I am back home after spending 16 grueling days moving my mom, who has Alzheimer’s, to a senior living facility. (See last week’s post) I return with a deeper longing to connect with those I love, both at home and at school. God is using the experiences with my mom in the past two weeks to remove fog from the eyes of my heart. The importance of nurturing loving connections with others first and foremost has become one of my heart’s longings.
Back at school on Wednesday, I longed to just spend time with others.
My heart was full of gratitude for the loving community I am privileged to be a part of. At the close of the day, I watched my grandson Joey as he walked toward the pickup line. I waited for him to give me his usual warm greeting but instead I saw a downcast, forlorn face. Clearly he was struggling.
“What’s wrong, Joey?” I asked him.
“Nothing,” he said giving me no eye contact and crossing his arm tightly over his chest. He was obviously upset and I was not invited into his pain. Nor had his wonderful and caring teacher been allowed in, although she had clearly tried to break through to him. All day.
I know Joey pretty well. When upset or sad, he tends to act up outwardly. As an 8-year-old boy, he struggles to understand his negative emotions, other than they make him feel bad. That can quickly turn to mad. Even bad. Behaving poorly, his inner turmoil only intensifies and so the cycle goes.
I wondered what he had done at school that day and was tempted to grill him. I sensed God telling me however to gently press him to open up instead – to connect with me at a heart level. Initially my efforts produced more of the same but finally, he broke down and with tears streaming down his face expressed what was causing his heart such pain. His Grandpa had suffered a stroke last week. Now his dad had flown to see him. He was worried about his grandpa and very sad that his dad had left that morning. And he felt like crying.
But boys don’t cry. Right?
So all day in class, he held in tears and put his energies into not breaking down.
His precious teacher tried to break through his walls. She had noticed his half-heartedness all day. But Joey did not want his teacher to think he was weak. “What if she doesn’t like me if I cry in class?” “What if my friends make fun of me? ” “Something must be wrong with me to feel this way.”
The moment he was able to share the source of the sadness he was feeling, and his worries over crying, his countenance lifted and his normal vibrancy returned.
It’s so easy to get it wrong…..
…..to see our most important roles as parents as discipline and correction. Undoubtedly children need consistent discipline and they need guidance and training. But without an authentic heart-to- heart connection, a safe, loving, understanding line of communication, much of what we say goes unheeded. A hurt heart puts up walls. A disconnected heart withdraws. What we communicate to our kids must be run through a connection that runs from our hearts to theirs. Otherwise it largely remains undeliverable.
We all, kids and adults alike, crave safe, loving connections with others- people who will choose to love us when we are down and out. When we are weary and feeling out of control. When we are wrong. When we fail. When we feel sad. We want to feel understood, respected and loved. All too often, we resort to behaviors that do just the opposite though. We criticize, argue, blame and defend. We withdraw. We disconnect. And we wind up in an emotional whirlwind that pushes our hearts away from each other. These negative efforts keep us in a state of emotional disconnection. And disconnected hearts lead to loneliness and disappointment.
The moment Joey shared his hurt with me, his face lit up again and ten minutes later, he was ready to play with his friends again. Taking the time to work through this with Joey also allowed me the privilege to teach him about emotions and the appropriateness of tears at times like this. Even for boys!
Really, the only true influence I have on Joey – or on anyone comes via my loving connection with them.
That is what my mom needs from me in this scary, final season of her life. It’s what my brother, an autistic disabled 49 year old man, needs as he loses the one person in his life who has loved and supported and care for him his entire life. This is what my family needs from me. As well as my friends. This is what we all need; the love of Christ to flow in and through us and between us to one another. We are to put on compassionate hearts, ones that are kind, patient and forgiving. Out of such hearts we can then gain the privilege to also teach and admonish one another.
Colossians 3:12-17 (ESV)
12 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”