Proverbial Wisdom 3: Relationships
Who doesn’t want to get wiser in their relationships? Whether business, marital, family, friendships or any other kind, relationships affect all of us all the time. Introvert or extrovert, single or married, young or old, everyone can get a little bit wiser in dealings with people. I know I can. The wisdom in Proverbs has much to teach us about how to handle all kinds of things in life, of which relationships is one.
Plenty of traditional wisdom about relationships comes from Proverbs. For example, the old adage, ‘A friend in need is a friend indeed’ seems to come to Proverbs 17:17: “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity.” There’s both a lesson and a challenge here. The lesson: we shouldn’t worry about or expend undue emotional energy on fair-weather friends. Focus on the ones who stick by us instead. The challenge: who needs you at the moment? Which friend needs a little more loving? Who in your life is going through a time of adversity and desperately needs a brother or sister by their side?
Some people think the more friendships the better. I remember the early days of Facebook when there was competition to see who could get the most friends. Having a wide network and plenty of acquaintances is a good thing, but honestly, how many people can you be a proper friend to? A limited number, I would suggest. Beyond that number you’re pretty much just a well-intentioned figure on the periphery. You could rush round trying to give sufficient time to loads of people, but that sounds pretty exhausting. Even before you consider the time you need for God, for yourself, for chores and personal admin, and all the rest. Spread yourself too thin and you’ll end up adding no value anywhere.
Proverbs 12:26 says, “The righteous choose their friends carefully, but the way of the wicked leads them astray.” On the surface the lesson here is pretty obvious: don’t hang around with the wrong kind of people; surround yourself with good influences and spend your time with those who will encourage you and build you up. Definitely true, but I think there’s a subtler message here too. Choose carefully who you want to really be close to. You can’t be a good friend to everyone, so you need to choose. And if you choose, choose carefully. It’s about being wise in where we bestow our emotional energy, which relationships we invest in.
That’s been a hard lesson for Lucy and me to learn over the years, because sometimes the people we’ve tried to invest in have gone in the other direction and sometimes we’ve been guilty of under-investing in the right relationships. What that’s taught us is that there are seasons in relationships like everything else. Some friendships last for decades – and we’ve been blessed with a couple of those – some are just for a season. But this verse in Proverbs shows that no matter what season we’re in, no matter how long it lasts, we should wise in choosing our relationships.
This post is part of a 4-part mini-series on the Book of Proverbs. You can read the first part, together with the series introduction, here, and part two here. Plus watch out for the fourth and final instalment coming soon…