Do you ever have days when you’re not your favorite person to be with? Maybe, like me, you’ve experienced days when it seems that your ability to annoy or frustrate yourself seems unrelenting. You’ve found yourself sliding down a slippery slope, caught once again in a bad habit that you’ve been trying to change. Or losing ground on a self-improvement project that had been showing some progress. Something happens and we slip up. We go into default mode and return to doing things the way we’ve always done them. And the mean voices inside start pointing out all the things we secretly fear to be true. Reminding us of all the reasons why we’ll never change.
Often in these moments, I seek help from my wise and God-loving friends. They give me a safe place to go when I find myself at the bottom of a pit needing a reality check. Their love is just the right combination of tough and grace-filled that helps me see where I got off track and how I can get back on. Their voices are encouraging and supportive, truthful and honest. They guide me back to what God thinks of me and cheer me on to begin again. And they know that they can count on me to do the same for them.
The voices in our lives matter. They influence us. So what to do about those mean voices in our heads?
Unlike the voices of my friends who I must actively seek out to hear, the voice within often comes uninvited, crashing into my day with all the subtly of a loud, obnoxious, over-bearing critic who I would diligently avoid if it were an actual person in my life. Not to be ignored, the voice that sounds like me just won’t shut up sometimes. It needs to learn some manners. And since it’s not going anywhere, I’ve decided that it needs to learn how to be a better friend.
What does the voice of a good friend sound like? I think we can all agree on a few non-negotiables:
A true friend remains loyal through good times and bad. She doesn’t bail out or switch sides the minute things start looking dicey. Proverbs says such a friend loves at all times, is born for adversity, and sticks closer than a brother. (Prov. 17:17 & 18:24)
To be a loyal friend to myself, switching to the side of criticism when I fall is not an option. Instead, I need to remind myself that God is with me, He will strengthen me again and again, just as He has in the past. That no matter how badly I mess up, I am loved and not alone.
“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)
No one would sign up to trail around behind a person all day carrying her bags and checking off items while she completes everything on her to-do list. Not caring that you’re growing tired or hungry. Not taking the time to stop for lunch because she has another very important appointment this afternoon, and well, you understand, don’t you? Any takers for a friend like that? I don’t think so.
To be a loving friend to myself, I need to be willing to lay aside my daily ambitions and trade them for some intentional quiet time, exercise and rest. I can’t bully myself into accomplishing “just one more thing” because that’s not what loving friends do. To be a loving friend to myself, I need to listen and respond to my body’s need to practice healthy habits.
The best kinds of friends serve as role models for one another, inspiring each other with words and actions to love more and to pour out our lives in good works. (Heb. 10:24)
To be an encouraging friend to myself, I need to monitor my self-talk. Am I using language with myself that I would never use with a friend? And I need to remember that my actions can either motivate and energize me or make me feel like shutting down.
How quickly would we return to someone for encouragement who said, “You should probably just give up on this dream. Let’s sit on the sofa and eat a pint of ice cream instead.” An encouraging friend would peel me off the sofa and join me outside for a walk and some fresh air. After sharing the ice cream, of course. I mean, really.
Of course, being loyal, loving, and encouraging aren’t the only traits necessary in good friends. Being kind, merciful, and forgiving also make the list. And of course, having a great sense of humor helps every friendship. ALOT.
But this is a great place to start if I want to become the kind of friend I can count on the next time I’m having a day when I would like to run away from me.
Because the truth about the voice inside is that no matter where I go, it will be coming along. How much better if it joined me as a friend?
Does your inner voice need to learn some manners? How can you become a better friend to yourself – the kind of friend you need in your life?