Generally Speaking: Life giver or life sapper?


There is a talk I have frequently given called “Back Door Lessons.” It involves five principles I learned the hard way and wondered a million times why it took me so long to figure them out. 

Of course since I thought I knew everything there was to know about everything at the age of 20, I probably would not have paid the least bit of attention if my mother or father had sat me down and tried to share them with me.

Never underestimate the value of butting your head against a concrete wall or falling on your face.

Those lessons tend to stick with you! One of my most painful but most valuable lessons concerned relationships with our fellow human beings.

I have learned that our daily lives involve a complicated network of friends, family, and acquaintances. Years ago, I remember sitting on a counselor’s couch crying over a particular relationship that kept me tied in knots so much of the time.

It was not the first time I had sought the help of a professional hoping this time I would learn some secret that had thus far eluded me.

I detest conflict, and more than almost anything in the entire world, I wanted to find the magic formula to get along with this person.

On that particular day I learned two hyphenated terms that completely changed my life. It doesn’t say a lot about how smart I am to think I had never figured it out on my own.

The principles were termed life-giving and life-sapping. Suddenly the struggles I experienced with that particular person made sense. I could even understand the imaginary elephant who parked himself in the middle of my chest every time this person expressed displeasure!

I also understood why I was forever walking on eggshells and waiting for the other shoe to drop. Life-sappers tend to have that effect on us.

Life-giving relationships are comfortable. They energize, inspire, and refresh. Life-giving friends are those we call when we need a soft place to land in the middle of something hard.

They are also the friends who celebrate with us when something good comes our way. Jealousy is just not a factor in our relationship, but at the same time, we can count on them to “speak the truth in love,” even when it is uncomfortable to hear (Ephesians 4:15). .

In total contrast are the life-sappers who strain and drain and never cease to criticize, even in the times when we most need an encouraging word.  The world is populated by humans who can be broadly defined as one or the other. This is an observation I have found to be quite true and quite underreported.

As I prepared to write about this, I ran across a blog by a Christian author I do love. She had written on the subject of difficult people. I thought it would be helpful to read her take, and it was. Except that she approached the subject from one angle only. She said that if you are having trouble in a relationship, it is because you are failing to see the plank in your eye while zeroing in on the speck in your brother’s eye (Matthew 7:3).

I agree that a self-inventory is an important first step in figuring out why a particular person causes you so much distress. We can all make it a priority to be more loving and more forgiving and more tuned in to the hurts of other people.

The daily prayer of all Christ followers should be, “Make me more like you, Lord Jesus.” However, sometimes you can’t help noticing that it is less YOUR plank and more their speck that is creating the tension. There. I said it, and I mean it.

The Book of Proverbs is filled with practical insights on living well on earth. It is packed with wisdom on relationships and keys to living the good life. Look at these gems.

Whoever is slow to anger has great understanding, but he who has a hasty temper exalts folly. Proverbs 14:29.

Wrath is cruel, anger is overwhelming, but who can stand before jealousy? Proverbs 29:24.

A man of wrath stirs up strife, and one given to anger causes much transgression. Proverbs 29:22

Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones. Proverbs 16:24

A hot-tempered man stirs up dissension, but a patient man calms a quarrel. Proverbs 15:18

A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. Proverbs 15:1.

A patient man has great understanding, but a quick-tempered man displays folly. Proverbs 14: 29.

A fool finds no pleasure in understanding but delights in airing his own opinions. Proverbs 18:2.

And so it goes. A man of wrath, a hot-tempered man, a quick-tempered man, a fool – I am thankful for these passages. Sometimes the difficult people in our lives are just chronically difficult, and nothing we can do is going to change that.

This concept, that there are some who are more comfortable with conflict than with peace, is just a reality to accept rather than to understand.  I am so comforted in accepting that fact because for years, I tried to figure out what I was doing wrong and was sure there was a miracle around the next corner.

My miracle did not come although God used that relationship in a myriad of ways to draw me to himself. Beth Moore’s statement certainly resonates with me: “Sometimes trusting God amounts to making peace with something that won’t fix. Sometimes you let it go. Sometimes you hold it broken.”

We can’t choose our relatives, but we can certainly pick our friends.

Life-giving relationships take time and commitment, but the rewards are worth the effort and last a lifetime.

My mother, a 1930 college graduate, and her three college suitemates had a tradition called “Round Robin.”

One wrote a letter, (yes - a real honest-to-goodness, snail mail letter on stationery) tucked it in an envelope, mailed it to the next friend who added her personal letter.

That friend sent it on to friend number three who added her letter and sent it on to friend number four who sent the complete set back to friend number one.

For more than seventy years these “girls” stayed in touch that way sharing the joys and sorrows that wove the tapestry of their lives.

They birthed babies, buried husbands, married off children, encouraged each other through joys and sorrows and found great strength through their unconditional love, support and prayers for each other.

They lived in three different states, saw each other rarely, were all Believers and prayer warriors. Their friendship never faltered because it was built on the firm foundation of shared faith, mutual respect, and unselfish love.

Seek out the life-givers, and strive, even here in the 21st Century, to be a life-giver as well.

I read years ago that in the course of a day, at least seven of every ten people you meet are very likely going through something tough.

From the barista at Starbucks to the custodian in the school gym to the college student waiting tables at your local lunch place, remember that all human beings have their struggles.

Ralph Waldo Emerson made a timeless observation that is as true today as it was 150 years ago. “The only way to have a friend is to be one.”  That wise philosopher Winnie, the Pooh put it this way: “A little consideration, a little thought for others, makes all the difference.”



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