Today’s prayer is actually the lyrics to a hymn by Annie S. Hawks (1836-1918). Of the words she penned, she said this:
“One day as a young wife and mother of 37 years of age, I was busy with my regular household tasks. Suddenly, I became so filled with the sense of nearness to the Master that, wondering how one could live without Him, either in joy or pain, these words,
I Need Thee Every Hour, were ushered into my mind, the thought at once taking full possession of me… I did not understand at first why this hymn had touched the great throbbing heart of humanity. It was not until long after, when the shadow fell over my way, the shadow of a great loss, that I understood something of the comforting power in the words which I had been permitted to give out to others in my hour of sweet serenity and peace.”
I need Thee every hour, most gracious Lord. No tender voice like Thine can peace afford. I need Thee, O I need Thee. Every hour I need Thee. O bless me now, my Savior, I come to Thee. I need Thee every hour, stay Thou nearby. Temptations lose their power when Thou art nigh.need Thee, O I need Thee. Every hour I need Thee. O bless me now, my Savior, I come to Thee. I need Thee every hour, in joy or pain. Come quickly and abide, or life is vain. need Thee, O I need Thee. Every hour I need Thee. O bless me now, my Savior, I come to Thee. I need Thee every hour. Teach me Thy will. And Thy rich promises in me fulfill.need Thee, O I need Thee. Every hour I need Thee. O bless me now, my Savior, I come to Thee. I need Thee every hour, most Holy One. O make me Thine indeed, Thou blessèd Son.need Thee, O I need Thee. Every hour I need Thee. O bless me now, my Savior, I come to Thee. (Click here for a beautiful a cappella rendition of the song.)
Where there is strife, there is pride,
but wisdom is found in those who take advice. (Proverbs 13:10, NIV)
By insolence comes nothing but strife,
but with those who take advice is wisdom. (Proverbs 13:10, ESV)
The empty-headed cause conflict out of pride;
those who take advice are wise. (Proverbs 13:10, CEB)
My friend Ellen is a retired pastor who moved to Seattle several years ago, attending my church for a couple of years before moving to another part of town (and another church). While we were always friendly with each other at church, our friendship grew once my husband and I became foster parents. Ellen was also a foster parent for several years; perhaps that is why she demonstrated a special empathy and compassion for us as we entered that world.
Over a year ago, I was going to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit every day to visit our youngest child, who was hospitalized for six weeks. Because we had an 18-month-old at home, I had to make arrangements for her every morning while I went to the hospital. When Ellen heard about what we were doing, she offered to come and stay with our daughter once a week. It was during that season that our friendship went to a new level. Through her kindness, generosity of spirit, empathy, and consistent presence, she became someone I confided in, and she got to know our family intimately, sitting on my couch week by week, observing me in my native habitat. Now that she lives on the other side of town, we see her once a month instead of once a week. But still, she comes regularly, toting a bag of books to read with my kids. She gives attention to each one while I make dinner or sort laundry. Her friendship has been a gift.
Ellen was over today, and during the course of our visit, I shared a concern with her that I have regarding our son’s educational path. I have been considering some different options, and when I shared them with her, I said, “Am I crazy to consider this?!” Her response was quite insightful: “When did you start worrying about whether something you were doing was crazy or not?” There was humor and truth mixed up in her words, and for that, I loved her even more. She knows me. She knows what drives me. She knows that I am not motivated by what is safe or predictable when making decisions. Yet as we discussed my options, she offered some wise and insightful advice as to how I might be able to carry out my idea successfully.
The lesson this week is that those who are wise seek advice and follow it. In both the big decisions of life and the minor, more mundane aspects of the day-to-day, it is important that we live with an openness and humility that invites input from others. We need reminders that we are not all-knowing—we are not God—and it is only by inviting a collective input that we will approach life with the benefit of a perspective that is beyond ourselves.
That said, it is worth noting that who we seek input from is important.”As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another,” says Proverbs 27:17. We should not listen to everyone who tries to speak into our lives. I have have many experiences during my life in which people have offered advice that, had I taken it, would have steered me away from many of the beautiful blessings God has laid out for me. In some cases, I was embarking on a somewhat daring step of faith—say teaching English in a remote part of China or moving to East Harlem to help launch an artist residency. In both cases, some well-meaning people advised against my path. Their advice, I was able to see, was coming from pragmatism and fear, and folks who speak from pragmatism and fear (rather than love and faith) are not not “iron” to us—they do not sharpen us, and their advice should not hold much weight.
So how do we cultivate a lifestyle marked by humble openness to good advice? I would like to suggest that we benefit tremendously from having the following types of people in our lives. These are people who know us, love us, and care about our well-being. Sometimes they come to us, and sometimes we need to seek them out. But by surrounding ourselves by these “sharpening people” and inviting them to speak regularly into our lives, we will cultivate the wise practice of seeking and following good advice. (It’s worth noting that one person can represent more than one of these “types,” by the way.)
The Pastoral Type. This person does not need to be your actual pastor. In fact, they need not be a pastor by vocation at all. But their role in your life, at least some of the time, is that they are “pastoral” towards you: they are nurturing, caring, and concerned for your well-being—physically, spiritually and emotionally. I am fortunate in that I have several pastoral friends in my life (including my own pastor). They let me know if they are concerned about me, they check in to see how I’m doing, and they offer to pray for me. When you think about it, this is not always present in friendship. The pastoral type is not threatened by the fear of offending you—they care too much to not ask the hard questions or push back if they see you making unwise or unhealthy decisions.
The Parental Type. As with the Pastoral Type, the Parental Type is not necessarily your own parent (though it can be). Rather, he or she is someone old enough to be our parent, who has lived a lot more “life” than we have. He or she can offer perspective that we simply don’t have because we have not seen as much as they have. I have several “parental types” in my life, including my own parents, and these friends have learned to get used to my out-of-the-blue phone calls, when I call to say hi, catch up, and glean from their experiences. Sometimes we just talk, but other times I come right out and ask them questions, my favorite being, What do you know now (about marriage, parenting, vocation, work, etc.) that you wish you knew then? I have learned so much from my “parental friends” and their generosity toward me and my probing questions.
The Practitioner Type. This is a friend who is doing “it”—whatever “it” is—well. A few weeks ago, I was feeling very frustrated about some aspects of my own parenting and feeling like I was letting things get too chaotic in my own home. I reached out to a few friends who, from everything I can tell, are great parents raising great kids. I asked them to tell me how they handled certain situations, what books they would recommend, and what they have tried and determined doesn’t work. I got some great feedback, borrowed several of the recommended books from the library, and found myself with a refreshed perspective on my own journey as a parent. Likewise, as I mentioned before, we are considering some alternative educational options for our son. Recently, I reached out to a few friends who have chosen private schools, parochial schools, or home schooling options for their kids. Big decisions especially demand thorough research and wise input from those who are doing it well.
The Present Type. This is a friend who is simply “there.” He or she does not always give what you would call advice, and they may not even share your faith, but they listen and ask good questions. My friend Mike is very much a “present type” in my life. He is retired and a neighbor, which makes it very feasible for him to join the kids and me for a walk in the park or to come and offer a second set of hands when I am managing two or three active little people. Often, when he is over, I process various aspects of my life, from difficult relationships to some of the harder aspects of foster parenting, and he listens quietly before offering thoughtful feedback. His comments rarely come across as “advice,” yet somehow, they leave me feeling sharper and, yes, a bit wiser.
There may be other “types” of people who are good to have in our lives, but these are the four who seem to do the most to help shape and sharpen me. In each case, I make a choice to be vulnerable and invite feedback. It also bears mentioning that it’s important to take time to get to know these friends and build trust. But if you can seek out friends with these qualities, and if you are to others a friend who bears these qualities, and if their words bear fruit in your life, you will find yourself among the truly wise.
While I am not suggesting that you go out and dump any friend who does not possess any of these qualities, I would suggest that you consider who you spend most of your time with and what kinds of messages and influences they have on your life. Do the people who speak most into your life reflect the wisdom and ways of God? Do the people who offer you advice come from a place of faith, hope, and love? When it comes to the big and small things in life, do you go looking for input and wise counsel? Do you live with humble openness to the input of others?