OK, everybody. Here’s a short quiz, fill in the blank style. "_________ makes the heart grow fonder." Anybody got it? Yes, you there in the nasty looking shirt. You know, they're having a sale downtown this weekend … Your answer is? Very good. "ABSENCE." "Absence makes the heart grow fonder." A very old cliché we’ve known since we were wee lads and lasses. Actually, there are two versions of that quote. The second has the same meaning using a different word, "DISTANCE makes the heart grow fonder."
I suppose there is some truth to the saying, but for the most part it is baloney. When we are first separated from a loved one the pain of being apart makes it feel like our love for them is stronger. But as time goes on, the absence of interaction causes our love to lessen. If the time is protracted enough, we actually grow apart because relationship requires interaction and shared experiences. When we return to each other time is required to reestablish the relationship. In many cases, the REAL truth is the "Distance make the heart go wander!!"
Well, you did so well on that last quiz, let’s try another. Same format. "Parting is such ________ __________." Who has the fastest finger? You, ma'am, over there with the cranberry juice. YES! "Parting is such SWEET SORROW." Does anybody really believe that? I HATE parting from people I genuinely care about. It hurts way too much. Maybe the author of that particular quote was talking about people he didn’t like… In that case, maybe it is true, but I don’t think that was the point. Parting means leaving, which means separation, which means distance. I’m not sure there is any sweetness at all in that.
There is an even more harmful kind of distance than physical separation. That is emotional distance.
I was talking to my good friend, Jim Harvey, some time ago. (Everybody say, "HI, Jim"). I was having trouble with an important relationship at the time of his call. He listened and then made a profound statement that has been powerful in all my relationships since. Are you ready for it? "Distance is never good in relationships." Allow that to sink in. Apply it to the many relationships in your life. Emotional distancing from another person we care about is never good. Physical separation, as in "Fighters, please go to your corners," so we can cool off can be good for a very short time. But emotional distance that comes from anger or hurt is never good. It only causes the problems to get bigger, not smaller.
I remember sitting in Mr. Augbaugh’s ninth grade sociology class at Northwestern High School when we learned the two responses to danger or conflict. Anyone remember? "Flight or Fight" said Mr. A. We can stay and fight or we can run away. In relationships, lots of people physically run away thinking that will solve the problem. It doesn’t. That only removes the problem from immediate view. It is still there. Even if we never see that particular person again, the same problem will emerge in another relationship. We can emotionally remove ourselves in relationships as well. Sometimes it is the "silent treatment." Other times it is pretending there is no problem, effectively wearing a mask and living superficially. Flight doesn’t work. Trust me.
Fighting can be a problem as well. Physical violence is a devastating problem in our culture. But so is emotional violence. The latter can leave deep, unhealed scars in our lives after other wounds are healed. Fighting can involve blaming, sarcasm, insults, force, punishing, withdrawal of affection or approval, and other kinds of hurt. That kind of fighting doesn’t work. Trust me.
So what is the proper response when distance threatens a relationship? A different kind of fighting. Not fighting WITH the other person, but fighting FOR the relationship. Choosing to care, love, help, fulfill responsibility, and do what is best for the other person no matter how they act. Instead of following our feelings, it is an act of the will in spite of our feelings. Even when that other person does not respond the way we would like and wants to keep the distance. That kind of fighting does work. It is painful, but worth it. It is hard, but pays off. Trust me.
I’ve discovered three things that pave the way to do so. The first is commitment to the relationship -- the resolve to stick with it NO MATTER WHAT. The second is communication -- the resolve to keep talking until the distance is closed. The third is Christ – a personal, powerful relationship with the One who gives us the example, the instructions, the power and the fortitude to make the relationships work.
Everything in life that is worthwhile involves relationships. Distance will threaten every single one of them if they progress to any depth at all. Bridging the distance will strengthen the relationship in the long run and prepare it to blossom in even more difficult times.
OK, one more quiz. Ready? Fill in the blank. "Nobody ever said on their deathbed, I wish I’d spent more time at the __________." Got it. OK, Jim, I’ll let you answer this one. "THE OFFICE." That’s right. People who know they are going to die always talk about relationships. Sometimes in regret, sometimes in appreciation. Now is the time to close the gap, to bridge any chasms of distance. So go do it. Today.
Give your spouse a huge hug and say, " I'm committed to you, I love you and always will."
Go to that teenager that grinds your soul and reassure him/her of your constant and unconditional love.
Patch things up with that relative that lives in another state.
Reach out to the coworker that you have conveniently been avoiding.
Grab your toddlers, hold them tight and don't let them go until you say "I love you" ten times.
YOU take the initiative to reach out to the people in your life, remove the distance, let them know how important they are, and spend time with them.
""In your anger do not sin" : Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold." Ephesians 4:26-27 (NIV)
"The entire law is summed up in a single command: "Love your neighbor as yourself."" Galatians 5:14 (NIV)
""If a brother sins against you, go to him privately and confront him with his fault. If he listens and confesses it, you have won back a brother." Matthew 18:15 (TLB)