Have you ever heard a parent harping at their kids? “Sit up straight. What do you say? Say please. Say thank you. No, you can’t go. No you can’t have a cookie. Just no.” It frightens me to think how much I was probably like that when my kids were young. We want them to mature well but we can become crushing naggers!
It struck me one day that this is all about tokens – tokens we are entrusted with to use in the lives of those closest to us. Tokens are our rules, preferences, opinions or influence. They are our opportunities to speak into another’s life, to offer wisdom, correction, or guidance.
When kids are very young we have almost limitless tokens to spend on them. A new baby is utterly dependent on its mom who decides everything for them – eat, sleep, clothing, etc. When that baby is two years old they will probably have more of an opinion about what they eat and perhaps even what they will wear. You have fewer tokens. At 5, even fewer. Teenagers? Forget about it. Maybe two if you’re lucky! When your children are grown…seriously…all you really have is a big dose of hope and whatever influence you’ve developed because of a good relationship with them. The same applies to other relationships like marriage, friendships, co-workers, and such.
I have met with countless couples where one or both are trying desperately to control or “improve” the other. In essence, they are spending tokens that are worth nothing, When you over-play tokens (influence) they lose their value. Consider today the various relationships in your life. Are you over-spending your tokens and find they are worth nothing? We earn our right to offer tokens by being trustworthy, faithful, gracious and loving people. Seriously consider how you can best love those around you by trusting them, encouraging them and allowing them freedom to be who they are. You are not without influence, but use it wisely.
When our son was in High School he began talking about getting a tattoo or piercing his ear. I was not a big fan of either (I was a country bumpkin raised in rural Illinois). Knowing we had very limited tokens to spend with our 17 year-old son, we said no to the tattoo. He opted to get his ear pierced. When he was out of college and in the work force he decided to let the earring go (no, I didn’t spend a token on that decision!) To be honest, by that time I didn’t care about the piercing and actually thought he looked cool with it. Obviously, if he chose to get a tattoo today that’s his business. In my relationship with my children today, any token I have is because they hand it to me. I believe this respect comes from learning along the way that we had a limited number of tokens. Mostly, we live in mutual influence with one another. The tokens, though fewer, now begin again with my grandchildren.
This is a very helpful concept in all of our relationships, whether marriage, friendships, co-workers or strangers. You don’t have unlimited tokens in the world, none of us do (though I’ve known people who think they do!). I am amazed at the number of times this pattern has shown itself in family difficulties. Wives trying to control their husband’s thoughts or actions, husbands trying to control their wives, parents to children and on it goes. We become frustrated and unhappy in our relationships because people refuse to listen to our “wise” input. I spent years trying to make Budd a woman of God…he didn’t respond well. We are confused by the growing gulf in our relationships as families drift apart in frustration. Controlling others is not the road to intimacy and connection. Granted, it is not easy to determine which and how many tokens we possess in any given relationship. That is a God-sized understanding and He is willing to share that information with us if we come to Him humbly and openly. Being reminded of the limits of our tokens should help us treat others with acceptance and patience.
Carrying this a step further, one of the things I think we wrestle with in our relationship with God is that He truly does have unlimited tokens. He alone knows what is best. Too often we treat God as though we graciously have given him a few tokens to spend in a certain area of our life yet we withhold any tokens or His right to speak to other areas. I may ask God’s guidance in terms of my finances but don’t want to know what He has to say about the way I treat other people. I’ve had seasons where I refused God’s use of tokens in my life. I didn’t trust that he would be gentle with me, or that surrendering my desires or dreams would leave me with anything to hold on to. I refused his hand offered to me so many times…and still he came to me with grace and kindness. I can honestly say that as I have learned to accept His word and his ways – His tokens – and my life is more of what I’ve always wanted it to be (with the exception of my gravity-ravaged body).
The only limit to God’s blessing and goodness is our willingness to accept it. God may have a limitless supply of tokens in each of our lives but He has chosen not to spend them without our permission. Every single one of His tokens is for our good and yet we refuse to trust Him. We are like a child poking through grandpa’s handful of change, picking out just the coins we want and rejecting the others, unaware that every single coin has value. Nickels are bigger than dimes but they are not more valuable. How often have I sorted through the promises of God and chosen the ones I thought were best or easiest for me to handle…missing out on his life-giving and life-changing promises. Collectively, God’s handful of “tokens” represent your very best life.
I am living a much better life than I deserve. I am loved well and I love many people. This is what I tried to do for so many years by my own methods and it didn’t work. Here’s a truth that might shock you: God really is good, he always knows what is best for you and He delights in loving you. Amazing.
Take a few moments to consider where you have been spending tokens with people in your life. Are you using your relationship influence wisely? Are you ‘spending’ for their good or for your own comfort or control? Does God have influence in your life? This is a good time to ask Him for help and wisdom.
Romans 15:1,2 (The Message)
Those of us who are strong and able in the faith need to step in and lend a hand to those who falter, and not just do what is most convenient for us. Strength is for service, not status. Each one of us needs to look after the good of the people around us, asking ourselves, “How can I help?”
Do to others as you would like them to do to you.
This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you.
Jeremiah 29:11 is a beautiful and often quoted verse:
For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.
And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below – indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.