To My Sons on Loneliness and Friendliness
The thing I want more than anything else for my boys is that they experience life as God meant each of them to experience it -- which means many things, but the center to it is found in relationship, I believe. Since at 22, 21, 7, and 5, none of them are going to hear what I would say to them right now, I decided to post it here and keep it for them for when they might "have ears to hear".
Michael, Joshua, Noah, and Brooks (and Tyler and Cody, too!):
We are each so different in how we approach life and in how we approach people. I think I've done a good job teaching Noah that loving the people around us is central to really being who we were each created to be, and even at 7 he does a great job at that. For the rest of us, I think we have a lot to learn in it!
(Mike, you're like me: so analytical that others can't relate to all that we go through in trying to figure it all out and put it all together. The people God gives each of us who are patient enough and loving enough to be willing to be sounding boards for each of us in that process are treasures, and I hope you become as careful about protecting and nurturing and not over-taxing those relationships as I am becoming. We do need a place to sift through it all verbally! So the rest of what I am saying in this note is not about that, okay? It is an "add these things to your array of friends and mentors who get you and love you.")
Loving Jesus and loving yourselves means loving the people around us. Whatever tasks and projects and careers we are given are secondary to the people that pass through our lives, both in the value God puts upon our efforts and in the lasting rewards we will experience -- "right-here-right-now" and into "forever-and-ever". People are not tools for the rest of it, or an audience for the rest of it. The rest of it is valuable only in as much as it serves to nurture God's purposes in the people around us and in our relationships with them.
We only get a little leeway in "choosing our relationships". The idea of "setting boundaries" and only letting "safe people" in our lives -- or of hand-picking our friends for the perceived usefulness and satisfaction they bring -- is not from God, but from the culture around us. God brings those along with whom we enter into deep friendship based on our emotions at the start, and we get to enjoy those friendships when they show up . . . but He also brings along a myriad of those that we find unattractive or uncompelling, and they are just as much in our lives by His purpose to accomplish what He wants in us, in them, and in those around us.
Determine to learn to meet the emotional and practical needs of each person God brings in front of you as a ministry empowered by His Spirit to accomplish His purposes. Learn the skills to do that by trying and failing and learning and trying and succeeding in the process He takes you through with each.. If that is your central purpose, you will not only be useful to Him, you will have your own emotional needs met.
Your own emotional needs may not be met by the people you love. They will be met by God, through your relationship with Him in all Three Persons, and they will be met by the people He chooses to use to meet them. When you feel a lack there -- you are lonely in general or lonely in a particular area -- cry out to Him. He answers. I promise this from my own personal experience and from scripture and from the accounts of others, and feel huge confidence that if you test this you will find it to be true.
You will have many times when you are lonely for a particular person. You will be lonely for one who has passed through the grave to a place where they are present with Jesus and awaiting their resurrected bodies. You will be lonely for one that you love but who does not love you enough to engage in active relationship as you would desire. You will be lonely for friends who move or have life-changes that move them out of your life. You will be lonely for other friends who change and are no longer the friend you once had. That loneliness is unquenchable by any other person, but it is not unquenchable where God is concerned.
God loves each of us like that! When any of us moves away from Him, none of the rest of us can satisfy God's longing for the one who is missing! And so, when we turn to Him in those times of agony, He is there with full understanding.
He does not remove the longing for the one we miss. He does eclipse it, though. In turning to Him in our most vulnerable moments -- in all of the moments of life where we are most alive because we are feeling strong emotion -- we experience that connection and empathy and understanding that fulfills our deepest need for intimacy, and we are drawn to where we can begin to fulfill His desire for intimacy.
Real relationship happens over time and in the midst of the mess of real life. May you become men who are capable of the deepest intimacy, so that you experience all of life as you were created to experience it.
I love each of you deeply, and am grateful for all each of you teach me as you continue with me as you each do. Thank you for your love! It has been one of the richest places from which God has drawn to satisfy the deepest parts of me. What a mystery that His love is seen not only in the care of a mother for her child but just as strongly in the love of a small child for his mother!
Now back to the rushing around that your mother seems to live in despite the places you each urge me toward peace and organization . . .