So there were these two hippos standing about knee deep in the water, munching on grass or whatever hippos eat. One hippo says to the other, “Gee, it sure is hot out here.” The other hippo finishes chewing on it’s food, slurps up a big mouthful of water, and spits it on it’s friend, hoping to cool him off a little bit. “Gee,” responds the first hippos, “I have some water in my eye.” The other hippo feels bad for getting water in his friend’s eye when he was just trying to cool him off, so he reaches up with his snout and sort of pats the area around his eye, drying the water off. The first hippo looks over to the second hippo and says, “Gee, you got snot on my face.” So the second hippo gets another big mouthful of water and spits it on his friend’s face, hoping to wash off the snot. “Gee,” the first hippo replies, predictably, “I have some water in my eye.”
With that, the second hippo realizes he can’t win and decides just to stand there, knee deep in the water with his friend.
For a long time, I thought it was my job to fix everything. It was my nature, for sure, to help people. I watched both of my parents care deeply for people throughout my childhood. I was taught to love and care for people in Sunday school, youth group, and Bible college. It was the motivation, psychologically at least, for my vocation as a pastor. And it defined a lot of my relationships — I was always there for people, even at my own expense.
I’m not sure where the line is between sacrificing for others in a healthy way and going too far with it to the point that it drives you into the ground, but I am learning that there is a line, and the whole experience has taught me a lot about friendship.
Who is your best friend? Who is it that you can call when you’re struggling, when you’re tired from it, when life’s more of a challenge than joy? I’ve got a list of folks I lean on, though I admit I haven’t always leaned on them in the past, at least not like I should’ve.
In the past few months, with vocational changes and personal challenges, I’ve had to stop being Mr. Fix it and allow other people to be there for me. It was a reversal of roles, at least in its intensity, and sometimes I felt like the second hippo. I wasn’t always sure if they were doing it right, but at the end of the day, it sure was great to know they were there. I guess, like a lot of relationships, the biggest part of being a good friend is just showing up.
My people have shown up, big time.
I’m not going to list names here, they know who they are, but I do want to encourage you in this:
This weekend, take a second and assemble your list. This role of close friend — the kind that will just stand with you knee deep in your misery, when nothing is going right — is probably not filled by more than 4-5 people. It might only be 2-3. It shouldn’t take you long to make the list.
When you’re finished, I want you to act.
Reach out, as personally as possible — go for coffee, write a handwritten note, send an e-mail or text or whatever you can if they live far away — and say thank you. Be specific with the way they’ve aided you in tough times. Recognize how they have contributed. Give them encouragement.
There are few people in our lives who create as much good news for us as our friends. Even when they aren’t sure what to do, they are there, and that’s a good thing. Consider the wisdom of Solomon…
Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!”
Or, if you don’t believe Solomon, take it from the hippos.