Amy and her husband disagreed with their son's decision to stop attending college and start a job fifteen hours away. Just four classes stood between him and a walk across the stage for his diploma. Instead, he wanted to drive halfway across the country.
Every time Amy or her husband talked with their son, the conversation ended in harsh words that that kept digging an ever-widening gap between them. He refused to listen to their counsel. They cramped with frustration.
While browsing through a parenting book, Amy read about the importance of sharing the message "I believe in you" with a child, regardless of age. A moment later, convicted that the relational gap was now larger than merely the graduation-versus-job issue, she began to write a note.
On a simple, blank card, she shared the reasons she believes in her son, why she treasures him, and that he could count on her no matter what. Profound statements to make, but only powerful if delivered well. At just the right time. So she slid the note into an envelope as she finished her morning coffee and wrote his name on it so she would remember where she put the note when the moment came. "Maybe tonight when I come home from work," she thought as she quietly walked out of the house.
As she backed her car down their long driveway, she heard "Mom, wait!" Her son yelled at her to stop as he ran toward the car. She stopped and rolled down her window to ask what he needed. "Get out of the car right now!" he urged. Concerned that something was terribly wrong, she opened her door and stepped out.
Actually, something was wonderfully right.
He wrapped his arms around her while still holding the note he had found, opened, and read while pouring his own coffee. "I'm so glad you still believe in me," he told her as their embrace continued longer than any had for many years.
Amy shared this story two days before driving to see her son and his new apartment. His job started well and online courses were available for him to complete his degree. Most important to Amy, though, their relationship returned. The words she shared that memorable day, and repeated throughout the weeks before he moved, filled the gap.
Set aside conclusions about the decisions Amy's son made. Resist any urge to judge Amy's parenting decisions, too. The essence of this story applies to any strained relationship.
I have those. What about you?
Regardless of how and why a gap grew between this son and his parents, if left unattended a gap like this will widen. Equally predicable, the distance will eventually prove too great for anyone to reach across. Such relational failures can happen in any setting: families, friendships, co-workers, parishioners, ministry teams, leadership teams, and the list goes on.
Anyone can find themselves in this type of relationship with another person. To clarify, we're focusing on important, existing relationships that deteriorate and ultimately do damage to both parties. These relationships don't include those that fail before they begin—especially the fleeting romantic type—and typically deserve different attention, such as Carrie Underwood's wisdom: "The more boys I meet the more I love my dog."
It's heroic to honestly assess a relationship and conclude a gap exists. It's heroic to set aside the tempting need to be right. It's heroic to rise above circumstances and decide to take a first step—with no guarantee that it will work. It's heroic to put real time and real effort into a search for just the right words. And mean them. Then share them.
To start, take inventory of your relationships. Notice any gaps? If yes, stop reading.
Write that note. Make that call. Drive and meet.
Just be the hero. Relationships are worth it.
David Staal, senior editor for Building Church Leaders and a mentor to a first grader, serves as the president of Kids Hope USA, a national non-profit organization that partners local churches with elementary schools to provide mentors for at-risk students. David is the author of Lessons Kids Need to Learn (Zondervan, 2012) and Words Kids Need to Hear (Zondervan, 2008). He lives in Grand Haven, MI, with his wife Becky, son Scott, and daughter Erin.