Sometimes we fail to say things to our children when we are thinking of them. Sometimes, it is because we don’t have the courage. Other times it is because we don’t have the time or the opportunity. Or, sometimes, we don’t know how they will respond. I thought I would occasionally post letters to my children to inspire others to share their hearts with their children, too. This first letter is to my son who is now 21 years old and who, last night, had to make a difficult choice to sacrifice a friendship he has had since first grade in order to try to save that friend’s life.
My Dear Son,
You have grown into a young man—one any mother would be proud of. You know the meaning of friendship—of true friendship. The Greek call this philia –fondness, appreciation, and loyalty to those you hold in community.
Your passion for life and those you care about drive every part of you. I admire it and at the same time I see it as a cross you bear. Your friendships have been characterized by loyalty, availability, honesty, trust, listening, nurturing, and a sense of finding a kindred spirit. But they also have been characterized by conflict, sacrifice, forgiveness, grief, and disappointment.
The depth of your friendships, the love you have for others in your life also means that you have had—and will continue to have—a sense of responsibility for those you care about. I know that you have had to choose, on occasion, doing what is right over the relationship. It has meant not just calling out your friends but also standing beside them when they desperately needed a friend they could count on. It has meant seeking help from family and friends to save the life of a friend. It has meant agonizing over the choice and ultimately choosing love and life, knowing that someday your friend might turn back to you, and may even thank you—hoping that you will have restoration.
It has also meant grieving deeply at the loss of some of your closest friends—whether the loss was because of death, or distance, or doing what was right. I have grieved for you, as I can’t imagine at your age having endured the loss that you have already endured. I know you have sought to understand loss and that, in many respects, it has eluded you. But I know that you have faith that someday you will heal, even if small scars remain. That somehow loss and grief will shape you in a way that will remind you that loving others was worth the pain of loss.
So I pray that you will continue to love deeply and value friendship above other things, for it is part of the fabric of who you are. It has been imprinted on your soul as long as I can remember. And, while it has been a burden at times, it has shaped you into a man of integrity and given you great joy. The way that you love others in community beautifully reflects Christ.
As C.S. Lewis wrote, “Friendship is not a reward for our discrimination and good taste in finding one another out. It is the instrument through which God reveals to each the beauties of a thousand other men; by Friendship God opens our eyes to them.”
With love always,
When our daughter was a toddler, she loved to be carried. She would reach her arms up to me with her big blue eyes and say, “Up, up.” And, so, up it was. Perched on my right hip, arms wrapped around my neck.
Most of the time I loved holding her. Having her close. Giving her comfort. Feeling the gentle hugs she gave freely. I especially appreciated having her close because as a very young child she had been so sick we thought we might lose her.
But, sometimes, holding her wasn’t always convenient. At the store or doctor’s office, it meant learning to hold her with one arm while digging through my purse for cash or a credit card. Or filling out forms with one hand and trying to hold the form still while my cuddly two-and-a -half-year-old squirmed to get comfortable. I gained new skills–including patience–during those times.
But she taught me more than patience.
Our sweet girl would remind me of her presence, too — as if I was unaware that I had a 23 pound child on my hip. When I was in the midst of a conversation or trying to check out at the grocery store, she would gently grab my face with both of her hands and turn my head toward her so that we were face to face–looking straight into each other’s eyes.
It was her way of telling me she needed my full attention. Face to face. Looking directly at each other. She learned early that being present–giving someone your full attention–requires something more than just physical presence. It means turning your undivided attention to them. Eyes. Ears. Heart.
If I didn’t look her way during those times, the tears would flow–she wasn’t afraid to show me how she felt about the attention she needed. She let me know that, at that moment, she needed to be the focus of my attention–the most important person or thing in my life now! She needed me to show her that she mattered more than the groceries or the girl at the checkout stand or the form the doctor needed me to complete.
My daughter taught me about being present–of showing others that they matter. She reminded me that I, too, long to matter in the eyes of others. That I long for loving, messy, drop-everything-now relationships. She reminded me to off the tv, the laptop, and the cellphone–and turn my attention to those I love. Those who, like me, long for relationships that say, “you matter to me.” To give others the attention I long for, too.
It can be efficient to multi-task. We can work and watch tv. Talk on the phone and shop. Have a conversation and check our text messages. Carry our small child around while we accomplish our daily tasks.
While sometimes mult-tasking is necessary, it doesn’t breed strong relationships. To be present–fully present–so that we can nurture the relationships in our lives, requires us to turn our eyes and ears and hearts toward others. Like my daughter’s hands turning my face towards hers, we need to turn our hearts towards others and live fully in the moment. To have relationships that enrich our lives and the lives of those around us.
And so, when I feel the urge to check my cell phone or turn on my laptop while spending time with family and friends, I think of my sweet girl. I remember those tiny hands pressed gently against my cheeks and I remember those big blue eyes staring me down–inches from my face. And I smile. I tuck my cell phone into my pocket or close the lid of my laptop. And, I turn my heart and eyes and ears to the relationship at hand.
Being present everyday, not just this Christmas. That’s what Christ asks of us.
How will you live fully — how will you be present in the lives of others today?
Have you ever noticed that you have an immediate bond with someone who you have walked through a major life event with? A real and powerful connection.
The recent experience of an acquaintance reminded me. She arrived in Chile a few days before the earthquake hit last week. She arrived, looking forward to a six month stay as a Fulbright scholar at a local university.
And then the quake hit, along with the aftershocks and crumbling of homes and lives. As she reports in her blog, she is safe. But the message that comes across as she reports is one of connection with the people of Chile and one of community. They stand on common ground, having lived through the experience together. They hold a common understanding of the fear, loss, confusion, and hope arising from the events. While the images of the overwhelming events may stick with her forever, she knows she has a community of others who understand.
I imagine, had she arrived a few days after the quake, she would not experience that immediate connection.
The connections, arising from the routine–the ordinary experiences of life–require trust. Trust takes time. We build relationships. Develop friendships. So, we slowly and ever so cautiously open ourselves up to others.
But we need those powerful connections. So, don’t be afraid to open yourself up to others. Be yourself. Take a chance.
My acquaintance in Chile opened herself up to the possibilities when she decided to go to Chile. She took a chance and the unexpected happened.
But sometimes, the unexpected is just what we need.