when we ground ourselves in one place. God often does his greatest works in the slow arduous seasons of waiting, even if that work is simply cultivating a contended heart in you. 

Life is a series of seasons. There is no one end goal or destination for your life apart from eternity with Christ and the glory of God. Leave off the temptation and pressure that says you have to find that one thing—that job, relationship, life-calling—that will completely fulfill you, because you already have that. You do not have to find the place where you will belong forever in this life—you already have that too, in Christ. Instead be open to change and the turning of the seasons. Recognize that what God calls you to in one season might not be what he calls you to do in the next. There is a time for everything. 

God honestly does not care that much. Now, I do not want you to misunderstand what I am saying here. God cares about the decisions you make. He cares that you glorify him in everything you do. He cares that you do not idolize your choices more than you love him. He cares that you entrust everything to him. But he doesn’t care whether or not you go to college, what kind of job you have, what your annual income is, how other people perceive you—he doesn’t care about these things half as much as we are prone to. Remember, everything you accomplish in this life is for this life only, except that which is done for Christ’s kingdom.

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