6.22.2007

Playing "Marco Polo"

My husband left for another ball tournament yesterday, and so left 4 sons and me and Josh (his stepson) and all his employees "alone" until the beginning of July. Now, Steven is someone who thrives on being "out of pocket" because he needs alone time (as I do also). However, I am someone who also needs to regularly affirm my connections to the important people in my life, while Steven is someone who wishes that those people in his life would just direct their attention elsewhere until there was an actual need to connect. To him, affirming the relationship is not a reason to connect. To me it most definitely is!

But Steven is crucial to the lives of many these days, and so he doesn't get the luxury of running off and leaving his cell phone. He did just that when he got to his hotel yesterday and went for a walk, and was dismayed to return to his room and find many many missed calls and voicemails. His sons expect constant contact, and his employees often need something. So success has its price on his comfort zone!

This is one place that we have relative comfort these days within our marriage, though. I have a whole world of other people I love to play "Marco Polo" with, and he has learned (most of the time) to be attentive enough in calling me that I don't worry that he's in a hospital someplace. (And I know that I'll start getting lots of calls from other people looking for him if he hides his cell phone for too long, so if that's not happening, I can assume he's alive someplace.) I also seem to have relative comfort in this with most of my other friendships, once they're established for a while. It's hard for a friendship to survive many months of discomfort in this area.

A big part of being a parent of a particular child -- or of being a friend to a particular person -- is to learn the rhythm of the "Marco Polo" game they most like to play, and adapt to it. At different times of life my boys grow and change in this, and each of them shows their own personality at a comparison of them at the same ages. They wouldn't like if I typed out my analysis of each of them in that, but toddlers tend to have a very high need to connect in order to have the freedom to "forget mom' and explore, and at some stage of the teen years each will have a very high need to totally disconnect from mom emotionally and only reconnect when they control that pace. (Steven and I were having fun talking about how that has worked with each of our 4 older ones the other day.) And then it seems like they get to a place where they are confident that they can disconnect at will, and they choose to reconnect again and play that higher-frequency "Marco Polo" game again . . . much to their parents' delight!

My friends each have their own rhythm of connection and disconnection, too. I have a couple who connect with me more often than my normal rhythm, and sometimes I just get tired of it and pull back for a while. Each of my real friends accommodates that discomfort on their side, and welcomes me back when I reconnect. Other friends are a bit uncomfortable with the frequency that I seek them out or communicate, and periodically they just "disappear", and I wonder if I lost their friendship. But then they call me back, and all is well. And so time tests out the reality of our connections even when we have different needs or wants in terms of how frequently we'd express them.

The best friendships to me are the ones that flow at the same rhythm on both sides. My "Marco" brings an immediate "Polo" response, and vice versa. Some of those friendships are remarkable in how intuitively that game is played -- especially with my mom and with one of my sons and with one of my women friends. In each of those relationships it is a common thing to go to pick up the phone to call and have it ring and be that person, or to go to type an email and find that I just received one from them. I am deeply grateful to God for those connections, and grateful to each of them as well. It is a good thing to know that I am not alone spiritually or emotionally, and part of the reason I can believe that God is always there is that my sweet friends are there for me like that.

I have been learning about that "Marco Polo" game with God, too! I always have experienced the joy of discovering that He responds promptly to me when I call, but I have taken a lifetime to hone my own ability to respond to His quiet call. Being a mom and learning to "listen" for my children and their need for connection has done a lot to teach me how to live with a listening ear for Him, my Creator and Savior and the Lover of my soul. We are spiritual creatures as much as we are physical ones -- indeed, the two are all wound up in each other and not meant to be disentangled -- and so we need our intuitive connections with each other and with God as deeply as we need success or intellectual stimulation or any of the other things we pursue. We cannot fully love people until we have learned to fully love our God, and that takes playing "Marco Polo" when we lie down and when we get up and when we awake in the middle of the night and when we are pressed on every side during the day.

Mature love allows for different rhythms. I can be a good mom to my toddler and teenager and young adult only if I am a responder to their needs. But I also need to recognize my own desires in each of those relationships and let God minister to me in the uncomfortable places. When I long to get free of my clinging baby who cries when I leave the room for a minute, or long to make dinner without a toddler on my leg, God is there and is sympathetic, and I can meet the child's need without dishonoring my own humanness. When I long for the little boy who loved me so much, but instead need to give space to my son who needs to be disconnected emotionally from mom for a while, God is there and is sympathetic, and I can meet the young man's need without dishonoring my own humanness. And when I rejoice in my new adult friend that has replaced the disconnected adolescent, God rejoices with me!

Playing "Marco Polo" with grace is the truest test of emotionally-connected relationship, whether that be with our God or our children or any friend. There is no way to follow Jesus' commands in John 14-16 without that connectedness, nor is there any way to live the life He described in Matthew 5-7. Abiding in Him and loving one another require more than just "checking in" periodically. They require a whole-hearted investment in relationship that is ever listening for "Marco" and ready to respond, and ever ready to take our turn at being "it".

May each of us grow in this grace to the fullness of that abundant life He wants for us!

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