The Deep Well with Erin Davis Podcast

— Audio Player —

My Relationships Are Not About Me

Season:  Connected   Buy

Erin Davis: Laura, has God ever asked you to love someone you found hard to love?

Laura Booz: Yes, actually this happened recently, and it surprised me. We were observing Orphan Sunday at church. I mean, my heart was just wrung dry with emotion! We were hearing stories about adoptive parents and foster parents.

Our pastor took us to the Scripture about “loving the least of these,” (Matt. 25:40, 45), and I just had my hands open, my heart open: “Lord, I will love whomever You put in my path!”

And I guess I was picturing embracing little babies, and inviting some children from the city to come and love our farm. 

I was going to wrap my arms around them. I was going to be their friend and let them explore the wild yonder. I was going to let them love our chickens and have a great day and feel fulfilled! That’s all that I had in mind, right, on Orphan Sunday as I’m surrendering to the Lord.

Later in the afternoon, I had taken our older children to the park. They were playing. I thought I was just going to be able to sit on the bench and have some quiet time with my Bible and my journal; I was really looking forward to it!

Erin: I would be looking forward to it, too!

Laura: Yes. But then I got a little ding on my phone. We’d gotten a call from a late-twenties-something young man, a friend of ours, who is very difficult to love. He struggles with PTSD, and he’s bipolar, and he has a lot of very serious issues. We love him, but he’s just very difficult to talk to on the phone. But this afternoon, that’s what he needed.

It was interesting, because my husband Ryan was home with our little ones, and I checked in with him. He said, “You know, I don’t think I’ll be able to give him the attention he needs right now, so I feel comfortable with you calling him and just giving him a listening ear.” And so, I did.

It wasn’t easy. It was a phone call full of hard things, lots of complaining, lots of brokenness. But I realized when I was sitting on that park bench listening and extending love to this young man, that this was the person God wanted me to love that day.

Erin: Wow. 

Laura: Earlier, when my heart was stirred and when I felt so passionate, I didn’t know who He would bring down my path, but it was this young man. In retrospect, it was actually a blessing, because I was able to share the gospel with him. I was able to share with him God’s plan of forgiveness and how precious he is to the Lord. 

So, wow! It took me totally by surprise! I didn’t know what God had in store, but it ended up being a very good thing. I’m glad that God prepared me for it. Because I think, otherwise, I just would have shut down the phone call, would have been like, “Ah, I’ll get to that later; that’s the last thing I want to do!” But He had made my heart tender, and I was ready to say yes. I’m so glad!

Erin: He’s done versions of that for me in preparing me, either in what I was reading in Scripture that day or the sermon that week. Like you mentioned, or maybe a conversation from a few days prior with another friend, and then it’s like, “Erin, are you really going to walk this? Are you really going to live this? Are you really going to love this person right here, right now . . . because you said you were. You read that verse like you believed it. You listened to that sermon like it was important to you. Now, here, live it!”

Laura: I’ll tell you what, those moments are hard. There’s nothing easy about loving someone that we find difficult to love. I guess that’s kind of obvious. So we really need the Holy Spirit to come in and help us out!

Erin: We sure do. We can’t do it in our own strength.

Laura: But that’s part of what it takes to be connected with one another. This is The Deep Well with Erin Davis. I’m Laura Booz. In this season, Erin is teaching through her book Connected: Curing the Pandemic of Everyone Feeling Alone Together.

In this episode we’re going to open our Bibles and discover who God wants us to love, and often, it’s not who we may expect! 

Erin: I wish so badly that things had turned out differently! My husband Jason and I took a thirteen-year-old boy into our home as a foster son with the intention of adopting him. We got to take him to school, and we got to cook him dinner, and we got to go to his basketball games, and we got to pray with him . . . for about a year. Then he wasn’t with us anymore.

Some adoption stories end with pictures of smiling families, but ours just didn’t. Healing has taken a very long time, and the Lord has been so patient in it. But I know how painful it can be to let your guard down.

And once the bruises on my heart became a little less tender, God used that very painful situation to teach me lessons about my relationships. The big one is that my relationships are not about me! I want to put everything I gave to that boy on one side of the scale, and I want to put everything he gave to me on the other side of the scale.

From my point of view, the scales would tip dramatically in my favor. But as I’ve thought about that relationship in the many years since, and I’ve looked at it through the lens of my Bible, I get the strong sense that Jesus wants me to throw out the scale altogether.

If I’m honest, I want my relationships to work like an ATM: I give to others, and they spit out what I expect! Instead, they’re more like a slot machine: I never know what I’m going to get, and sometimes it’s just X’s across the board.

As I’ve wrestled with my own loneliness, as I’ve wrestled with how I can be a woman with so many people in my life—and feel so disconnected—I’ve discovered that the root causes are in my heart, that I needed to change. And sometimes, I still need to change my ATM mentality. So again, let’s look to Jesus for a more excellent way.

Let’s scroll through His “contact list.” When I wrote the book Connected, it says “rolodex.” I was reading it again, and I thought, Nobody knows what a rolodex is! It’s now our contact list on our phone. As we look at Jesus’ contact list, the first contact that comes to mind for me is Mary Magdalene. Mary is very present throughout the gospels.

She traveled with Jesus and his disciples. She stayed right there at the foot of the cross as Jesus was crucified. Mary was the first person Jesus appeared to after His resurrection, and she did offer love and support to Jesus. But that’s not how their friendship began.

Listen to Luke 8:1–2: “Soon afterward [Jesus] went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. And the twelve were with him, and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out.”

That’s the beginning of Jesus and Mary’s relationship.

Jesus didn’t begin a relationship with Mary because she had something to offer Him. She was possessed by seven demons when they met. I don’t know what that looked like in her life, but I have a feeling that she would not fit anyone’s idea of the kind of friend we want to have. She was broken, she was needy. Jesus saw her and He connected with her.

I felt so convicted as I was preparing to teach this, because I run away from needy people. I will sometimes even say out loud, “I have enough in my life. I don’t want people in my life who are needy!” 

And it’s wrong, and it’s not like Jesus. And the pride that enables me to act that way is forgetting how desperately needy I am, and that Jesus presses toward me in my need—not because I’m easy to deal with. I’m not.

As we continue looking at Jesus’s contact list, we come to Zacchaeus; his story is recorded in Luke 19:1–10. Now, Zacchaeus was rich—which might be a good friend quality, but he was also a scoundrel! You know the song,

“Zacchaeus was a wee little man, and a wee little man was he.”

He also had a wee little list of friends, because Zacchaeus was not liked! But Jesus befriended him.

We keep scrolling through that contact list, and we come to the adulterous woman. Her story is in John 8:1–11. And the way that they met was that Jesus was teaching in the temple, and the scribes and the Pharisees dragged this woman to Him. She had been caught in the act of adultery, and they wanted Jesus to lead the charge in stoning her.

And in a moment of spectacular grace, Jesus does condemn her sin, but He responds to that woman with kindness. What about the people in your life, in my life, that are right now in the middle of sin? She was in the middle of it! Is that how we respond? It’s often not how I do. When choosing between the outcasts and the in crowd, Jesus chose the outcasts. 

The last person I want to talk about is the Gerasene demoniac. His name is hard to say and his story is hard to read about. We find him in Mark chapter 5. Jesus had just finished teaching to a large crowd, and He asked the disciples to get in a boat with Him and cross the Sea of Galilee.

It was on that journey that the storm arose, and Jesus commanded the winds and the waves to be still. Why did Jesus want to cross that sea in the first place? To get to one man! Mark 5:1–5:

They came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes. And when Jesus had stepped out of the boat, immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit.

He lived among the tombs. And no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain, for he had often been bound with shackles and chains, but he wrenched the chains apart, and he broke the shackles in pieces. No one had the strength to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always crying out and cutting himself with stones. (vv. 1–5)

To the others, this man must have seemed like a lost cause. Scripture tells us that people had tried to help him–or at least they had tried to contain him–and they couldn’t. This is not the kind of person I want to befriend!

Now, Jesus does ultimately cast the demon out of the man. In fact, there were so many demons that they called themselves “Legion,” and Legion was a source of great agony for this man! And what I see when I look at this story and I think about our loneliness is that Jesus went to the tormented. 

Listen to verses 18–19: “As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed with demons begged him that he might be with him. And he did not permit him but said to him, ‘Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.’”

Part of what Jesus did for the demon possessed man was to restore his relationships with other people. “Go to your friends, go to your family, go back and be with people!”

I want you to close your eyes and think for just a minute: who do you know who has been cast out? Who do you know who, on some level, is tormented?

Is it a friend who’s depressed and, frankly, you’re tired of trying to cheer her up?

Is it a couple whose marriage is such a mess that they’re uncomfortable to be around?

Is it someone you know who is chronically ill? You were attentive at the beginning, but it just goes on and on and on and on. 

Open your eyes. We’ve got to know that part of living like Jesus is pursuing relationships with people who can never repay you. We love them, not because they’re easy, not because they’re fun, not because they plan the best vacations. We love them because Jesus loves them, and we love them because Jesus loves us.

And we love them because we understand that, in our true state, we are more like Mary Magdalene possessed by seven demons than we are like the Mary Magdalene we see elsewhere. We are more like that man in the tombs, separated from people—unable to free ourselves—than we like to believe. Jesus moves toward us in our need; He crosses the sea to get to us.

This is just one way we can put feet on our faith, and it’s one way the world is watching to see if we don’t. Do we love the people who are not like us? Or are all of our relationships with people who look like us, think like us, feel like us, have their lives together like we think we do (although I don’t ever claim to have mine together)?It’s a way we can let the abundant love God has given us overflow and have real impact on other people.

Many of us have been raised on the idea that our self-esteem must be fed. And so, we look to our relationships for constant ego strokes. But if we look at our Bible, this is not the formula that Jesus modeled or taught.

Philippians 2:3 is a radical idea for reshaping our relationships. It says this:

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.

In humility, count others more significant than yourselves. This is not self-esteem; this is others-esteem.

Others-esteem says that the depth and the quality of your relationships are based on what you give, not on what you get. While we’re recording this, we’re still in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. People have a lot of opinions about how to handle the pandemic. 

My family has chosen to be very careful; we’ve really limited who we see and where we go. And several months in, I got a phone call from a friend. She said, “Hey! I’m making the rounds. I’m just blessing people, and you’re on my list!” She’s a good cook, so I was glad she was coming. She likes to drop off food.

And she said, “I’m going to drop some gifts off on your porch, and I’d love to just wave at you from a distance, but you were just on my mind, and I just wanted to bless you today!” What you should know about her is that she had a significant portion of her lung removed the year before the pandemic.

She’s a widow in her late sixties, and she has every logical reason to isolate. But she was out blessing other people and expecting nothing in return (she wouldn’t have taken anything from me even if I’d offered it).

I’m so grateful for her gifts! They were yummy treats and a plant—she knows I love plants—and a card and a Bible verse. Sweet! I’m so grateful that I was on her mind, and she does this regularly with my family and I know with lots of other families.

I did feel very, very blessed by her stopping by, but more than that, I felt really convicted that I had turned inward, that I had let the pandemic be an excuse to circle the wagons and think about myself and my little tribe and to not think of others. I stopped reaching out; I’d stopped serving and, as a result, found myself pretty lonely again.

Many of us have felt lonely during the pandemic. I’m not sure how many of us are still finding ways to reach out. It’s so easy for us, because we’re sinners, because we’re people of flesh, to let that Golden Rule get tarnished.

What the Golden Rule is not is, it is not a guarantee. It’s just an invitation to be like Jesus, to love like Jesus did. Let me read us Jesus’s words found in Matthew 22:37–40:

And he said to him, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment.” And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.

You shall love your neighbor as yourself, because Jesus did it. Some people call this the Golden Rule. All parents teach this to their children, right? “Treat others as you want to be treated.” That is what Jesus is saying here.

But we add to this sometimes. We try to read between the lines things that aren’t there. We tarnish the Golden Rule. We think that if we treat others as we want to be treated, that the scales will be even, or if we do for others that they will feel some obligation to do for us, or if we press into people’s lives when they’re hurting, that they’ll remember it and they’ll press into ours when we’re hurting.

And they don’t, sometimes they don’t. And so, we don’t love others as we want to be loved, as some sort of transaction. We love others as we want to be loved because Jesus did, because He loved us first.

Is there anyone in your life whom you have just decided is too needy, so you quietly put up a wall between you and her? Is there anyone in your church or your community who is an outcast, and so you avoid them? Is there anyone who is still in the thick of their sin, and you’ve just separated yourself?

Right now, would you ask the Lord to bring those kinds of people to mind and ask Him to help you love them as He loves them? Let’s pray.

Jesus, we love because You first loved us, and You loved us when we were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Remind us of our state without You and help us to treat others, not as we want them to treat us, because there’s some scale, but because You love them and because You love us. It’s in Your name I pray, amen.

Erin Unscripted

Laura: Erin, when it comes to loving difficult people, we often hear the phrase, “That person is a toxic person!” In fact, my teenager just came to me and said, “Mom, there’s this phrase that my friends keep using, and it’s that they have toxic relationships they need to get out of. What’s a toxic relationship?” Erin, can you talk about what toxic relationships are?

Erin: Sure. Well, a toxin is a poison. If you get a toxin in your body, then it is a poison to your body. If we get a toxin in our water supply, then it is a poison in our water supply. So often, when we’re saying that phrase—toxic relationship—we’re talking about a kind of relationship that is poisoning us in some way.

Either it’s leading us down a path of choices away from God’s best or it is a source of great anxiety or depression or fear. And so, it’s poisoning our emotional state to some degree. Toxic relationships are real. They do exist, and none of us want to be poisoned!

Laura: Erin, how can we exercise a mindset like Jesus? 

Erin: Well, we have it; we’ve been given the mind of Christ. It is not so much about changing our own personalities as it is in leaning into the new creation that God has made us to be. And part of being a new creation is that we think of things differently, and we think about things as Jesus thinks of them.

And so, you have to know how Jesus thinks about things. And listen, Jesus is often not who we think He is, and He thinks of things often in ways we don’t think He does. He’s always turning our ideas of Him—and our ideas of what we think He wants us to do—upside down.

The only way I know to think like Jesus and to know how Jesus thinks is to be in your Bible, and to read it, and to know it, and to live it. Don’t read intermittently. It’s not what you read about it last year, but what you know today, what He gives you today in His Word about your relationships. And then it’s what He gives you tomorrow in His Word, and what He gives you the day after that in His Word.

It’s like this little trail of breadcrumbs that the Lord has for us in His Word to get us from day to day to day. Although it’s not bread crumbs; it is Him, the Bread of Life! And so, you’ve got to be in your Bible; that’s the way! There is no bypass!

Laura: Yes, I totally agree! In fact, thinking about all of this over this season of addressing loneliness and what it takes to be connected. I’ve actually realized, “Wow! The Bible has so many practical instructions for how to be a good friend, how to be a listening ear, how to forgive.”

As you scan through Scripture, just in your mind right now, Erin, what are some points that you’ve learned over time? Like, how have you’ve grown as a friend, matured as a friend? And the plan is that we would keep going, you’d keep maturing, you’d keep growing.

Just because we’re an adult at church doesn’t mean we have it all together. It means we have to keep learning. So what are some things in Scripture that come to mind, that you feel like, “Wow, this really helps!” 

Erin: Well, this is an easy handle to hold onto, and it’s so true, from Proverbs 17:17: “A friend loves at all times . . .” I can think back several years ago when a man in our church and his wife were over for dinner. He said to my husband and I, “You guys give up on people quicker than anybody I’ve ever met!”

And we kind of laughed at it, we were sarcastic in return . . . and he was dead serious. He actually got tears in his eyes. He was speaking to this truth, that a friend loves at all times (“and a brother is born for adversity,” is the rest of that verse from Proverbs). 

And so that little nugget I carry around in my pocket hopefully better than I did those years ago, which is that, “No, if I’m going to be a real friend, I’m going to love at all times.” And then, there are so many beautiful “one anothers” in Scripture:

“Forgive one another as Christ forgave you” (Col. 3:13). 

“Be tenderhearted toward one another” (Eph. 4:32).

“Be patient with one another” (1 Thess. 5:14).

Laura: “Be kind to one another” (Eph. 4:32).

Erin: There’s one that is talking about edifying each other and saying encouraging things to each other: “. . . as long as it is called today [encourage one another]” (Heb. 3:13). So the way that we say it at our house is, “On a day that ends in “y,” we have to encourage each other. If the day doesn’t end in “y,” we don’t have to!” Because as long as it’s called today we’re to encourage one another.

Those are the things we want to raise our children on; those are the things we want people to do for us. They’re not our ideas. Jesus gave them to us. It’s like, “This is how you do it, guys: you’re patient, you’re forgiving, you’re tenderhearted, you’re kind, you’re encouraging; you stick with each other.”

Laura: I love His plan! It’s so good!

Erin: It is so good!

Laura: How do you cope with the call to include friends in your circle—in your close circle—to include friends on your invitation list who cannot or will not return the favor? How do you keep going with that, Erin?

Erin: My husband is so wise! Not long ago I was in a tizzy—kind of like a hamster on a wheel-—about this person and all they weren’t doing, and all they had done that I didn’t like and that had kept happening. I thought I was going to confront her: “I think I just probably need to talk to her about it, because this is really bothering me!”

And Jason said, “Erin, sometimes part of loving people is just accepting them the way that they are. She doesn’t want to hurt you; she doesn’t want to annoy you. She’s not doing it on purpose. Probably the loving thing to do is to realize this is just her; this is just who she is.”

Which is not to say there is never a time to confront; of course there is. But time has taught me that it is the Lord who sanctifies; it is the Lord who changes hearts. As people extend grace to me as I’m being sanctified, because of Jesus, I can extend grace to them, because they’re in the process of being sanctified.

So I have friends that can never return the favor, and I am the friend who could return the favor, you know? And we love each other anyway! Any group I’m in is just a ragamuffin band of rascals and, well, we’re rascals who love each other, because we’re rascals who Jesus loves. So it’s okay that she can’t return the favor. I probably am not meeting all of her needs or expectations as much as I think I am, either.

Laura: So true! And nobody responds well to being a project. The minute we have that mindset, either that we want something from this (nobody responds well to that kind of relationship, including ourselves), or “I’m doing this for you! I better see improvements—or agreement—down the road!” 

That’s not relationship. That’s not helpful or beneficial; it’s not God’s plan. But it’s more along the lines of what you were talking about, being in the mess. 

Erin: Yes. My sons were struggling to get along. They have been struggling to get along, they’ve had a little run here of that. We’ve talked a lot about it, we’ve prayed a lot about it, and they got into another skirmish.

One of them started crying, and he said, “I’m trying so hard, and I pray every chance I get for the Lord to help me do better, and then I mess up again!” 

And I just said, “I know! Doesn’t it stink to be a rascal?! I’m a rascal, too!”

Our friends are feeling that, our parents are feeling that, our kids are feeling that: “I want to do better. I want to be better, but I’m a rascal!” o I try to get out the firehose of grace and just blast everybody with it as much as possible, because I need to be blasted with it so often!”

Laura: Yes, I think we lose sight about our human nature, our weakness and limitations. I love Psalm 103:14: “For he [speaking of God] knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.” 

We forget that we’re dust, that other people are dust. We’re just a combination of dust and divine breath, right? We totally forget. But coming back to that remembrance is so helpful, because it does remind us of our need for grace. I’m so glad you brought that up.

Erin: Yes, there is another description that Jesus would give of us; in the gospels we hear this about Jesus. It says, “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matt. 9:36).

That’s the state of all of us, and so that is the posture of humility: “Oh, you’re harassed and helpless? I’m harassed and helpless! So let’s get ourselves to the Shepherd . . . and let’s be friends!”

Laura: That is awesome! Thank you! 

Do you want to know the best place on earth to strike up deep and lasting friendships? You can find out on our next episode! Remember, God’s Word is a deep well. You can lower your bucket and pull up truth every time! The Deep Well is a production of Revive Our Hearts, calling women to freedom, fullness and fruitfulness in Christ.

*Offers available only during the broadcast of the podcast season.

About the Guest

Laura Booz

Laura Booz

Laura Booz is a writer, teacher, and podcaster who encourages women to love God, think biblically, and live vibrantly. She'll cheer you on, share practical ideas, and point out the beautiful ways God is working in your life. She’s delighted to host the Expect Something Beautiful podcast with Revive Our Hearts and to be writing her first book. She and her husband, Ryan, and their six children make their home in Pennsylvania. Meet her at LauraBooz.com.

About the Speaker

Erin Davis

Erin Davis

Erin Davis is an author, blogger, and speaker who loves to see women of all ages run to the deep well of God’s Word. She is the author of many …

Read More