I have been reading Proverbs this last month, one everyday. I love them. If you need something to read right now, I can pretty much guarantee that if you sit underneath one proverb a day and soak in each verse allowing God’s wisdom to infill the places you need it, you will be wiser by the end of the month! As I was reading Proverbs 19, I came across this gem:
Loyalty makes a person attractive. Proverbs 19:22
I’ll tell you what, if you’ve been on some kind of New Year’s resolution diet, if you’ve been feeling like you’re starting to age or you don’t look as good in jeans as you once used to, well here you go… This proverb takes away the need to starve yourself of carbs. Loyalty promises to make you look good no matter what you wear, how old you are, how saggy you feel, or how big your muffin top is.
Isn’t this the truth? As soon as I read this proverb, names and faces came to mind. Some of the most loyal people I know are the most attractive human beings I have ever met. I am attracted to their character, to who they are as a people, and to how they carry out their marriages, friendships and working relationships.
I actually think loyalty is becoming a rare find. I have seen this just in parenting. Kids turn on a dime on their friends. One bad hair day, one mismatched outfit, one too much of being a “goody two shoes” and boom, friendship over. We instill honesty, kindness, and inclusion into our kids, but how often do we parent “loyalty”? How often do we urge our children to be loyal friends, sticking by one another, no matter how cool another is or isn’t. Are we raising children that ditch people at the drop of a hat when they want to move onto something better? If so, I wonder if we have thought through the implications for their future relationships and commitments?
Loyalty’s leading role in marriage has become an extra, barely making an appearance in the plot. As we plan a wedding we get excited about companionship, sex, adventure, and building a “life” together. But how often do you hear someone say “I can’t wait to have someone to be loyal to. I can’t wait to stick by someone when they go through a midlife crisis, become addicted to porn, lose their sexiness, and start telling the same old annoying jokes. That’s going to be awesome.” Most of our reasons for leaving marriage have to do with what we are willing to stay loyal to.
And how about friendship? Friendship break-ups happen all around us the minute there is a misunderstanding, a difference of opinion, conflict, or a mistake made. Friendships dissipate when someone becomes “too much” or when someone is seen as “not enough”. What friendships have you walked away from because they warranted a hard conversation, needed a reach towards understanding, or called for patience to walk alongside someone in a way that would require “too much” energy? It is sad to think that perhaps some of the greatest friendships God planned for our lifetime are cut short by our lack of loyalty.
Loyalty is going extinct so quickly, it warrants a scientific study.
The word ‘loyalty’ in this proverb is the Hebrew word for “mercy.” I love the definition from the Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible: Mercy is “that quality in God by which He faithfully keeps his promises and maintains His covenant relationship with His chosen people despite their unworthiness and unfaithfulness.”
Loyalty, or mercy if you will, is the characteristic in which you cannot but stay faithful to someone despite their mess ups, bad habits, quirks and struggles. As I think about loyalty I want to share a few things that always accompany it. As you read, may you be challenged as I am, in considering what it looks like to be loyal in all our relationships.
Loyalty goes the long haul. Loyalty is not cut short by disappointment. Loyalty doesn’t give up easily. Loyalty plans to stick around. It’s not looking for the back door, the quick escape, or the way out. Loyalty says “I am in this for the entire trip, no matter how many times we run out of gas, disagree on the playlist, or argue about politics.” Loyalty says “I am with you until we’re gray haired, in diapers, and eating pudding for dinner because we have no teeth.”
Loyalty loves through seasons. Whether we recognize it or not, we go through seasons; periods of time characterized by differing conditions. Seasons can change in relation to age such as the college season, the parenting teens season or the empty nest season. Seasons can be emotional or mental, where we can be depressed, stressed, self-involved or hormonal. There can be seasons of circumstance where we experience years of grief, 6 months of unemployment, or a bout of success. We also experience “spiritual seasons” in our faith. We have seasons where can encounter “dark nights of the soul,” feeling like we couldn’t see God with our eyes wide open even if He was doing jumping jacks right in front of our face. Then in other seasons we sense so clearly God speaking, guiding, and present. One season we can be on top of the world feeling like a million bucks and the next we are being bombarded by family issues, influenza, shingles, a lay off, an aunt dies, and all these things collectively put us over the edge. Some seasons we are just surviving, trying to get through and other seasons we wish we could camp out and make them last forever.
In all seasons of life, we actually change who we bring to the table in relationships. And who we bring to the table this year might not be who we bring to the table next. All these seasons change how people experience us, and their season changes how we experience them.
That being said, loyalty sees past a season with someone. Loyalty reminds you that though this person might be miserable right now, it is a season. Loyalty has faith that though this person is depressed, God can bring them out and when He does, loyalty will still be walking alongside them. Loyalty remembers that though this person is infatuated with their newborn, and the only thing they talk about is “baby this and baby that”, they will come out of their “everything is about the baby season” and loyalty will be there when they do. Loyalty sees through seasons of life. It doesn’t give up in the midst of one. Loyalty says “I am in this winter, spring, summer or fall… fun, failure, pain or victory.”
Loyalty doesn’t ditch for something better.
I have a friend whose husband left her for someone else. After years of marriage he said he was no longer in love. She’s more like a friend, he said.
She wasn’t enough to stay. She tried to be.
The empty closet, the cold right-side of the bed, the missing seat at the dinner table.
She still wears his last name. She wishes he wanted her to.
Loyalty doesn’t look for something newer, younger, better, or cooler. Loyalty says “you are enough” to everyone it’s in relationship with. Loyalty doesn’t leave because they found someone without baggage. Loyalty doesn’t move on to the next-best thing. Loyalty doesn’t abandon what is hard, for what will be in 10 years. No, loyalty says “Let’s work to make what we have better.”
Loyalty says I choose you. It’s a predetermined decision, loyalty. Loyalty is something you can decide upon. You can look at your person, or your people, and say “I choose you” no matter what happens. No matter what goes down, you are my person, you are my people. When you have already committed to loyalty and something hard comes up, you know you are devoted to the work, the confrontation, the hard talks, the process, and the reconciliation. Loyalty never says “I choose you until…”
Loyalty can’t breathe without grace. People often describe grace as undeserved favor, meaning favor when one does not deserve it. You cannot be loyal without grace. It’s impossible. People will fail us. People will disappoint us. People will screw up. People will be hard to deal with. They will offend, they will get their panties in a wad, they will be way too proud or far too insecure. And if you don’t have grace, you will have very short OR very shallow relationships. Grace is the air necessary for loyalty to live. Grace looks like forgiveness when someone wrongs you. Grace looks like not letting the sun go down on your anger. Grace looks like hanging in there when you don’t understand why someone is doing what they are doing. Grace looks like loving someone when their wounds are wounding your relationship, and a decidedness to walk alongside them toward wholeness. Grace looks like knowing your people will fail you, but choosing to love them beyond those failures.
You know what we want to do when people fail us? We want to run. We want to give up. We want to say “This is too hard. I think I’ll try and find something easier.” Can you imagine if God did that with us? Can you imagine if God said “You barely call me. You hardly make time for me. I don’t understand why you are so self-centered and say you’ll do one thing and then do another. You have bad hair days and halitosis. You are prideful and rarely say ‘sorry.’ You gossip and your heart gives up on people. I’m outta here!” We have a God who chooses us despite our failings, a God who says “I am in this for the long haul and my relationship is not dependent on your season or your screw-ups.” Thank God for His loyalty.
Loyalty costs you. Loyalty isn’t free and it isn’t easy. When something better comes along, loyalty passes. When fun is to be had, but one in grief waits, loyalty chooses. When you could get a newer version, loyalty goes with the ol’ clunker. When hardship threatens, loyalty fights. When a better option on a Friday night comes along, loyalty sticks with its plans.
Loyalty will cost you. Be ready to pay.
I love that we have a God who was willing to be loyal at the greatest expense. He doesn’t ditch out on me when I am hard to deal with. No, He is loyal to the very end. In fact, His loyalty looked like Him choosing to take on my mess, my mistakes, and my wounds so that I might become free. How often are we willing to let other people’s mess, mistakes and wounds be wiped all over us so that they might be set free? It’s a rarity, because we run from mess. We ditch out on mistakes and we break up with wounds. Not loyalty though. Loyalty says “I am in this with you even if I get some of it on me.”
And you know what? Loyalty looks hot on people. Loyalty is sexier than any “get up” you will ever be tempted to trade it in for. The greatest human beings I know, the greatest friends I have, the people who have all my respect, are those that live loyal lives. They are there for a friend when they need advice, when they need a meal, and when they are being those over-analytic, worry-warts that need to over-process something that’s been processed 1,000 times already. They are loyal beside hospital beds and being out of shape, loyal to say “I choose you” even when something seemingly cooler comes along.
When I think of loyalty, I think of a 12-year-old girl I recently saw choose to miss out on the “group” to show loyalty to the “one” left out. I think of the woman who put her own health at risk to bring her best friend chicken noodle soup when she had the flu. I think of the friends who have rallied around the single mom I know with cancer- bringing her meals, taking care of her kids, paying her bills, taking her to chemo, and holding her hand the entire way. I think of the husband who cared for his wife day in and day out, as tiring as it was, because she had lost all her capacities. That isn’t what he pictured his retirement to look like. He pictured travel and hikes and adventure, and instead he got strokes and diapers and hospital stays. Every day that this man helped his wife to the bathroom, brushed her hair, and learned to cook was a day that he lived like his Loyal Lord Jesus.
Loyalty looks good on you and it looks good on me and loyalty is a choice we can choose to wear everyday.