"The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well." These words were penned by Ralph Waldo Emerson. Whether or not he was able to actually live out this philosophy, he had a deep desire to make his life matter. As I have focused my attention on practical ways that will help me to live my life with more intention, purpose, success, and influence, I have been discovering that we need to do two things.
First, we need to narrow down the areas in our life that we want to build, enhance and really leverage as we use our gifts, talents and abilities to serve God and other people. We're smart if we can really focus on what we do best and what we are most passionate about since it's these areas that will produce the most positive impact on our sphere of influence.
Secondly, I'm learning that there are areas of our lives that need to be cleared out or eliminated since they tend to bog us down and often sabotage success in areas we care about the most. These are the things that take a lot of time, energy and focus but don't necessarily produce a lot of fruit. This is the de-cluttering process that I have been intent on accomplishing in my own life.
As I've said before, there are always going to be things in our lives that we can't eliminate, even though we would like to! Housework is that for me and although I like to have a clean house, I don't like giving up the time it takes to do it. That's when we need to be smarter on how to accomplish the things we can't get out of doing so they take up less time and emotional space.
I've been looking at the areas in my life that include my relationship with God, personal space and material possessions, relationships, resources including time and money, and work/ministry. Today, I'm focussing on relationships.
Relationships are tricky because in the Biblical world view, we assume that we are to build relationships with people at any cost. I'm not seeing that in scripture as I have been studying what the Word of God says about relationships. What I am finding is that we need to be loving and willing to serve, but while being wise and careful.
I heard a pastor once say that there are 3 different kinds of relationships: 1.) Those that suck all the energy from you, 2.) Those that feed energy into you, and 3.) Those that are neutral and have both give and take. I guess I have found that to be true, although there is often an ebb and flow involved. There are seasons when friends have been in deep need and I have needed to pour into them, as well as seasons where I was the one who required a lot of energy and attention.
As I have analyzed some of my own relationships, I've decided that some changes need to be made so I can make space for the relationships I find most important at this time. The ones that I value the most or think I can have the most impact in are a variety of all three of the kinds mentioned above.
So, in order to make the space for those who make the list, I need to clear out some of the others. That's where it gets hard and that's where we need help from the Holy Spirit. Some we can get rid of and some we need to figure out how to manage in order to minimize the affect.
1. We need to de-clutter relationships that are harming us. 1 Corinthians 15:33 says "Do not be deceived: bad company corrupts good morals." Proverbs 13: 20 says: "He who walks with wise men will be wise. But the companions of fools will suffer harm." These verses are not saying that we turn our backs on those who don't have a relationship with the Lord or who need the Godly influence in their lives that we can provide. But "walking" with people is much different than "ministering" to them. It's way too easy to get sucked into behaviors that are not conducive with walking in the Spirit of God.
2. We may need to de-clutter toxic relationships that are costing us way more than we can afford to give. This includes people who are untrustworthy, manipulative, controlling, or who view people as something to use for their own advantage. I have found that these relationships take up too much time, emotional energy and focus and steals it from the ones I want to invest in. They are like that rock in your shoe that becomes the only thing you can focus on and makes walking through life miserable. Examples of not giving space for these kind of relationships comes from Jesus' dealings with the Pharisees in Matthew 23 and in Paul's remarks in Galatians about false teachers.
3. We may need to learn how to manage the more toxic relationships that will remain. These may include co-workers, bosses, family members, church members, etc. Romans 12:18 reminds us that "if possible, so far as it depends on you, live peacefully with all." Sometimes that's a challenge but one God often calls us to in our dealing with people for a variety or reasons. Rick Warren calls these people "crazy makers" and gives some tips on how to handle them. He teaches not to take what they do personally, not to become bitter, not to gossip about them, not to get sucked into their "game", and to engage with them as little as necessary. This keeps the negative effect they have on your life at a minimum. And we must always be aware of the possibility that we too can become "crazy makers" for others if we aren't careful!
4. We need to be willing to invest our time, energy and focus on the relationships that we feel God has called us into, in order to make a difference and to accomplish His purposes. This takes work and it costs us something. Jesus said that the greatest commandment is to love God, but the second is to love others as we love ourselves (Matthew 22:37-39). This is a tall order but shows the importance of making space in our lives for this to happen. It takes intentionality and the willingness to let some other things go.
In an article in the New York Times, David Brooks says "It occurred to me that there were two sets of virtues, the résumé virtues and the eulogy virtues. The résumé virtues are the skills you bring to the marketplace. The eulogy virtues are the ones that are talked about at your funeral — whether you were kind, brave, honest or faithful. Were you capable of deep love?
In the quest to live the intentional life that it seems God has called us to, we realistically need both the resume and the eulogy virtues. But in the long run, to live a life that Emerson describes, one that really makes a difference in the end, love and connection always wins top billing.
The biggest challenge of all is not in decluttering our relationships or in making space for those that will truly matter. It's how do we become the type of person who brings this kind of value to the lives of others? Now takes a lot of intention.
Blessings until next time...