22 July 2016

Building Bridges rather than Walls

About ten years ago, I received very positive audience response to a talk I gave in church, probably because it dealt with situations most people could identify with. I recently ran across a Word document that contains the post I subsequently wrote for this blog containing the substance of that talk.  For some unknown reason, the original post seems to have disappeared. So here it is again:

What are some of the things that prevent us from achieving more harmony in our adult family relationships? Selfishness and pride are often the culprits. But many times, I think it is misunderstandings that promote strife, hurt feelings and alienation. We all have different personalities, and we see things from different perspectives. We can't always find the right words to express our feelings; and sometimes we let the emotion of the moment lead us to say things we don't really mean, and immediately regret. If left unresolved, misunderstandings in the family can foster mounting stress, anger, and resentment, and may prevent us from enjoying the trust and confidence of those we love most.

I’ve heard it said that when faced with difficulties in a relationship, we can choose to build either walls, or bridges. A few years ago I had an experience with one of our adult children which taught me how useful bridge-building can be in uncovering and resolving misunderstandings.

After living abroad for several years, my husband and I moved back to the States. Our daughter C, who had been living on the East coast, but was moving to CA, planned to visit us on her way West. She sent us an email shortly after our arrival, part of which I quote (with her permission):

[Recently] I [have] realized that over the years. . . as I tried to establish my own identity outside of the family, I perhaps have also forgotten a bit of how much I do not only love my family but also LIKE them, despite our differences. And that I don't need to be so quick to assume that I'm being criticized or judged. It's hard sometimes, when you have a lot of history, to just take something at face value instead of reading it through years of filters.
So, I want this trip to really be about getting past a lot of "issues" that perhaps I don't need to cling so tightly to and just enjoy being around my fabulous, smart, funny family. I realize that I may perhaps be a TAD stressed out about my move and new life in [CA], but I'm also excited for it, and excited to see you. So try and bear with me through the tumult of mid-August. In other words, if I become very annoying, please have patience. I probably don't mean to be annoying. :)

This message came when we were in the midst of all the chaos that accompanies an international move. Although we had a laptop computer, I didn't even check our email until several days after C sent us that message. When we read it, David and I were very touched and happy, and we commented to each other how wonderful it was of her to send it, and what a great time we would be having together when she visited us. But I then answered only a subsequent email from her, because it contained what I regarded as urgent questions about what we would be able to do together when she arrived. We then received a follow-up email from C:

Just a question. I didn't get a response from either you or Dad about the letter I sent talking about trying to get past some issues. Did it offend you in some way? It's hard to know with email because people might not write back just because they don't think about it, get busy, don't think they need to respond, etc. Decided maybe it was better to ask rather than just assuming I knew (see, trying to change my knee jerk responses!)

I responded immediately in a positive way, and the misunderstanding that had come to light was quickly resolved. The subsequent time we spent together was a very joyful experience. How grateful we were that C essentially followed the advice Christ gave in Matthew 5:23-24:

"Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the alter, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; leave there thy gift before the alter, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift."

David and I had no idea that our failure to answer C's email had caused her to wonder if it had fallen on either deaf or hostile ears. Had C not sent the follow-up message, she might have incorrectly assumed that we held resentments, and that might have prompted her to raise additional defensive barriers. We would never have given full expression to our mutual feelings of love and appreciation during our reunion, which made that time we spent together such a sweet and fulfilling experience for all three of us.

Even though C suspected that we might "have ought against" her, she was willing to risk possible further rejection by stating her concerns clearly. As it turned out, no offense was intended on either side. It was only a misunderstanding that was quickly resolved as soon as it was uncovered. But it was only uncovered because, when faced with what appeared to be mounting difficulties in her relationship with us, C chose not to build another wall. How grateful we are that she chose instead to build a bridge.

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