I’m sure you’ve got a favorite T-shirt. Maybe it’s from your college, or a pro team you cheer for, or from a race you completed some time in the past when you finally got up your gumption and made it the whole darn way. It might be in good condition, or you might never leave the house in it, fearing your neighbors would think less of you if they saw the holes on the sides and the BBQ stains down the front that even OxyClean just can’t get out.
Well, there’s in an older, stoic gentleman in our neighborhood who dutifully walks his two Jack Russell terriers every day, and he has a wide assortment of t-shirts. But I wonder about the significance of one in particular. He doesn’t wear it very often, and yet I can’t help but howl with laughter every time he does. The shirt declares:
NOT TO BE USED AS A PERSONAL FLOTATION DEVICE
I can barely type those words without cracking up.
Where in the world did he get this shirt? Did one of his kids give it to him? Did he choose it for himself? As a sly warning to the world, “Don’t tread on me!”
Who knows. Maybe one day I’ll hop out of my car as I’m whisking a kid off to practice and say, “Hey! About your shirt…” Meanwhile, it’s got me thinking…
Wouldn’t it be great if we could all wear this message now and then? And people actually paid attention to it?
Shoving others away when they’re annoying us isn’t the right answer. We know this. But wow – some people are just clinging to us like wet rags, right? Do you have a friend or family member who leans a little too much on you?
Before you think I’m being unkind here, let me explain something about myself – a memory God blessed me with last week.
I was that leech for awhile.
When I was about 23, I took a weekend trip from DC up to Philadelphia to visit a dear friend. She and I had been close for years and roommates too, so she knew me as well – if not better – than anyone in my life at that point. She had many fun things planned for us, but truth be told, I don’t remember much of what we did except accommodate me as I dropped my emotional baggage all over her for about 48 hours. I spent the whole weekend unloading. In her kitchen, in a jazz bar, on a walk downtown, I spewed about what was unfair, who had wronged me in my life, and why I figured things would never look up. I can only imagine it was one of the longest weekends of her life. And it didn’t end there. I vented to her frequently.
But God blessed me in those days, because while my friend was a rock, she was NOT a personal flotation device (PFD). She listened with love and tenderness, and gave reassurance and encouragement. But she knew she couldn’t make it better for me. She couldn’t change my circumstances. She couldn’t find me the new job I needed, extract me from a relationship that was no good for me, or move me into a permanently sunny mental spot, where the horizon didn’t contain storm clouds. So, she whispered my strengths to me, told me the good she saw in me, and then – she sent me off on my own.
I don’t think I have ever properly thanked her for doing what so many others don’t know how to do: to love without enabling. To give freely without losing herself. She exhibited true strength, which is not lifting until exhaustion, but showing restraint through knowledge of her limits, so as to have reserves for the lifting that lies ahead.
Friends, knowing the limits of our usefulness to others is key to maintaining healthy relationships. And when we’re frustrated by what we can’t do for someone we love, we have to turn ourselves and them over to the only one who has limitless strength – God. They are His burden to carry, and carry them He will.
God is the very best PFD we can have.
I know how hard this is. We all want to ‘be there’ for one another and we want someone to be there for us. But as humans, we fall short of meeting one another’s needs. And we always will.
Instead, we must remember the cup of Love overflows for all of us, and He has promised to give us the emotional resources we need – whether we’re being treated like the PFD, or are feeling in need of one.
[H]e said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me.
– 2 Corinthians 12:9