Relational 401k’s…

Several things came together this morning at church.

As some of you may know, I’ve been going phone-calls-only for the whole month of January (possibly longer) whenever I need/want to talk to someone. No Facebook chat, no chatting via Twitter (although this one isn’t really an issue), and no chatting through texts. If I need to ask someone if dinner is still on for a particular night, I give them a call. If they don’t answer, I don’t hang up and text them; I leave a message.

The first few days were a bit challenging. Several times I would find myself mustering the courage to call someone when I’m not really ready to talk to anybody. With as uncomfortable as I may have been, however, that’s exactly the sort of thing I’m shooting for with this goal; get into the habit of communicating at a human level, especially when I’m inconvenienced. And yet God challenged things a bit deeper this morning. In a word, the message was “community.” But the particular aspect I found challenging was this thing called “investing.”

I recently started a Roth 401k through my job and talked to several different financial advisors about “investments” and percentages and profits and a whole bunch of other business words that gave me a headache. The idea is you put a certain percentage of your paycheck into an account and the company matches that percentage (up to a certain point – usually 3%). Incorporated into the whole mix are these things called mutual funds. You select which level of aggression of a plan you’d prefer (levels differentiated by how much you’d like to invest in stocks, savings, etc.) and the smart financial advisors put together all the right stock options that’ll make you a profit on your money. You pay a certain amount upfront with the intention of receiving more in return.

Scott talked a bit about investments this morning. Only, he talked about relational investing; paying time, money, or energy to invest into a relationship (either romantic or just as friends) that will reward us with additional happiness. He then talked about how, when such an investment falls through, people back out of those relationships almost completely. Or as Scott said, when someone gets hurt by another church member or has a personal struggle they don’t want to deal with, they leave for another church – or stop going altogether. In other words, they cut their losses and go.

This struck me today because what I’ve discovered throughout all the phone calls I’ve made is that I’m reinvesting into friendships I haven’t touched for a while. For instance, my friend Jeff sent me a message on Facebook asking about a missing camera. Instead of replying via Facebook, I called him. We ended up talking for a good twenty or thirty minutes catching up on how things were going. A similar thing happened when my friend Connor called asking me a specific question about the Bible. And again this afternoon when I called my roommate who was getting back from Arizona – and again tonight when I was called by an old friend scheduling a dinner for this week. 3% at a time with each person, I was reinvesting into each friendship.

What I find the stark difference between financial investments and relational investments is that you can back out of one and be perfectly fine, but to back out of the other every time they go wrong will actually ruin you. If you simply avoid friendships because you’ve been hurt by one or a particular friendship has gotten serious and extremely-personal things have to be shared, then you’re never actually going to grow as a person. It’s like reading a novel up to the point where things get dangerous for the characters, then moving on to an entirely new novel; you’ll never know how each story ends, let alone how they got through the dangerous stuff. And those are the parts of the story that you truly remember.

Proverbs 11:25 says, “A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.” Contextually speaking, yeah, the author’s probably talking about money. But in light of what God’s been teaching me and what Scott talked about this morning, can you see how this might apply to the relational investments you’ve made? I’ve certainly been refreshed by the friends I’ve talked to over the past few days – just by talking to them. They did nothing more than pick up the phone when I called them and yet that somehow cheered me up. Can you imagine what would happen if I spent more time with my church outside of Sunday morning? Can you imagine if we got dinners or watched movies or simply hung out together? Relationships can hurt you, I know. But relationships can also heal you. Especially the Christ-based relationships.

Scott has talked a lot about our decision-making processes that revolve largely around some form of security: job, financial (sort of the same thing, but it can be different), social (only hanging out with people who make you feel comfortable), or even geographical. What I feel God has challenged me with this morning is to find the areas of my friendships where I’m relying on a safety net. And once I’ve found those various safety nets, just cut them. An example might be when I’m with a friend who’s proven himself trustworthy, but for some reason I haven’t talked about my worst struggles or fears; God would want me to talk about those things. God wants that safety net gone.

As I said earlier, with financial investments, cutting your losses and moving on is oftentimes needed. But it cannot be the default mode we have when things get tough with our friendships – especially with church friendships. Like Scott said this morning, the church should be the place people turn to in order to deal with whatever thing they have going on; not the place they run from. We can do our part by not running from our friends to ignore our problems; oftentimes, our friends are the very ones we need.

If 401ks are all about saving money for when you retire, then relational 401ks should be all about building friendships for when you need them most – and when they need you, too. But instead of 3%, invest 100%, even if you get nothing out of it – as loving your neighbor as yourself implies.

God bless.


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Cherokee / Whovian / Sherlockian / Aspiring Auror / Lover of Jesus, Scripture, and creativity / MATS Student at George Fox Seminary.

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