Monday, November 22, 2010

Openness Closes the Gap

Lately, I've been reflecting about the relationships in my life.  I've been asking myself about the purpose of each one.  When I have a difficult time answering that question, I know I have some thinking to do.  One thing I've been thinking is that without openness in relationships, they can become stale and unfruitful.  Without openness there is little ability to relate to one another.  Without truly relating to another person, what is the point of the relationship anyway?  I don't mean to imply that you should bear your heart and soul to everyone you meet or with whom you have relationship.  Nor do I mean to suggest that every single thought or feeling needs to be discussed.  I guess what I am talking about is a level of empathy that allows you to meet someone else at their place of need.  This goes both ways in relationships.  We all have needs.  We cannot possibly meet every need of another person (especially those needs that only God can meet) but we should be able to connect with people!  If we are not making this connection--a true and meaningful connection--we are not experiencing a fruitful relationship.  This is when the relationship becomes stale. 

That brings me back to openness.  Without it, it is rarely possible to develop and sustain meaningful relationships.  I also think that without openness, it is difficult to help someone else in his journey.  Without some level of openness about our own journey, it is unlikely that others will consider turning to us in a time of storm.  For me personally, I want to be someone that my friends and loved ones can turn to (should they have need) in a time of storm.  Again, not to replace the kind of help and healing that only God can provide, but to be love with skin on to another person.  Openness can really close the gap.  Openness can go a long way to help another person feel that he is not alone. 

I recently spent some time in conversation with a fellow mom of young children.  I know our time together did much for me, but I think it encouraged her also.  We were discussing a couple of issues concerning our children.  One was fairly comical.  She told me that sometimes at the breakfast table with her children, they get so easily bothered by one sibling or another looking at them.  She told me how her children will sometimes form makeshift barricades with their cereal boxes so that no one will look at them while they are eating breakfast.  The childishness of this amused me, but the story (and her openness to share a morning frustration) really encouraged me.  Why, you may ask?  Well, some of my children also have a problem with morning grumpiness.  They fuss at each other, bicker at the table, and at least several times a week one of them is complaining about someone looking at him.  Too often, I blame myself for these childish behaviors and become discouraged.  I question where I've gone so wrong that my children bicker so easily over such small things.  She shared another story about how recently her children were arguing so much in the car that she told them all not to talk any more for the remainder of the car ride.  She said a common frustration that her children share is when one wants to tell a story to another and the other one won't respond to the story-teller.  Oh, how I can relate!  Bickering...childish behavior.  Once again, when this occurs, I often blame myself because I am assuming that other families don't share these specific struggles.  (If we don't see certain things, we don't know that they occur.)  This friend's children are kind, gentle, and very well-behaved.  I would have never suspected that she experienced some of these daily struggles just as I do.  Her openness made me feel a bit less alone in these parenting struggles.  (Here I could easily digress as to how silly and naive I am to believe that I am the only mother facing certain struggles....but I won't...for now!)

I appreciate this friend because she is always open with me, as I am with her.  By no means do we enter into pity-parties wherein we complain about the woes of parenting; we are simply open and honest in our conversations.  She has never tried to wear a mask around me or put on a performance of perfectionism.  I have a high regard for her, but it's certainly not because I think she's doing everything perfectly!  It's how she relates to me.  And, before we were as close as we are now, I recognized this about her.  When I faced a challenging struggle that was seemingly overwhelming, I confided in this friend.  She encouraged me!  By that time, I knew well enough that she was a friend who didn't consider herself stronger or better than another because she never shared her struggles.  She lives her life with integrity but is unafraid to be relate to another person. 

Not too long ago, I saw a few comments made on a social website by an old high school friend of mine.  She and I have corresponded via email several times in which we've shared about our families, our children, our values and beliefs.  The few comments I saw were in relation to some very difficult struggles with one of her youngsters.  I sent an encouraging word but it wasn't enough.  The more I thought about her and prayed for her that day, the more I thought about some of my own past experiences with my young children.  I felt so impressed to write her a much longer, more detailed letter of encouragement.  I took the time to detail to her the events, my interactions, how I felt afterward, and what I've since learned.  I knew, while writing, that the most important message I wanted her to read was about how I felt.  Sometimes we go through experiences that seem so discouraging and insurmountable.  It's amazing what can happen when we are open and honest about that with another person facing something similar.  It closes the gap!  She wrote me a return letter with a heartfelt "thank you" saying that God must have known she needed that encouragement--and how deeply she appreciated it.  So glad I took the time!  So glad I chose to show my scars to someone!

Opportunities are all around us to close the gap.  How wonderful it is when we realize that we are not alone in our struggles.  Much easier to share the victories.  Much easier to always smile and pass the moments in small-talk.  But there is little purpose here.  There's a huge gap between myself and another person when I don't take a moment to listen--to really hear her heart--and share in her life.  It's fairly easy to find others to celebrate with us.  But, at the heart of the matter, who is there to get in the trenches with you?  Who are you helping out of the trenches?  You are not succumbing to negativism because you relate to another person--because you share your struggles.  You are showing another (and reminding yourself) that you are human!  You are learning, struggling, conquering, failing, overcoming, slipping, and growing.  There is a balance!  We don't do anyone a favor when we act as if we have it all together!  No one is helped by this.  When I started this blog, the one goal that was so important to me was:  to be honest, vulnerable, and transparent.  Do I want to encourage?  Absolutely!  Do I attempt to be positive and uplifting?  Absolutely!  But, I refuse to believe I can help anyone in this world without revealing the humanness of my journey as well.  We all have a story to tell!  We each have a way we can relate.  We all have the ability to listen, to truly hear the heart of a friend.  As parents, we want to do that for our children as well.  Let's be love with skin on.  Let's show some empathy!  Let's use genuine openness to close the gap!

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