It’s not easy to dwell here on terra firma, but sometimes, it’s even tougher just living with yourself. At the most unexpected moments, we sprawl headlong across dark terrain in our psyche that can scare the crap out of us. Generally, we nurture the delusion that we are just simple, super nice people; brimming with intentions genteel and generous. We’re nice folk; hardly ever snobbish, condescending, vulgar, or pretentious. Prejudiced? Racist? Sexist? Not us! And then someone comes along who manages to provoke the sleeping dragon of actual identity. Fallen Adam or Eve, slumbering with latent torpor deep within the layers of our personality, rises mightily to the thrown-down gauntlet. It wants only the right stimulus to awake with a roar and stupefy us out of our smug conceit or superficial righteousness.
Usually this provocateur comes in the form of someone completely obnoxious. At least, we think so. As we quietly mind our own business, some yahoo comes rudely bursting into our personal space, creating havoc and disrupting the carefully constructed cocoon of order we’ve so painstakingly balanced around ourselves. Don’t ask me to explain the chemistry, but two completely clashing personalities push each other’s buttons and start a five-alarm conflagration, pretty much right out of the gates.
It’s not as though we’re unused to conflict. Most of us grew up in families in which wildly dissimilar types tried to commune together in small spaces without killing each other. Nobody can make you crazed like family members, if they set their mind to it. As they say, “if you survive your childhood, you can survive anything!” so you think we’d be a little more inured to the world at large, but no. Every time, we’re surprised anew by the renegade soul that innocently, (or not so innocently), makes us see red.
For the past several years, I’ve had someone in my life who’s acted as a whetstone to my character and gifts. I find her one of the most complex, seasoned, spiritually mature woman I’ve ever encountered. Countless things about her evoke my admiration and push me to a higher level of faith. Her culture is utterly foreign to my own; her experience totally, outrageously divergent. Life has made her tough, so her testimonies are endless. Having said all that, she is without doubt one of the most challenging, provocative, often contrary personalities I’ve ever tangled with. I’m regularly confounded by her capricious and inexplicable swings, running affectionately hot one day but frigid unapproachable the next. Vulnerability is not her strong suit; she’ll hold you at arm’s length, resisting your tenderest gestures and then melt your opposition with supreme generosity. In the way of a court jester, she is maddening disorientation. I regularly alternate between astounded respect and the profound impulse to deck her with something solid. A stronger counterfoil to my stodgy Teutonic reserve can hardly be imagined. Yet from the day I met her I knew God had brought us together.
This uncanny interpersonal phenomenon was described long ago in Proverbs.
As iron sharpens iron, So a man sharpens the countenance of his friend. Proverbs 27:17 NKJV
There are people who enter our lives with the Lord’s deliberate blessing to set our teeth on edge. The hackles on the back of the neck go up when they enter the room; you have to be on your mettle. They challenge deep-seated, fondly-cherished ideas about propriety, authenticity and the idol of self image you exalt. They defy our world view and contest our ideas of normalcy or even religious meaning. This uncomfortable threshold is where the bias of spiritual action is happening. It’s Transformation’s verge of intensified maturity. We yearn for comfort and security, but that’s not what brings us to the places we need. The sheer irritation of our ‘iron agents’ brings the nacre of grace to our spirits. The pearl of great price is forming within us. Welcome to God’s way of doing things.
Come to think of it, all of Proverbs 27 is littered with instruction on the differentiation between acquaintanceship and real, sterling interaction based in the Holy Spirit. Recall our previous thought from last week on the nature of honey and other good unguents.
Ointment and perfume delight the heart, And the sweetness of a man’s friend gives delight by hearty counsel. Proverbs 27:9 NKJV
That’s the upside, but here’s the crowning touch in the trilogy; Proverbs 27:6.
Faithful are the wounds of a friend, But the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.
You want to be on the cutting edge of development, progress, advancement or expansion? You want larger territory? Let the Lord bring the iron down. Screeching metal on metal makes the sparks fly, and hones the edge of character. It reveals the true condition of the heart. The friend who is steely to you is invaluable. Not the companion you would naturally gravitate toward, or the childhood friend who always has your back, but the pest you swat. Not the sycophant who follows on your heels but the nuisance who provokes you. Honor the people who make your life difficult and catapult you into seeking higher levels of wisdom and self-control as you traverse the quagmire. Cast your eye on the homeless, the poor, who distress your safety zone. Give your all, even to fools, idiots and ignoramii who clutter up your path and obscure the goal. Pay attention to the quality of your enemies, because it gives you clue to the battles over which you will prevail. Just like the diagonal bias inherent in warp and weft, these moments are where all the elasticity and enlargement will be found. Look for the edge, and you’ll usually find the presence of the Lord. He is speaking most clearly in the bewildering perplexity of relational puzzles and mysteries just out of our grasp.
Open rebuke is better than secret love. Proverbs 27:5 NKJV
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