Space to Breathe--Room to Grow!
--The Hows & Whys of Loving Relationships
--By Jill Briscoe & her daughter Judy Golz
Love Is a Choice
Some time ago, as we began to share a ministry together, my daughter Judy & I found the most meaningful & helpful material we could teach, had to do with relationships &, specifically, with the examples we gleaned together from the fertile fields of the Book of Ruth. Planted in the Old Testament, this historical account gives us, among other things, examples of many & varied relationships that lend themselves well to personal application.
The dictionary says a relationship is two objects that are in relation to each other. That's a bit obvious, isn't it? This is better--"a sense of belonging."
As stars to sky in close relation
So train is to a railway station.
As leaf to tree & note to song
So things to other things belong.
Inanimate without affections
Nature makes its own connections.
But human beings have a choice, to choose to love--to raise their voice & say,
"I really want to know
The way you think
Before you go & live
Your life in other spheres.
Let's share some laughter
And some tears--see--
Here's my heart, I'll let you in,
'Twill be enlarged when you have been
A part of all its eagerness
To give another...happiness!"
Friendship grows slowly. Deciding to be a friend is a daily decision for the disciple of Jesus Christ. When two people are believers, they have the most important thing in common--their faith. Faith is the fertile soil--the common ground that the plant of true friendship can thrive in.
But before you can grow friendship out of the common ground of faith, you have to be determined to do everything in your power to make it happen.
And then there's the sheer energy that growing a close relationship takes out of you. Initiating friendship takes an awful lot of effort. You have to be sure you want that level of involvement.
Growing real friendships will cost. It will mean going the extra mile, doing the things that could be considered unnecessary, thinking up ways of enlarging the space around you on a daily basis so someone can step inside the circle of your world & feel welcome there.
Mother: For me, growing a friendship with you meant deciding to let you interfere with my duties--my schedule, my responsibilities. I decided to be your friend when I was very big & you were very small. I needed to be reminded of that choice constantly. There were so many things to do when you kids were little, & you can't just stop the doing to be a friend. It meant involvement.
Daughter: What do you mean?
Mother: Well, I couldn't just say "blow off the baking, we'll play for an hour," or "I'll let the kids wear dirty clothes this week. It's much more important to read them stories." What I did was to share the daily doing with you as my friend.
Daughter: It works both ways, don't you think? I mean, growing our friendship didn't involve much of a choice for me when I was very small, but it was different when I was a teenager. Then it was my turn to make a choice to be your friend! I had to decide to let you interfere with my schedule for a change.
Daughter: For example, there was the question of shopping. I only wanted you to come if you walked a step behind me. I suppose I was at an age where it wasn't "right" to be seen walking down the mall with your mother.
After a while we began to go shopping whenever we could, especially when you were buying! Not only did we walk next to each other, but also we'd be laughing & giggling & having a great time. Because we chose to do things together, we became best friends!
Love is a Commitment
Choosing is just the start. When we choose to be a friend, the hard work begins. There has to be a whole-hearted commitment of energy & time. Each party has to know the other is totally committed to the process of building on the promises that have been made. Think of the marriage commitment. Marriage has a hard time surviving if one party is forever wondering if the other party really meant what they said when the original commitment was made.
A relationship, marriage or otherwise, has to involve an understanding of commitment. How can you ever enjoy another person if you're scared of losing him or her? You'd always have to perform to please. You could never be yourself.
I see Ruth & Naomi choosing to have a deep relationship that involved total commitment, a "that's that" promise. Look at the language:
"Entreat me not to leave you, or to turn back from following after you; for wherever you go, I will go; And wherever you lodge, I will lodge; Your people shall be my people, & your God, my God. Where you die, I will die, And there will I be buried. The Lord do so to me, & more also, if anything but death parts you & me." (Ruth 1:16-17)
Ruth promised Naomi, in effect, that their relationship would be "for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness or in health, till death us do part."
And that's a mouthful! When two people stand in front of the preacher on their wedding day, they are not thinking "for worse, for poorer, in sickness," or about death! And who can blame them? They are thinking "for better, for richer, & in health." But if a lifetime commitment has not been made, the marriage will rock when the storms of life come--& they will come! You can't have a World full of sunshine.
This whole idea of commitment reminds me of one of my favourite missionaries, C.T. Studd. He was an illustrious Cambridge college athlete, wealthy beyond measure. He grew up on his father's English estate & was destined to live a life of fame & fortune. So it came as a great shock to many when word spread that he had been converted through D.L. Moody. He sold his horses & began to follow Christ. Six years later, he was considered England's greatest cricketer, & with the World at his feet he shocked the country when he gave it all up to serve God in China! He married Priscilla, gave away his inheritance--more than half a million dollars--& began an incredible ministry. "For five years," he wrote, "we never went outside our doors without a volley of curses from our neighbours," but they persisted. After all, they had promised each other for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer.
He was the man who read a sign on a door that said, "Cannibals want missionaries" & went to Africa without his wife. His wife, Priscilla, was suffering from a debilitating heart condition at the time. He was ill, too, & without financial support, but he went anyway. When he returned home three years later, his only furlough in the last eighteen years of his life, he found his wife recovered & running the home office, which she continued to do until her death thirteen years later. Talk about in sickness & in health, till death us do part!
Jesus had seventy friends, twelve good ones, & an inner circle of three. I guess that's a good pattern. I think the Lord expects us to work very hard with the twelve & be as loyal as time allows with the seventy. Think of it. Jesus intended us to be very serious about those who are close to us. He said, "Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one's life for his friends" (Jn.15:13). Now, that's commitment--not discarding people when they've served your purposes, but being willing to lay down your very life for them.
Love is Forgiveness
One of the hardest things to face up to is failure--to be expected to show great faith & blow it, & then have to crawl back & admit it. I remember a spell in the hospital when I was terrified of the anesthetic. I felt so ashamed when the nurses noticed my panic. It was awful to have to come back from surgery to the same faces after I had wanted to be such an example. I had to learn to tell people I'd failed & say, "I'm not perfect. I get scared just like you!"
We should ask for forgiveness because we're told to--not because we want to--& we must do it because loving Jesus means being obedient. Paul said "...even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do" (Col.3:13).
Jesus didn't charge us for forgiveness. How could we ever repay Him for forgiving us? What currency would we use? Once Daddy & I were working with street gangs in Europe, & a few of the wildest youngsters asked us if we would take them to church. We complied with some trepidation, realising the visit would be a first for most of them.
When the time came for the collection plate to be passed along the row, the lads couldn't believe their good fortune. Here was a plateful of money being invitingly passed under their very noses! They did the obvious thing & helped themselves. By the time the plate reached the hands of the horrified ushers, it was clean! After the service, I returned as much of the offering as I could, explaining that the idea was to give our money to God. "Wot does 'e need it for?" inquired an astonished teenager, not irreverently. "Didn't you tell us forgiveness was free?" I'll never forget that experience, for more reasons than the obvious one!
I think some church-goers today think they are somehow paying their passage to Heaven by way of the collection plate. Or by their church attendance or good deeds. The lads off the street certainly had the right idea. God gives. All we paupers can do is to take thankfully. God's forgiveness is free! What's more, He forgave fully. He didn't say, "I forgive you everything except this or that."
I think only Christ can help us to forgive & forget the terrible things that happen. Corrie ten Boom, who spent time in a concentration camp, tells a story about forgiving a prison guard.
One evening, at the conclusion of one of her meetings, a man walked up to her & thanked her for the message she had given. He went on to express his gratitude to God for forgiving his sins. Then he held out his hand to Corrie. She couldn't move. She recognised him as one of the S.S. men who had stood guard at the shower-room door at Ravenbruck. She could still vividly remember the guards' laughs & sneers as she & the prisoners walked past them naked. She knew that she needed to forgive him, but she couldn't. Finally, she prayed that Jesus would give her His forgiveness for the man. All of a sudden, Corrie was able to shake hands with him. She learned that we have to ask Jesus for His forgiveness to forgive our friends & enemies, & He will give it to us.
It's great therapy to face the root cause of bitterness & deal with it actively. Otherwise that bitter root invades everything. It infects our minds & souls. It doesn't do us any good at all.
Bitterness is like the plague. I read about a family who lived in London during the great plague. The death carts came around the streets every morning to collect the corpses. One family fled to a town at the other end of the country to escape the carnage. They didn't know the plague was in their clothing. They died, & so did thousands of other innocent people who caught the disease from them.
People try to get over their bitterness by moving out of town, changing their jobs, or trying to get away from an offending relative. But bitterness has no problem keeping pace with our fleeing feet. It must be faced, repented of, & renounced, or we will end up infecting others.
Mother: When we reached the age where we all had everything we needed, Christmas & birthdays became a hassle because we couldn't figure out what to give each other. Then you had a great idea. You decided we should start to give time, not things. All of our relationships grew to a new depth because we began to spend quality time together.
Mother: I don't think I'd know about everyone's struggles, defeats, & victories if it wasn't for that intimate time. I think the reason we all feel free to share is because we have now had practice at it. Mealtime has been listening & talk time for years now. I have given us a lunch together for your birthday, Daddy a pancake breakfast for Father's Day, & Pete (my son) a "dinner date" for Christmas. What wonderful opportunities to concentrate on getting to know one member of the family better!
Mother: I think the best example we could give was what you did for our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary.
Daughter: When the boys came & asked me what we should do for you & Daddy, we had a big problem thinking of something. We knew you didn't want a party, seeing you are both peopled out most of the time. Anyway, we didn't know who to ask & who to leave out without offending someone.
Mother: So you came up with the neat idea of giving us two days in a nice hotel so we could get away & be alone!
Daughter: After we'd made all the plans, it looked so exciting that I said to the boys, "Why should they have all the fun? Why don't we all go along?"
Mother: And you did. And we loved it! All seven of us piled into that room together celebrating twenty-five years of marriage & family.
Mother: I think we parents need to do more to remind our children to do such things for each other. I know I have constantly told one or another of you kids that a birthday card, a packet of home-made cookies, or a telephone chat would be appreciated.
Mother: We should all help each other to remember to tell our love in some creative or concrete way. I know I've been helped when someone has reminded me about a birthday or anniversary that has slipped my mind. I heard about a mother who provided calendars at Christmastime for all of her family. She put everybody's birthday, graduation, & anniversary dates on it. For an hour's worth of work, it saved an awful lot of hurt feelings!
Love Lets Go
Many parents don't know how to relinquish their kids, so they end up destroying the very thing they're trying to keep.
When a baby robin reaches a certain age, its mother pushes it out of the nest. I can imagine the baby bird feeling very bad about that & the mother feeling even worse--but it has to be done. Letting go, or insisting that the dependent one lets go, begins very early in life! The process begins the day the little one is born. As Princess Grace of Monaco once observed, "With the first pangs of birth, one begins to say farewell to one's child. For no sooner has it entered the World than others begin to demand their share. With the baby at one's breast, one keeps the warmth of possession a little longer!" One is reminded again as soon as the child is old enough to go to school.
If parents know they have to let go, why is it always so hard? A mother finds it difficult for many reasons. If only she can believe she's doing the best possible thing for her child, she will find it easier. Fear was the biggest problem for me.
It is a rather frightening World to bring children into, you know: Every 30 minutes, 29 young people will attempt suicide: 3 will succeed; 57 young people will run away from home; 15 girls will give birth to illegitimate babies; 22 girls will receive an abortion to end an unwanted pregnancy; 685 teenagers will take some form of narcotics, all of them regular users; 188 young people will have another experience with a serious drinking problem; 285 children will become victims of broken homes; & 288 children will be beaten, molested, or otherwise abused by their parents. In fact, since we began writing this chapter, 15,680 young people have met serious trouble.
Whenever I think of this whole process I remember Hannah. She couldn't have children, so she went to the temple & made a vow to the Lord. If God would give her a son, then she would lend this child to Him. God answered her prayer & Hannah had a son called Samuel. She kept him for about three years & then took him to the temple to keep her word.
In a sense, all parents should act like Hannah. All our children are gifts from God. We need to give our kids back to the Lord so that they can learn to serve Him & fulfill His purposes for their lives.
A small boy with an inquiring mind asked his father some questions. "How far is it to the sun, Daddy?" "I don't know, son," replied his father. "How many people are there in the World?" "I've no idea," replied Dad. "How do helicopters stay up when the wind drops?" was the next query. "I don't know," answered the older man. "I hope you don't mind me asking you all these questions, Daddy," the little boy said uncertainly. At this, the father smiled indulgently & said, "Of course not, son. How are you going to learn if you don't ask questions!"
It's no good questioning Daddy unless he learns how to respond. Good communication involves more than just saying "I don't know!" Of course, the father was communicating something. He was telling his child he knew nothing! This can only frustrate a relationship.
When we come to the subject of relating to one another, we have to give each other a part of ourselves.
Mother: We need to impart the fact that we trust each other. Do you remember that famous time when I was worrying about your beginning to date & yet we weren't talking about it?
Daughter: How could I forget! I couldn't understand why you glared at my boyfriends every time I brought them home!
Mother: It wasn't that I didn't trust you. I didn't trust them.
Daughter: How was I to know that? You didn't tell me. All I received from you was very strong nonverbal communication. You didn't say anything.
Mother: I'm so glad you took the initiative, or we could have had a cold war. You took me by the hand & marched me into the bedroom, saying firmly, "Mother, I think you & I should have a talk!"
Daughter: I asked you why you didn't trust me.
Mother: And I replied that I did, but I didn't trust your friends! I remember that hurt you because your friends were very special to you & it sounded as though I didn't think very much of them.
Daughter: I know now that it was because you didn't know them very well.
Mother: At least we got it out in the open. I was able to let you see I was frightened, & you were able to let me see you were choosing right. You also told me I had to let you make mistakes.
Daughter: But you said you couldn't afford for me to make any!
Mother: Now I realise how silly that was. All of us make mistakes. The problem is that boy/girl mistakes, in this day & age, have such drastic repercussions.
Daughter: I knew that! We prayed together that all my mistakes would be small ones.
Mother: My problem was I didn't trust your judgments without experience.
Daughter: The parents' dilemma is knowing when the child is mature enough to handle it. When Daddy is talking to parents about this, he uses an excellent illustration. He says being a parent is like being a trampoline. The kid is jumping up & down on the parent, trying to get into orbit, & the parent has to know how tight to keep his trampoline. If it's too tight the child will hit her head on the ceiling, & if it's too loose, she'll break her back on the floor! Then you have the added problem of other kids bouncing up & down at the same time! They all need a different tension.
Daughter: It's a wonderful thing to be able to tell those who are close to us that we love them. When I was a young teenager, I found it difficult to express how much you & Daddy meant to me. So I discovered another way to communicate that very important message. I found cute cards & added my own thoughts & feelings as best I could. Pretty soon, you started writing me little notes, too. I love the way that method of sharing has become a happy habit.
Mother: If you can't say it with flair, say it with flowers! You have to start somewhere. If you don't say it, people tend to go & find someone else who will. How many times I have listened to a husband or wife who says sadly, "If only I had learned to express my love, we'd still be together today."
I'll never forget being in Africa & visiting a school for missionary children. They were such super kids. Most of them, however, were far away from their parents. I had lots of neat little talks I had prepared for them, but I found myself leaving them in my file. They needed my ear, not my mouth!
One beautiful young lady about seventeen years of age was trying to make some pretty important decisions about college. Should she go to the United States or Europe? Could she find a job? What would it all mean to her family? There was no way she could contact her dad & mom as they were translating the Scriptures in the jungle. Renee was lonely. What a joy it was to lend her my heart & my ears! When I left, she slipped me a little note. It said, "Because you listened to me I learned a lesson. You didn't know me--what I'm really like--but you sympathised & loved me as if you had known me for all of my seventeen years. Thank you for not lecturing, but listening!"
Daughter: When I was young, I didn't want to tell you anything in case I got a lecture!
Mother: It's difficult not to come on with a ton of moral platitudes when a child makes a provocative statement.
Mother: I had to discover that listening doesn't always demand a response. We don't always have to say something! I tried to count to fifty before I answered you. Do you recollect when you were just bursting into your teens & you told me all your friends were dating & a certain boy asked you out? I knew the certain boy was not a Christian & I had met your friends. I panicked. "You can't date," I said, "until you're 15." I reckoned that gave me two-&-a-half years' respite. "Well then," you retorted, "when I'm fifteen, I'll choose who I date--Christian or non-Christian--when I date, & how much I date." I opened my mouth to begin lecture number one, entitled "Christians Don't Date Non-Christians." The sermon had three points & a conclusion. For once I heard & heeded that inner voice checking me. "Not now," it said firmly. Somehow I put the lecture back on the shelf of my mind. It was neither the time nor the place for it. I didn't always manage to do that, did I?
Daughter: No, but by the time I was fifteen, I was a lot more willing to listen! If people know they'll get a lecture every time they come near you, they won't come around very often.
Mother: But on the other hand there are times when a lecture is necessary.
Daughter: I love this little poem you sent me:
I had a sympathetic ear
to other people's woes.
However dull it is to hear their real
--or fancied throes.
I pay to every gloomy line
Because I plan to start on "mine"
the moment they are finished!
Mother: I love it too, but it hurts! And yet it's true--our motives for listening are sometimes just that selfish. Self-centered individuals are not good listeners.
Daughter: Sometimes when I've talked to my friends, they haven't looked like they were listening to me. After finishing, I'd ask them if they even heard a word I said. They'd adamantly reply that of course they had caught everything, but I was skeptical. It is so important to look as though you're listening, otherwise people might think you don't care. Many studies have shown that when the talker receives two contradictory messages from the listener, he tends to believe the nonverbal one first. It's important to make sure our outward appearance says, "I am listening to you."
Love listens because love wants to show it cares. There's a beautiful little picture in Exodus 21 that illustrates exactly what we have been talking about. Slaves that loved their masters & did not want to leave them were told to let the fact be known. The master would then take the slave to a post in the market place & pierce his ear with an awl. Everyone who saw the mark would know he was a man who had said, "I love my master--I will not go out free" (see Ex.21:5).
He had pierced ears! I must admit I think of the story when I put my earrings in! It reminds me that the World that is looking for a listening ear will quickly recognise mine. I hope they recognise yours, too. God bless you with listening ears & a loving heart!