Are we sharpening one another?

Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another. —Proverbs 27:17 ESV

When you work every Sunday, a holiday weekend doesn’t really hold the same type of appeal as it does for most. The “woohoo three-day weekend” isn’t really three days in a row, and the Monday holiday observance often only makes the remainder of the week more difficult to catch up with. Still, not too many people I know (myself included) will say they don’t enjoy having an extra day at their discretion, regardless of how it fits in.

I found myself with my own type of holiday this past weekend. I had off Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, and for once, none of those days had appointments or outside obligations. So I allowed myself to fill them . . . with friends. Sort of an iron-sharpening few days, you might say.

I think it’s interesting to read what some of the commentaries say about the sharpening process:

  • It can make us/keep us “shiny”—some translations say “sharpens the countenance”—and Ellicot’s Commentary for English Readers says that in essence, the verse is telling us that the “play of wit with wit” will actually brighten up the face.
  • Benson’s Commentary says it “quickens his ingenuity, enlivens his affections, strengthens his judgment, excites him to virtuous and useful actions, and makes him, in all respects, a better man.”
  • Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary reminds us that we are to “take heed whom we converse with,” and tells us that our conversation should have the end goal “to make one another wiser and better.”

Friendships, I think, boil down to two basic types: those that strengthen and fill us so we become sharper and more effective, and those that weaken and drain us. Not that I’m always tossing Bible verses around, but when I think of my friendships, I think of Proverbs 17: 22—”A joyful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit dries up the bones.”

I’ve often returned from a visit with a good friend, eyes burning from the tears that accompanied some intense bouts of laughter, abdominal muscles more sore than Jillian Michaels could ever hope to make me, saying, “That was EXACTLY what I needed today!” I’m not kidding when I tell you I think I could be really skinny if I only got to spend more time with my better friends. (Never mind the pizza we’re probably eating—we’re focusing on the positive here.) There’s cardio, there’s side cramping, there’s floor work as I roll around, doubled over. And I’m working out those smile muscles like nobody’s business.

THAT is good medicine.

A friend and coworker recently posted her thoughts about iron sharpening iron on Facebook, saying,

“So if that is true, and I believe God’s Word is true, then is the reverse true? Does being dull create dullness in another? Does negativity give birth to more negativity? Have you ever found a rotten potato in your bag of potatoes—that is nasty—and creates a problem for the other potatoes. Are we building one another up or tearing each other down and pulling people in with us? I work in a church—I hear positive and negative comments each week. I hear them at baseball games, at stores, etc. It causes me to examine myself. Am I sharpening others with God’s love and encouraging others or am I spreading viruses with negative words that are not helpful and are not going to change anything? My thoughts on my drive home today . . .”

Just as we have those positive friends, there will always be acquaintances who pull us into a pattern of negativity and complaining. It’s all too easy to slide into and not nearly as easy to climb out of, once a habit has been established. I’m a naturally sarcastic person, so are my kids, and so are many of my friends. However, I’m conscious of not allowing that sarcasm to become mean-spirited (sometimes I fail, but hey, I’m conscious of it), and there are times when I’ve certainly been convicted of being negative. It happens. But I don’t want to live there.

Joy in the Bible is often mentioned in conjunction with strength. I certainly feel stronger after spending any amount of time with my positive-outlook friends. I can conquer the world and then some.

And that’s how I feel on this not-a-three-day-weekend: rejuvenated and ready to conquer the world. Why? Because on Thursday night, I and two of my very close friends (who happen to be authors I work for) made the time for a three-way Skype chat that had me—and various family members as they wandered in and out of the room—laughing for a solid three-plus hours, finally winding down to say goodbye at almost 2 a.m.

On Friday, I got to have a long lunch with another close friend who was in town from North Carolina. This was a total bonus, since I don’t usually get to see her more than once a year; but not only did I see her in November (when we got matching tattoos to celebrate friendship endurance through some really tough seasons), I’ll see her again in July. Three times within a twelve-month period! It means so much to me to see her smiling face, to giggle the moment we are within earshot of each other, and to talk about everything from silly to deep, fitting in as much as we can until the next time.

On Friday night, yet another close friend—my college roommate and still one of my besties—came over to spend the evening hanging out and watching a movie. We know enough about each other to get into some serious trouble, we’ve persevered through thick and thin, we seldom get to see one another though we live less than ten miles apart, and our daughters have somehow managed to become best friends, which we think is super cool. We can follow each other’s tangents and don’t have to explain our dumb jokes to each other.

These friendships, with people who are vastly different from each other, sharpen me. They each have a unique way of encouraging me and yet holding me accountable when I’m not my best self. And if you haven’t noticed by now, I tend to surround myself with people who love to laugh. I can be as serious as I need to be, but not until the very moment I have to be, and not a moment after. There will always be time for tears when they’re needed, so why rush it? Laugh at every opportunity so your strength is built up for those valleys.

I was so buoyed by a simple two days of friend-infilling that my Saturday was incredibly productive. I woke up raring to go. I didn’t get everything checked off my to-do list, but I got little bits of lots of things accomplished, and shared some nice moments with my best friend who just happens to be married to me. In fact, today marks the 30th anniversary of our first kiss, and I will be the first to tell you that a man who still celebrates the kissiversary after thirty years is a an iron-sharpener of the highest quality.

So how about it? Who will YOU sharpen this week?

Mother’s Day reflections

Once again, Mother’s Day has rolled around as it has every year, and once again I find myself mentally reviewing parenthood in general.

Anyone who is a parent knows there are times—sometimes more often than not—when parenting seems like a losing battle. Nobody really prepares you for what parenting does to you, whether mentally, physically, or even spiritually.

The thrill of having a baby is often overshadowed by the sheer exhaustion of all that a baby requires. Babies, by their nature of being . . . well, babies . . . are takers. Any giving they do is completely involuntary. They can’t help it; they are completely helpless, dependent on their parents to keep them alive and content. The involuntary giving is cuteness, snugglability, and the awesome realization of parents that we were given the privilege of taking care of this tiny little person who is somehow so amazing that all tiredness and self-sacrifice is worth it.

Mind you, we don’t always feel that way in the midst of yet another toddler tantrum or sleepless night, but when saner heads prevail, we get it. It’s worth it.

My kids are no longer what I can classify as “kids” in the strictest sense. Our oldest is 23, next in line is 21, and the “baby” is very close to turning 17. They’ve turned into people in their own right, with their own friends (some of whom—gasp!—I don’t know personally), jobs, and interests that may or may not reflect mine. Even so, I still worry about them and still want to take care of them as best I can, even though they really don’t need it in the same way.

The babies who used to wake us up multiple times a night were replaced by toddlers who would wander into our room in the middle of the night, unaware that they were more often than not interrupting the first intimate moment we’d found the time and energy to enjoy in days. The toddlers were replaced by teens who would stay up later than we could manage to hold out, and then young adults who would change plans and suddenly arrive home on a day we’d planned to have the house to ourselves. And still . . . worth it. Worth every instance of interrupted intimacy, every middle-of-the-night phone call that starts with, “I’m okay, so let’s just get that out of the way first,” every “I need you to come and get me because . . .”

Even as the mama of young adults, my time is still not my own, because if they have a need, I still want to be there. If there’s time to just hang out and talk or grab a meal together, I want to be available and it can’t happen as easily as it used to. It makes my heart happy when they actually seek out time with me. But being a mama at this stage has also given me a heart for younger moms and their struggles.

Secondary to raising our own children, one of the best things we can do as mamas is to be there for other moms. I am blessed to be friends with some of the adult children of my own friends, and I think it helps to have a listening ear and an encouraging word or two when they’re feeling overwhelmed. My mother was not someone I could confide in, and was not what anyone would call a listener. Uh . . . and not sympathetic or understanding, either, for that matter. So I completely understand that there are times when it’s easier to talk to a mom other than your own. They can listen and not judge, and it’s not up to them to solve your problem or to take responsibility for it.

My daughter (our youngest) has a couple “extra” moms she trusts when times are rough. We’re extremely fortunate that she is open with us (even when we don’t want to hear what she needs to tell us), but even so, I think it helps her to know there are other adults she can run things by if she’s trying to figure out how to tell us what she needs to talk about, or if I’m not immediately available, or even just to get a differing viewpoint on a problem she’s trying to work out. Far from being jealous, I’m thankful. God has been gracious to put wise people in her path, and I’m not foolish enough to turn down the help.

In the same vein, I have extra “kids” who call me mom, ranging from teens to young adults, and I’m happy to give them solid hugs and a bit of my scant wisdom when it presents itself. In the way that others are there for my children, I want to offer the same. Yesterday, in fact, I had a thoroughly enjoyable morning filled with delicious coffee, laughter, and deep conversation with a beautiful gal who calls me her “work momma.” She wanted to take me out for Mother’s Day at our local chocolatier (mmm, truffles), and it provided a three-hour block of time for us each to be “filled” during an otherwise-draining season of life. She’s a young adult who sees me as my own person, which allows me to be open and vulnerable, yet who also trusts me to treat her with the love of a friend and “extra” mom. She has a terrific mom of her own, and yet there is still a need for that extra set of ears during tough times. I’m privileged to be part of her life.

My mom was sort of a tough taskmaster when it came to Mother’s Day. She had to have the gift, the card, and the phone call—any one of those three missing, and the day was a bust. Over the years, I came to realize that I just needed to do my best and live with it, even though I knew she told her friends and neighbors how neglectful I was. My worst Mother’s Day was the first one after our son had died, and I didn’t want to really interact with the outside world. I was content to spend the day with my husband and children, and yet I knew my mother would be upset if I didn’t call. When I finally did call, I was scolded for not calling early enough in the day. She’d been stewing all day long, not even considering the grief I was dealing with after losing a child only four months before.

I vowed then and there that I would never be like that with my own children. Yes, we all make promises to ourselves to not be like our parents, and I’m sure there are inevitabilities of a familiar mannerism or two, but of this one I’m certain. My children will never be made to feel that a gift will make or break my love for them. Thankfully, in that way, my kids are sort of like me: we love to give or receive thoughtful gifts and appreciate them, but we don’t always feel comfortable having to come up with something simply because the calendar says we should. I think that helps, that we think alike on that point. No pressure, kids. No pressure.

I’m proud of the adults they’re growing into, and yet there’s a whole host of new things to pray about as I trust God to guide them through life. Children are a huge tax on a person’s spiritual walk! They give us so much to pray about, and so much to be accountable for. I love my children with such a fierce, possessive love that I can’t imagine how God can love them more, even though I know He does.

And that kind of love for my kids helps me to understand how God can love us no matter what. The love is unending, even while wanting to punch them in the nose for a callous observation that cuts deeply, or for an offhand remark that makes me cry silently in another room so they don’t see how hurtful they can be. I will wager that there is no child on earth who knows how often his or her parents are brought to tears . . . either for them, or because of them. I would imagine God has wanted to punch me in the nose once or twice. I’m extra thankful he’s more patient than I could ever be, even on my best day.

“For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” —Romans 8:38-39

Happy Mother’s Day, mamas out there. You’re doing better than you think you are.