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January 16, 2013

loving the familiar

This week my friends and I ate at a heritage house that has been converted into a hotel. Living in this old metropolis has its perks, such as candlelit, rooftop suppers in January! We were presented with fresh flowers, used our hands to eat from large silver platters, and had a variety of servers at our beck and call. This is a traditional dining experience that every foreigner is told to enjoy while here.

We also spent our evening observing a sociological phenomenon: a first date. Of the three couples sitting at tables nearby ours, two of them were clearly at ease, but the third couple was not. Butterflies? Check. Nervous laughter? Check. Their stilted mannerisms and forced joviality were signs that this was probably a preliminary acquaintance. Mr. Man was trying to impress; Ms. Woman was new, and therefore, fascinating. This was our evening entertainment.

John Webster wrote: "Old soldiers, sweethearts, are surest, and old lovers are soundest." But I've been thinking about how human nature values the new and different over the old and the proven. A friend once described himself as a "whore for experiences", and though the term sounds crude, doesn't that summarize many of our lives? We crave novel things, not because they are necessarily better, but because they're new; they're different. 

If we're talking about new food or new travel destinations, the consequences may not be so serious. But when this attitude bleeds into our relationships, we must reconsider. 

The English language has this idiom: "familiarity breeds contempt." The Bible and Ben Franklin express similar sentiments. Time has its way of dulling unattended relationships. We begin to take others for granted, or even dislike them, because someone new attracts our attention. Even our most important relationship lies unnoticed (the Creator's cry in Isaiah is "You forgot...your Maker" and you "forget my holy mountain"). We are all too familiar with this concept, which is why the Word has to encourage us constantly to do such things as:
Otherwise, familiarity breeds contempt.

Perhaps a simple first step to fight the detrimental side of familiarity is to thank more: thank the Father for anything and everything, often. We take Him for granted. Then express appreciation to the people in your life who serve and bless you. Forgive. Be intentional about loving the Father and others daily. When Webster said "Old lovers are soundest," he meant to say that your older relationships will go places no brand-new relationship could go. Don't cast them off.

As my language helper left after our second lesson, I said "thank you" to her. She asked me point blank: "Are you going to say that every time we meet?" I was a bit taken aback, until I remembered that in this culture people don't say "thank you" much. I'll have to intentionally learn what shows love and appreciation in this culture. If it isn't the words "thank you", then there must be some other way to show love. Continually, daily, every time.

Love intentionally. By the work of the Father in us, familiarity need not breed contempt. 

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