Bridging the Gap

My work is listening to people, and I love doing it. Sometimes it is painful though, as I listen to stories of loss and grief. Over the past months, I have heard many stories of divisions within families and between friends:

"I don't know how we'll do Thanksgiving this year without fighting about politics. Maybe we should skip it altogether."
"I decided we won't have our week at the beach next year since the families are so different about Covid. We always go to the beach together!"
"If I have to wear a mask, I won't return to church." "Unless we all wear masks, I won't return to church."
"My son is immune-compromised and nobody wears a mask at work. I try to stay away from the others."
"We used to be so close but now. . .  They helped so much when my parents died. I miss going out for lunch together."

There is a deep grief when families are divided, and when churches and communities are as well. During these strife-filled times, it is easy to take sides. Sometimes people feel that those on the other side aren’t trustworthy, or are even downright dangerous. Yet a few years ago, these same people would have vacationed together, worshipped together, and enjoyed each other’s company. What a loss this is! Grieving, I wrote these words:

The chasm yawns deepest
where love has been,
where love lies still.
I watch as
the pain of the breech
sunders them anew,
and I wonder,
"What then can love do?
Can it bridge this gap?"

In last month’s Garden of the Spirit post, I wrote about the Georgian villages in the Caucasus mountains, and how people there had bonded through centuries of shared music. In contrast, within our country, it seems right now that our bonds are weakened, and we are more sharply separated. There is a special kind of painful grief and even anger when those whom we love, people we thought we knew well, and with whom we shared major life experiences – these people end up on the other side of the chasm.

Can love bridge the gap? I remembered poet Edwin Markham’s lines from “Outwitted.” He drew a circle that shut me out. . . . But Love and I had the wit to win. We drew a circle that took him in.”

How can love help us draw an inclusive circle? Love is a potent force, tough and persistent. Love is also creative and imaginative. When we decide to keep on loving, we need to call on our creativity to find new ways to connect, and then we need to persist in our efforts.

So how do we let others know that they are still within our circle, that we still care about them in spite of our differences? Relationships are unique, and there is no clear one-size-fits-all formula. But here are a couple of suggestions.

First, remember all that you hold in common, all the shared interests. Focus on these things. Despite our fierce differences, we share human joys and hopes, fears and griefs. Perhaps you have children or grandchildren to talk about. Perhaps living in the same neighborhood brings common experiences. Show up with that casserole or tin of cookies, not only in a crisis, but on ordinary days, too. Perhaps you’ll share your fears about hurricanes or your delight in autumn colors. Shared faith can encircle both of you even if masks are an issue. Be creative–and persist!

Second, when the conversations between you and your friend or relative turn to painful areas, it is essential to listen. Don’t frown or interrupt; just listen and try to understand. (That can be a challenge, but I have found it easier when I look at the person and remember what we have in common.) You can ask questions and try to find any points where you agree. As valuable as it is to listen and acknowledge the beliefs of the other person, it is also important to say “I don’t see it that way.” Then one can ask, “Do you want to hear how I see it?” The differences between you will probably remain, but you and Love have drawn a larger circle that includes you both.

When we look at those whose beliefs oppose our own and we know they are within the grand circle of God’s Love, we can be grateful. When we imagine how the God of Love is looking at both of us with tenderness, something in us may heal. There is a healing power in the act of inclusion – for those on both sides of the gap. May we be open to such healing. May we persist in our loving.

If this writing has spoken to you, please share it with another.

10 thoughts on “Bridging the Gap”

    1. Dear Scott,
      Thank you so much for responding and for sharing it with others. I’m glad it spoke to you. Keep writing music! Nancy

  1. Thank you for your thoughtful article Nancy. I have found within my family and some friends as well, that much of the problem arises because instead of understanding that what you’re sharing is your opinion, if it’s political, it’s important not to wrap that opinion in your beliefs. If you want to share something spiritual that has more to do with what you believe. I don’t think that there is absolute certainty about one’s spirituality, because there is mystery. Also, I have come away from seeing another’s thoughts as “opposing”, rather, just different. Opposition has built in resistance, almost always leading to disagreements. And so I persist within my opinionated family, sharing what I feel is important but not trying to change anyone’s mind. I have also spoken to the conversations where the first thing that the other person says is, well I don’t agree with everything that so-and-so says. It to me, it’s like the person is setting themselves up to not hear anything that they do agree about. So my desire within my family especially is for us to look through the lens of what we can agree about.
    Also in conversations especially with siblings I have begun to ask why they need to admonish me about something, why they need to be almost like a parent with a need to “correct” me. We’re all in our late 60s and 70s in our family and so I feel that the need to correct, admonish, quote scripture, and the scripture quoting is usually within the admonition, and to just respect each other.
    Thanks again for your writing.

    1. Maggie, I’m glad that you wrote about your personal experiences with this kind of division. It truly is hard to respond wisely, and not get caught up in oppositional language. And you’re right in that sometimes one can’t have a conversation—a speaking respectfully of differences with another, because that requires two persons who want to listen (as well as talk.) I hope you will continue to be able to respond with gentle firmness and love! Nancy

    1. Thank you, Laurie. Yes, I’ve been feeling this more strongly as we move closer to holiday seasons—when the differences within families sometimes become sharper. May we live from love, my friend! Nancy

    1. Jean, I am glad this spoke to you. I like your phrase about the Presence in the middle of discord. We often find it hardest to remember that God is present in the midst of discord. (In a beautiful or peaceful time it’s easier.) Nancy

  2. I resonate with the challenge to find common holy ground on which to keep company with folks who say judgmental things that I reject. I recently had a tough talk with a dear person–both of us convicted about a controversy close to our deep faith paths. I spoke of my experience and drew on our shared beliefs as much as I could. We didn’t close out the topic in agreement, but we also didn’t cleave our friendship.

    1. Dear Anne,
      I appreciate your writing about the recent “tough talk” with a friend, and how you both listened to each other. And I love how you tried to bridge the gap by drawing on shared beliefs. It’s a powerful practice of love to continue in relationship in the midst of deep disagreements. Nancy

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