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Posts Tagged ‘looking to the interests of others’

I wonder if you have ever had the experience of not being fully listened to, just when you really needed someone else to understand how you felt? It can be annoying, can’t it—not to mention downright disappointing. Such experiences usually make me feel quite cranky—even to the extent of wanting to shake the other person and yell “Listen to me!” But so far I’ve managed to shut my mouth in time and smile more or less sweetly. And just as well, because I have a sneaking suspicion I might have done exactly the same thing to many others in the course of my life.

In recent weeks I have been unable to get out of the house much because of lower back trouble. Family members have been wonderful, doing many things I normally do and looking after me. And two friends in particular have visited and phoned regularly. I value both these women so highly. They went out of their way to spend time with me. And they truly listened and empathised. They put their own issues aside—of which they both have quite a number—and gave of themselves to me, for which I am very grateful.

A few days ago, I decided to try my back out and make the effort to mingle again with friends and acquaintances at a particular gathering. One or two had noticed I had not been around and welcomed me back. And another began to do the same, but our conversation soon morphed into a major litany of her own back issues. After listening for some time and becoming increasingly tired and sore, I expressed my concern for her and moved off. I then noticed another lady sitting at an awkward angle and enquired if she had back trouble. Sure enough, she did—and thus began another sad litany about her health issues. I told her I had noticed her because I had a sore back too, but this hardly seemed to register. And as I headed home, I found myself wondering if we had lost the art altogether of really listening and caring for others in their troubles rather than being so caught up in our own.

But as I lay down again with relief and prepared to wallow in my self-pity, some uncomfortable thoughts occurred to me. While I had been so busy searching for sympathy, how many others in even greater need had I missed noticing? Yes, one lady had caught my eye, but did my experience with her make me blind to others in equal need of empathy? And were those ones who had shared their troubles with me in much more need of comfort and understanding than I was? Maybe they didn’t have a loving family or two caring friends as I did.

And then I remembered the words of Philippians 2:4-5 that always seem to wake me up to myself:

Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as Christ Jesus …

That pretty much takes care of my wanting to shake people because they aren’t listening to all my woes, don’t you think? Perhaps instead if I humbled myself more often and made myself nothing, just as Jesus did, things would change around me.

Perhaps if we all did it, whole communities would change and believe.

Perhaps it truly is worth learning the art of being there for others, don’t you think?

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There’s something very precious about finding friends who will hang in there with us through thick and thin, isn’t there? They know we have imperfections and we know they do too, but they are still our friends – and that’s the bottom line.

It’s wonderful too, isn’t it, when, after having lost touch with good friends over the years, we meet up with them again only to find they are just as warm and welcoming as they always were? It’s like we pick up the conversation where we left off all those years ago, as if we had seen them only yesterday.

Recently I was reminded of how wonderful true friendship is through three events that happened in quick succession. The first was the wedding of a girl I have known for about twenty years. Some time back, she went through a very difficult patch in her life which she would not have survived without the love and care of genuine friends around her, who went the second and third mile for her sake. While I had lost touch with her a little, these friends had not and were still standing with her and around her at her marriage ceremony, helping out with the various tasks involved with such an occasion.

The second event was a church service back at the church I attended for thirteen years and then served as one of the pastors for a further five years. Here I experienced, as always, a warm and loving welcome from the people there, and a sense that nothing had changed between us, despite nine years having passed since I was part of that fellowship.

And the third was a simple time of catching up with an old friend over coffee. This friend is about to head overseas and will be spending some time with a mutual friend of ours, so offered to take some gifts to her on my behalf. We are all at different churches now and all separated geographically, but our friendship is still as warm and as caring as it ever was.

These three recent experiences have highlighted again for me the truth of Proverbs 18:24:

A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.

And they also served to cause me to reflect on what sort of friend I am myself to those around me. We can get so wrapped up in our own affairs and overwhelmed with life at times that it’s easy to overlook our friends’ needs. We mean to contact them to see how they’re going or to remember their birthdays or to include them in some event in our lives, but somehow we don’t attend to it. Yet I am so aware how much even a brief email from a friend means to me and encourages me in my rather lone writer’s life. Paul’s words in Philippians 2: 4 are always a challenge to me in this regard:

Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.

Paul goes on to remind us that our attitude should be the same as that of Jesus Christ, who ‘made himself nothing’ and gave his very life for us to bring us back to God. What a friend we have in Jesus, as the old hymn says! And Jesus calls us his friends too, as we follow him and listen to him and do what he commands (John 15:14).

Now there’s a friendship that makes all the difference, don’t you agree?

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