“A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity” (Proverbs 17:17).
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COVID-19 lockdowns prompted us to reevaluate our relationships. Chances are, you said to yourself at some point during the time of the virus: “I should reach out more.”
The thought came as you were experiencing something kind of rare in your hectic pre-pandemic life: free time.
Fewer public distractions created a silver lining. During the lockdown, you likely spent more quality time with your family. You paid more attention to your children. You called Mom regularly. You did activities with your siblings. You played games with your nieces and nephews over video calls. You reconnected with old friends on social media.
You checked to make sure everyone was OK. Throughout this whole ordeal, you suffered with those who suffered, especially if COVID-19 hit close to home.
A spark was lit. Old bonds were rebuilt and new ones established.
Arguably, we may have been more socially distanced from our loved ones before the coronavirus hit.
Pre-pandemic research backs this up. According to the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, “Two in five Americans report that they sometimes or always feel their social relationships are not meaningful, and one in five say they feel lonely or socially isolated.”
HRSA reported that 43 percent of seniors feel regularly lonely, that seniors who described feeling this way have a 45 percent increase in mortality risk, and that loneliness is “more dangerous than obesity and as damaging to health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.”
Similarly, a 2018 article in The Lancet journal reported isolation could result in people feeling “irritable, depressed and self-centered, and is associated with a 26% increase in the risk of premature mortality.”
Now that restrictions are loosening, people are reverting to their usual socially disconnected ways. Some jobs are expecting overtime work to compensate for production loss during the closures. Any closeness you established in your relationships could begin to fade.
How can you ensure you do not undo those bonds?
The Bible is a book about relationships. It provides clear principles on how to have a good relationship with God, with fellow human beings, and with family.
One verse proves this in Proverbs 17: “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity” (vs. 17). As the “going got tough” during the height of the pandemic, we were pressed to practice brotherhood in many cases.
The answers to keeping the fire going in your most important relationships long pre-date the pandemic and are available to you. Following are four simple and effective biblical actions to help you preserve that closeness as everyone scatters back to the busyness of post-COVID-lockdown life.
Be a Communicator
Two notable terms in this verse are “forget” and “sacrifice.”
The word “forget” in the original Greek means “to lose out of mind; by implication to neglect.” This proves that being a communicator involves not being derelict in your duty to connect with your loved ones. Busyness may have seemed a reasonable excuse in the past, but it is not enough by the Bible’s standard.
Years ago, there was a news story about an 86-year-old man who traversed the streets of Covina, California, carrying a wooden sign attached to his walker that read, “Call your mother, she worries.”
People who saw him felt convicted. In the CBS Los Angeles story, the elderly man shared their responses: “I’m going to call her now”…“I’ll call her later”…“I want a picture of that to show my son or daughter.” Deep inside, they knew to do better.
If you tend to forget, develop your own version of that 86-year-old man’s sign. Create compelling reminders. Build a habit of scheduling time to communicate with family and friends. Preferably, schedule time for them first, before you schedule time to communicate with other acquaintances. Why not set a weekly alarm on Sundays to call someone who would love to hear from you? When something or someone else threatens to commandeer that time, learn to say, “Sorry, I am already committed, could we try a different time?”
If you wait until you remember to reach out, it will be easier to “lose out of mind” and neglect your duty to communicate.
Developing this habit of frequent contact may not be easy if you tend to be reserved. Or perhaps you are just a highly productive individual with loads of responsibilities. That is where the other word of interest in Hebrews 13:16 comes in: “sacrifice.”
The Greek word translated sacrifice can mean “victim,” and comes from a root word that means to “blow hard…kill, slay.”
In other words, you should be willing to figuratively “kill yourself” striving to reach out to others. God understands how challenging making time to communicate can be in our hectic schedules. Be assured that your efforts will not go unnoticed. God emphasizes He is “well pleased” with those who do so.
Know as well that the more you reach out, the easier it gets. If time is of the essence, you may find that the first few conversations are longer, but as you continue in regular communication, they may become more manageable. With time, they will also feel less and less like a “sacrifice” as you experience the joy that comes from having closer relationships with those who are important to your life.
Be an Encourager
The second biblical principle addresses what to speak about. It is found a few pages earlier in the same book. Hebrews 10:24 states, “And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works…”
Getting into a pattern of recognizing others when they do something right is one of the most effective ways to “provoke” people to be their best.
If you learn to do this, you will be an encourager. We all love to talk with people who know how to encourage because we were designed to receive sincere praise from others: “As the fining pot for silver, and the furnace for gold; so is a man to his praise” (Prov. 27:21).
Someone who understood well the power of praise was Dale Carnegie. In his bestseller How to Win Friends and Influence People he wrote, “Praise the slightest improvement and praise every improvement. Be hearty in your approbation and lavish in your praise.”
Sincere praise is not flattery. Flattery inflates and is driven by ulterior motives. Real praise involves recognizing someone else’s efforts and encourages them to keep going.
People are praise-deprived these days. Cutthroat politics, news media and competition has worsened an already negative environment. The uplifting power of “Likes” on Facebook, as well as the devastating effect of the lack thereof, shows how desperate people have become for positive feedback.
As you approach a conversation with those you care about, ask yourself, what do they do well? What are their strengths? At a natural point, bring those things up. Even simple things: a warm smile, a good listener, a nice clothing choice.
They will appreciate it, and your conversations will be more rewarding. Lifting others through sincere praise can have the same effect as giving a thoughtful gift, yet it costs nothing!
Be a Peacemaker
The book of II Timothy states, “A servant of the Lord must not argue. Instead, he must be kind to everyone, teachable, willing to suffer wrong, and gentle when refuting opponents…” (2:24-25, International Standard Version).
Few things can turn off the spark of a good relationship like arguing. Arguing never, ever does any good.
When disagreements arise—and it happens in the best families as you interact more—look for solutions, not merely to win an argument. A conversation between family or friends should never devolve into a debate.
Otherwise you may find yourself isolated, left telling yourself, yeah, but I was right. The last thing you should ever seek is to blow an opportunity to build a relationship just for the sake of being “right.”
Verse 23 gives the secret to stop any argument before it starts: “Do not have anything to do with foolish and stupid discussions, because you know they breed arguments” (ISV). This is God’s straightforward instruction on the subject. Bear in mind that the verse is meant to help you discern what subjects to avoid—not a license to tell anyone that you perceive their viewpoint is foolish or stupid. It does not go well if you take that approach.
So far, we have looked at techniques to be a peacekeeper—preserving peace by avoiding arguments. Being a peacemaker requires manufacturing peace when someone wants to argue.
To do so, here is another powerful Bible secret: “A soft answer turns away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger” (Prov. 15:1). Apply that as you handle any tense conversation.
Be an Inspiration
The fourth biblical principle for maintaining relationships is found in Matthew 5: “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (vs. 16).
You may be familiar with the sentiment, “actions speak louder than words.” Jesus Christ implied this in His statement in the famous Sermon on the Mount. Later in the same message, He added, “Therefore all things whatsoever you would that men should do to you, do you even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets” (7:12).
No one will reach out? You reach out anyway. Everyone is too busy? So are you, but still make time for these things. No one will encourage and everyone wants to be negative? You step out and dare to make the difference. Conversations tend to turn pessimistic? Be the one who always finds a way to turn them positive.
If you do these things, others may pick up on them and do them too. But someone must take the lead.
Keep the Spark Alive
The pandemic may have turned our lives upside down, but it also provided motivation to start working on our relationships. Those precious bonds are invaluable in overcoming the feeling of anxiety that can overtake us when we look at today’s frightening world conditions.
You lit the spark—but it will take effort to keep the fire going! It can go out again if you let up. Today’s society is wired for social isolation and we must fight it.
Now you have four ways to continue building on the progress you have made. It is free knowledge that has been sitting right there in our Bibles all along, and it will help us preserve our most special relationships through any tough time, not just the COVID-19 crisis.
No matter what, make Proverbs 17:17 your new way of life. Be the friend who “loves at all times” and a brother who was “born for adversity.”