I’d rather be alone: Why Friends are Worth the Risk: Karl Clauson
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Karl ClausonKarl Clauson is a husband, pastor, author, conference speaker and adventurer. His passion for spiritual awakening runs through them all. He’s had diverse life experiences, like completing the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race at the age of eighteen, coaching a track team in South Africa, and pastoring churches in Chicago and Alaska. He loves to have conversations about life change through Jesus Christ over a good cup of coffee.
Rather be alone than gamble with friendships? On FamilyLife Today, Dave and Ann Wilson host author & radio host Karl Clauson, who insists relationships are worth the risk. Here’s why and how.
I’d rather be alone: Why Friends are Worth the Risk: Karl Clauson
Karl: If you’re going to wait for someone to find you, it’s not going to happen. You’ve got to meet people; you’ve got to engage with people! And you pray, in the Spirit, that God will direct you to those people; that God would say, “This is the long-hauler. This is the one who will drag his or her haunches around to help connect up with you down the road.”
Dave: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Dave Wilson.
Ann: And I’m Ann Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on the FamilyLife® app.
Dave: This is FamilyLife Today.
Alright, I have a lot of guy friends in my life.
Ann: Yes, you do.
Dave: And that’s a good thing.
Dave: But there’s one guy friend—and I don’t even get to see him that much/talk to him a whole lot; but every time I do, I’m like fired up—you know who I’m talking about!
Ann: Who is he?
Dave: He’s sitting across the table right now!—[Laughter]—Karl Clauson. Karl, I mean, I’m so excited you’re here! You fire my soul up!
Ann: He fires everybody up.
Karl: Well, but I want to tell you,—
Dave: No, it’s just me! It’s only me! [Laughter]
Karl: —Dave, I love you, too, man; I really do. And you know what? If we had—you been taking your vitamins?—because maybe we ought to go plant a church together somewhere, sometime.
Dave: Ahh, this might be a prophetic moment; I don’t know!
Ann: Karl is a pastor.
Dave: I know.
Ann: He has started a church.
Karl: Yes, a sweet church.
Dave: I think I need to become one again [church planter]; that’s what I’m hearing; no. You have a church; what’s the name of your church in Chicago?
Karl: —180 Chicago! We’re in the south loop. It’s beautiful, because God is moving in the hearts of people; and it’s a joy to be a part of it.
Dave: And you’re on a morning show every day in Chicago.
Karl: Yes; four hours, from five to nine a.m., every weekday morning in Chicago.
Ann: Karl and Crew.
Karl: Karl and Crew.
Dave: Yes; and you’re here today to talk about a book you wrote called The Seven Resolutions. We’ve already covered a couple of them. One of those resolutions I want to get into today. Because you’ve been talking about how God can change your life through the power of His Holy Spirit who lives in us; resurrection power is available to us/can change our life.
But one of your resolutions is: “Choose your friends.” You’ve got to have community to see real life change, right?
Karl: Yes; absolutely. I had a buddy tell me this one time, and I thought, “Oh, man! That’s insightful.” He said, “Friends are like an elevator. They either take you up, or they take you down; and there’s nothing in between.” And I’m like, “That’ll preach! I get that!”
You know, sometimes the best way to discover what real friends are is unusual. I’ve got a crazy story for you. I’m going to take you back to the Iditarod Trail Race. One of my favorite dogs in my team was named Alaska.
Dave: And if you haven’t listened before, Karl did and completed the Iditarod at age 18, years ago.
Karl: Yes, yes; in 1979, man—
Karl: —21 days, 8 hours, 12 minutes, and 32 seconds.
I had in my team some incredible dogs; but one of them was Alaska: big white husky—blue eyes—just beautiful. Not the brightest guy in the team—but strong and faithful—just one of those kinds of guys, and he was my buddy. We had been mushing up the Yukon River for over 100 miles. We come into Kaltag, and there’s no checker. It’s three in the morning—
Ann: A checker is a person that checks you in.
Karl: Yes, checks me in. There was no checker at that checkpoint. And I’m like, “What’s going on? There’s no one here!” I mean, no one! Lights are out in all the village cabins. I go walking up to what I thought could be the checkpoint. I knock on the door; no one answers. I open it up and walk in. The minute I step inside, I hear the worst dog fight I’d heard in a long time, outside.
I sprint back out to my team, and there is blood all over the ground. I got my headlamp on. It’s dancing around in the snow, looking at, “What’s the damage here?” What had happened was, some loose village dogs didn’t like the fact that my team had encroached on their turf; and they came out and attacked my team.
Well, Alaska, my big boy in wheel, decided to defend the whole team; and he did—and he got the worst end of it—blood everywhere; his hind quarters are chewed up; his stomach’s chewed up. I pick him up, and then we haul them back inside. By now, the veterinarian is awake; and we’ve got some checkers, who are awake. We lay him on a table, and this big old brute of a buddy of mine is just looking up in my eyes. He’s looking at me, like, “Dad! I did it! I took them on! I protected the team!” He felt like that was his role.
You get close to these dogs when you train with them for a couple of years like this. I thought, “I can’t go without him! I’ve got to have him. To go from Kaltag to Unalakleet I’ve got to go up over a pass, and I need my big ol’ beefcake, Alaska, there in wheel. I’ve got to have him there.” I waited seven hours; and after seven hours, he got more stiff. It’s kind of like our injuries: the longer you kind of sit there, the worse they can get. And he got so stiff that I’m like, “I can’t take him.”
I told the checkpoint—I said, “I’ve got to drop this dog from team number seven,”—I had to officially sign off: “I’m leaving him behind.” He’s out of the team. Well, he didn’t know it until I harnessed up the team, seven hours later. Now, he’s on a stakeout chain, outside in a protected area. I pull out the snow hook, which is the emergency brake for a dog team. We mush out of Kaltag, go around this corner—and here’s Alaska, a hundred yards away, howling at me—I had to cover my face with my parka hood, because I couldn’t bear to see this guy! And he’s just like, “Where are you guys going?!”
We headed out. We made it in about 25 hours to Unalakleet. I had to snowshoe a good stretch of that trail, because it had wind-blown over; it was just a mess. I wanted Alaska with me so badly. But I land in Unalakleet with my dog team, and I’m hungry! They said, “Are you hungry?” And I said, “I’m hungry!” They said, “We’ve got some chili for you over at this home.” They point over there; I mush my team over to that home. I park it; I go inside; get off all my gear; I sit down to eat. [Knocking sounds] Big knock at the door; I’m like, “Uh oh.”
Sure enough, the checker says, “You’ve got a problem with your dog team out here; one of your dogs is loose.” I’m like, “My land! Another one loose?! You’ve got to be kidding me!” I go outside, walk around the corner, and guess who’s there?—Alaska!—[Laughter]—from 100 miles ago!
Ann: Karl! This is like a movie!
Karl: Well, what happens here is: when you drop a dog in, like Kaltag, they’ll fly it to a bigger city like Unalakleet, where I was now. I knew that they had flown him in overnight. We go down to the ham radio operator, and they’re confirming this. The ham radio operator says, “Hey, Karl; come on over here. We’ve got a problem.” I said, “What’s going on?” “I just radioed Kaltag; they haven’t had any planes fly in or out of there. There’s been bad weather there for the last day.” I said, “Well, what do you mean no planes have flown in there?” “No planes have flown in or out.”
I’ve got Alaska in my hands; he’s standing right underneath me. They said, “But one thing did happen. They had a dog from team number seven chewed himself free, and they haven’t been able to find him.” My Alaska followed me 100 miles to Unalakleet to be with me.
Dave: Here I am, crying about a dog! [Laughter] I mean, seriously? And he was injured; I mean—
Karl: He walked it off.
Dave: How did he do it?
Karl: He walked it off. You know, I’ve never shared this part of the story—you get it right now—he probably drug his hindquarters for a few miles.
Karl: You know what? We need to choose friends like Alaska, and they’re out there.
Ann: I think—Karl, I think so many of us have been hurt—
Karl: I know.
Ann: —that we’ve pulled away. We don’t think they are out there. I’ve talked to so many wives, who say, “My husband doesn’t have one friend except me.”
Ann: How do you get beyond that?
Karl: We have to take initiative. I have people on our radio show calling all the time; they’re just hungry for friends.
Karl: And if you’re going to wait for someone to find you, it’s not going to happen. In order to find the kind of friend that Alaska was to me—and they are out there, I have them now in human form—they’re 100-mile friends; they’ll follow me that far.
In order to find them, you’re going to have to find yourself—not going to church—but being the church. You can sit down and warm a chair, but you’ve got to meet people; you’ve got to engage with people! And you pray, in the Spirit, that God will direct you to those people [whom] God would say, “This is your Alaska buddy—this is the long-hauler—this is the one who will drag his or her haunches around to help connect up with you down the road.” I believe God has them.
But if you’re looking for someone that we predictably look for in a friend, which is someone who kind of rubber-stamps everything we do; we’re looking for the wrong person!
Karl: This is one of the coolest verses in the Bible on friendship. It feels so twisted, it feels like it’s a mistake in translation, almost. Here it is—Proverbs 27:6—“Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.” And you’re going, “Hold it a second here.” [Laughter] I thought friends kiss you, and hug you, and tell you how awesome you are!”—no, no, no! What’s laid out here is something profound.
I love to write about it this way—and this is what I did in the book—I did a comparison of suck-ups versus surgeons, because that’s what the proverb is saying. [Laughter] It’s saying:
- “Real friends are like surgeons; they’ll cut you, but they don’t cut you to hurt you; they cut you to help you.”
- “Whereas suck-ups, they cut you to hurt you; they want to take you down!”
Some of you find people, [whom] you’re around, [who] tell you what you want to hear; we don’t need that! We need the long-haul friends, who tell us what we need to hear; that’s where lives are changed! When you’re looking for friends, don’t look for your garden-variety suck-up out there; look for one of those surgeons, who’s willing to cut you and say: “You know, I want to challenge you on this!” “I want to encourage you in this!” “I want to ask you to be bolder here,”—that’s what we need!—men and women alike.
Ann: My best friend, Michelle/we were just getting to know each other—and I need that: I need somebody, who will speak the truth to me; that’s important to me—because I just need it in my life/somebody to be truly honest. We’d been friends for a little bit; we didn’t know each other super-well. She said to me, “You know, you never initiate in our relationship.” And I said, “Well, yes, I do. What do you mean?” She goes, “No, you really don’t!
Karl: What a good friend! [Laughter]
Ann: “I’m the one who’s always calling; I’m the one who’s always initiating. And it hurts my feelings. It feels like you don’t care about me.”
I said, “Well, maybe we should define our relationship. What do you need from me?” And we both had little kids; we were busy. And she said, “I need you to call me every day.” I’m like, “I’m not going to call you every day! [Laughter] I don’t have time to call you every day!” [Laughter]
Karl: What did you guys do?
Ann: And she said, “Well, let’s just compromise.” I said, “Well, what would I say if I call you every day?” And I was close with my mom; close with a sister. And she said, “I am dying here, raising my three little girls; and I just need you to say, ‘Are you doing, okay? How can I pray for you today?’”
Karl: That’s great.
Ann: And I said, “That totally makes sense! I need that too.”
Ann: And so I said, “I’m not going to do it every day; but I will initiate, at least, several times a week.” And then, we had—kind of like Dave and I—we had to work on the relationship. Dave and I have a date night. Michelle and I would go out, at least once every three weeks; and we would just spend the evening getting to know each other.
I love that she said, “You really hurt my feelings”; because a lot of people would have just pulled away, and then I would have thought, “It must be me.”
Karl: “It must be me; I did something wrong.”
Ann: “I’m doing something. I always hurt people, and I don’t know why.” But I love that she had the guts to say that, and we’ve always been honest.
Dave: And I think, you know, Karl, you know this: it’s a real challenge for men.
Karl: —big time!
Dave: I mean, I’m not saying it isn’t for women; but there’s something in us, that’s like, “I don’t really need Alaska.
Ann: It’s the Lone Ranger.
Dave: “I don’t need it.”
I’ll tell you what: just a few weeks ago, a really good friend of mine died suddenly at 69 years old. He was in the best shape I’d ever seen a 69-year-old. We used to joke and say, “Dude, stop taking steroids. Man, you must be taking something!
Ann: He wasn’t!
Dave: “Nobody can look—”
Karl: So he was bowed up.
Dave: He wasn’t [taking anything]. He was just in really tip-top shape; and still, to this day, nobody knows exactly what happened.
Karl: Oh, my goodness.
Dave: But here’s why I’m telling you that story: when we started our church in 1990, two years later, I decided what you said—what the Bible says I need—“I need men in my life.” And it was selfish; but I’m like, “I need community; I’m going to start T2.” Second Timothy 2:2 says: “Entrust what I’ve trusted to you to faithful men, who will pass it on to others.” I said, “I’m starting a T2 group—2Timothy 2:2—we’re just going to call it T2.”
I picked, literally, 14 guys. This is crazy; I challenged them, one on one: “I want you to join me. I don’t know how long this is going to go. I think it’s going to go our whole life; we’ll see what happens. We’re going to meet—not every week—we’re going to meet once a month for the whole night. We’ll have dinner at one of our houses, and we’re going to get into each other’s lives. Once a month; it’s going to take seven to eight hours, but we’re going to do it.”
The first meeting, 14 guys show up; the second meeting, 8 guys show up; the third meeting, it ended up being 6.
Karl: Oh, my goodness!
Dave: Those six: we’ve done life for 30-plus years.
Karl: That is awesome.
Dave: Dan was one of them, who just died.
Dave: We’ve met continually. Michelle is one of those guys’ wife, that Ann was talking about.
Ann: And the wives have met in that same amount of time.
Dave: Ann said to me, when I was getting ready to do the funeral—which was so right on—she said, “You should bring those guys up to the front of the chapel.
Karl: That’s power.
Dave: “The people need to see the visual of a community of men.”
Karl: That’s power.
Dave: They all came up; only two of them said something.
But I had more young men, at the reception later, come up to me, and go, “Dude, that visual—I need that!—that’s what I need.” It’s what you’re saying: choose friends! You’ve got to choose them.
Dave: And you’ve got to be intentional.
Karl: And you’ve got to be vulnerable.
Karl: The most graphic thing, and coolest thing, that I’ve ever seen along these lines was a native Alaskan friend of mine. We’re sitting in this circle, and he began to open up his heart. He looked at me, and he’s sharing his heart about the sexual abuse he went through. Now, you need to know something: this is a spiritual stud-muffin; this dude’s “Mr. Alaska,” right? He’s a dude!—and he’s weeping.
At the end of his story, he did something really powerful—he looked at me, and he said, “My friend, Karl, I want you to open your heart to me,”—he put a red heart on my kneecap. That was the signal in the group when a friend wanted to hear from another friend, his heart. First, I started crying like a baby.
Ann: I’m crying right now! [Laughter]
Karl: And then, I began to initiate back to him and that group with some heartfelt things from my own story.
And you know what?—it’s risky; it’s hard; it’s not normal. You don’t learn that stuff in locker rooms, man! You don’t learn that in locker rooms, but you learn it at the foot of the cross.
I once had a man tell me—talk about a dear friend—he said, “Do you trust me?” We were in a real contentious situation, and he was a mediator. I said, “No, I don’t trust you! I don’t know you! Of course, I don’t trust you!” He chuckled; he goes, “That’s a good answer.”
He said, “I’ll make you a deal, Karl.” He said, “I’m going to go to the foot of the cross, and I’ll be on my knees there with my life through this process. If you come to the foot of the cross, and you fall on your knees, you throw your arm around me; and we’ll be there together.” And we were. It ain’t easy—it’s not often talked about—but choosing friends is the richest of rich ways to walk this walk of faith.
Dave: Yes; and like you said, it is scary. I mean, there’s a fear inside of you to get vulnerable.
Karl: —big time!
Dave: You know, it’s so much easier to cover it up. Men, especially, are just so afraid—they never ever/they go to their grave—and nobody’s ever heard their vulnerability. Yet, when you step into that fear—sometimes, even trembling—and you reveal a weakness, or a sin, or “I need a brother to help me right now,”—it’s the most freeing moment in your life. But a lot of guys never get there; they’re too afraid to do it.
Karl: That’s liberty, man.
Dave: I mean, you’ve got to do it.
One of the things we did in my group—which is crazy to think about now—we had a year, where we decided—because, again, we’re meeting every month: “Let’s give each guy a gift.” A gift meant: “Tell him his blind spots.”
Karl: Oh, boy!
Dave: We called it a gift, but it was a blind spot.
Karl: It is a gift.
Dave: And it’s a blind spot because we can’t see it, but everybody else does.
One guy would leave the room. We’d all talk about him for a minute, and say, “Man, Karl’s amazing! He’s incredible! Let’s talk about his gifts, but he’s got two blind spots.” “Okay, Karl! Come back in.”
Dude! I remember when I went out of the room, and I thought it’d be like—
Karl: That’s unnerving!!
Ann: We did it as the wives too.
Karl: Oh, that’s unnerving!
Dave: —I thought, “I’ll be back in the room in ten minutes.” It was like 45 minutes later; I’m like, “Oh, boy!” [Laughter]
Karl: “They’ve got a grocery list!”
Dave: They’re in there, talking. I sat down; and it was great, because they said, “We love you. Here’s what we love about you…”—and affirmed me.
Dave: The whole time, I’m like, “Okay, here it comes!” And then they spoke truth; it was hard to hear, but I needed to hear it.
Karl: And you know they loved you.
Ann: You couldn’t have done it without that.
Dave: You can’t do it without that trust, and that builds over time.
Karl: That takes time; that takes time.
Dave: For us, over years; and there was trust, and there was vulnerability. I mean, there were nights, where we were in a kitchen of a buddy, whose son was addicted to drugs. There were nights when one of our guys—
Ann: —a daughter who was anorexic.
Dave: —had an affair happen. I mean, all those moments, we walked together.
Ann: We had—
Dave: That’s why you choose friends; you’ve got to.
Karl: This is on my heart: “Choose friends!” Too few people are choosing their friends; we’re just taking whoever drifts into our life.
There’s been a social scientist’s study done recently that says: “If you take your five closest friends in your life, you are the median of them in character, in quality, in style, in relatability; you’re right down the middle.” And here’s the reality: look at the five closest friends that you have, and just ask yourself a question: “Might I benefit from choosing some friends who have a whole lot more streams of living water flowing through them?”
This doesn’t mean you go scorch the earth and start eliminating friends, going, “Yes, this guy, Karl; he told me to get rid of you.” [Laughter] No, that’s not what I said. It’s about the bigger “Yes.” But take control of the friends that you have! God’s given you, not just the authority, but the responsibility to do that.
Dave: And I’ll add one last thing—the thing that we never thought about: if you do that as a husband, and if you do that as a dad—as a mom/as a wife—trust me on this: “Your kids are going to copy it.
Ann: Oh, yes!
Dave: “They’re going to see it modeled, and they’re just going to think: ‘That’s how I should do life.’” Our three sons have men in their lives, and I think it’s largely—we didn’t preach it all the time; we did say it—but they saw it. They’re like, “Guys are showing up at our house, who are dad’s friends.” And they poured into my sons’ lives, too; it changes a legacy.
And I tell you what: if there’s anything we’re about, here at FamilyLife, it is that word, “legacy.” It’s why I love Karl.
You know, Ann, what I really love about Karl?
Ann: —that he’s your twin?!—he has more energy than anyone else in the world besides you?
Dave: He does! You talk about high caffeine, he’s beyond me!—that’s true.
But that’s not really what I was thinking about. Karl, let me tell you, dude, you make me want to stretch myself—as a man, as a dad, as a husband, even being a grandpa—I want to be the best I can be. And here’s what I really love about you, Karl: you’re raw; you’re honest; and you’re real. There’s no posturing—you are just flat-out transparent about your shortcomings—and it makes you believable.
Ann: That’s so true! And I think that’s exactly what we attempt to exude every single day at FamilyLife. I can speak for all of us—even the folks on the other side of the glass, as they often say in the radio world—we’re just a bunch of imperfect people, who are working together to redeem our brokenness. God will redeem anyone, who is just willing to say, “Yes,” to Him.
Dave: Yes; and every day, we get to serve up conversations that are intended to help you reach higher/to that higher place that God intends for you. It’s a place of joy rather than sorrow; it’s a place of second chances rather than defeat; it’s a place of hope rather than disappointment.
And I’ll tell you what: now’s the time to respond. We’ve come to the end of the year. God has blessed FamilyLife with an astounding $2 million matching challenge. Let me tell you: together, let’s put fuel in the tank. We have the opportunity to catapult the impact of FamilyLife in 2023 through this generous matching challenge. I’m telling you—just like Karl challenges you—I’m going to challenge you: “Jump in. Let’s do this! Jump in. This is the year to say, ‘Let’s make a difference in people’s lives in 2023.’”
Shelby: You’re listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Karl Clauson on FamilyLife Today. Karl’s book is called The Seven Resolutions: Where Self-Help Ends and God’s Power Begins. We’ve got copies of Karl’s book available at FamilyLifeToday.com.
And right now, any gift that you give will be matched, dollar for dollar, until we hit
$2 million—that’s for a one-time gift; or if you become a monthly Partner right now, your monthly gifts will be doubled for the next 12 months—you can give today at
FamilyLifeToday.com. Or again, you can give us a call at 800-358-6329; that’s 800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Do you ever feel like you’ve been dragged around in life without direction or guidance? Sometimes, I genuinely feel like that. Well, tomorrow on FamilyLife Today, Dave and Ann Wilson are back again with Karl Clauson to help you focus on finding your “Why”—focusing your efforts and redeeming your time. That’s coming up tomorrow; we hope you’ll join us.
On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We’ll see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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