People aren't like bank accounts

This is a line I've heard a number of times over the past few years:

"I'm only going to be at this church/in this situation for a year or so, and I'll be moving on soon. I wonder if it's really worth investing my time and energy in the people I'm meeting now."

From the number of times I've heard it, I think it must reflect a set of assumptions about friendships that is very prevalent in my christian sub-culture. The assumptions are these:

1. Long-term relationships are the only ones worth having.
2. I should be able to choose who I 'invest' in.
3. The idea of 'investing' includes both putting in, and getting back. Investing asks the question: is it worth my while, and what will I get out of it?
4. Life can be planned.
5. People are just darned hard work and not the first priority.

Frankly, I think all of the above is rubbish. Let me explain.

1. Long-term relationships are the only ones worth having.
The longest friendship I've ever had with someone in reasonably close proximity is about 6 or 7 years. Most of my proximate friendships have lasted 1 to 3 years. I've had wonderful friendships with people which lasted as little as two weeks before we moved apart.

Right now I'm missing a friend I met this year. We spent probably 20 hours together in total, but I consider her one of those rare gems of a friend - someone I understand and who understands me. She lives in Russia, so it won't be a friendship of frequency.

With the number of times I've moved in my life, I have never had the luxury of being able to only plan for long-term friends. And if the people around me had not considered it worth their while investing in me, given that I have always known I'd be moving on, I wouldn't have any friends at all.

Friendships come in all shapes, sizes, types and models. Length of time spent proximate to someone is not the most important thing to consider!

2. I should be able to choose who I invest in.
This is an assumption borne out of wealth, urban living and a culture that says that the greatest good is to have choice. I think it's a culture that is anti-Christian. Paul doesn't talk about Christian unity with the people you choose to be unified with. The church is the church. The people in it are the people we've got. There is no choice. But it's for the good of everyone. If we have choice, we will end up excluding those who somehow don't fit our criteria.

3. The idea of 'investing' includes both putting in, and getting back. Investing asks the question: is it worth my while, and what will I get out of it.
If my friends are in it for what they can get from me, I'm afraid they're not on a winner. I never end up remembering to take morning tea with me. I only have one type of tea in my cupboard, and I'm frequently bemoaning my dirty floors. Sometimes (actually, often) I'm grumpy, a little pessimistic and a touch cynical. I'm sometimes over-sensitive and take offense. Recently I haven't had much energy for other people's problems, and I don't always listen well.

The reality of any relationship is that there's a frequently shifting balance. Sometimes you put in more, sometimes you get back more. In some relationships you put in a lot and get a little, but that doesn't mean it's not worth putting in.

Treating a relationship like a bank account doesn't seem to cut it in God's economy.

4. Life can be planned.
Ha! Since when?

5. People are just darned hard work and not the first priority.
If people are not the first priority, then God got it wrong when he sent Jesus.

Yes, people are hard work. We are all messy, complicated, conflicting little beasts, but we are also, with God's grace, capable of immense love, and made specifically to love each other.

It's a slap in the face to God to say that someone might not be worth the trouble to get to know. Who's to say that person you're avoiding because they look like too much hard work might just be the greatest friend you'll ever have in your life? If you never make the effort, you'll never find out.

All that remains to be said is that tomorrow, we all might get run over by a bus.

And if you know you're going to die tomorrow, do you stop loving people today?

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