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A speech therapist invited me to make a presentation to a group of her clients. During the question and answer segment, a man across the room began stuttering to ask a question. It was obvious to everyone in the group that the word he was struggling to verbalize was “Is”. He stuttered with the word for what seemed like an eternity, but in fact was only a few seconds. His willingness to risk himself by sharing his thoughts even through his disability took incredible courage and vulnerability. Everyone in the group listened quietly suffering without trying to “help” him. Our fear was that he would just give up. While we all wanted to help him with his struggle, we were willing to suffer along side of him, believing he would eventually share his thoughts with the group.
His struggle was worth our suffering and our willingness to suffer along side of him made his struggle that much more valuable. An incredible picture of intimacy emerged from his struggle and our suffering. His courage to risk what other’s thought of him and our courage to listen without judgment brought us together in completely different ways. Intimacy in relationships thrives in struggling and suffering. One person struggles to risk vulnerability while the other person suffers through listening neither judging nor attempting to fix the other person. Taking the risk to be known is a struggle. Taking the risk to know another person for who they are, is loving them through suffering.
John often pouted and withdrew when he didn’t get his way. He committed to take the risk of sharing his thoughts and feelings openly, honestly and respectfully with Nancy. This struggle was not easy for John. Because all of his life he believed that to express Vulnerability was a weakness to be avoided. Nancy, his wife, was willing to listen without comment or trying to fix John’s struggle and suffer while John shared his thoughts and feelings openly, honestly and respectfully with her. Nancy’s fear was that he would just give up. Courageously, she listened without comment or judgment knowing that John was experiencing vulnerability as strength rather than a weakness. Nancy’s struggle to listen, remain connected and not give John advice was just as difficult as John’s struggle. John and Nancy experienced the intimacy born from struggling and suffering together.
Struggling to share your brokenness requires the courage to risk yourself with your partner. Suffering in humility to listen requires the courage to risk yourself with your partner just in different ways. Are you willing to accept your partner’s struggles even when you suffer as a result? Common Struggles for couples include: Being Transparent and Honest, Admitting Your Vulnerabilities, Trusting Your Partner, Admitting your Weaknesses and exercising Courage to be Yourself. Suffering occurs as your partner lets you know him or her more fully and completely. Suffering takes as much courage as struggling to allow your partner to come to their own conclusions even when you disagree.
Being willing to empty yourself of your agenda can be difficult but the reward for suffering is that your partner is willing to suffer on your behalf when you struggle. Struggling and suffering in your relationship transforms chemistry into character, passion into perseverance and attraction into admiration. Intimacy develops as two people are willing to struggle and suffer together.
Do You Love Me?
Saturday afternoon was passing without much fanfare. Her father was sitting in his recliner watching the college football game of the day when his six-year-old daughter walked up to the side of his chair. Reaching over, he lifted her up and into his chair. She sat comfortably next to him and with mischievousness in her eyes asked, “Daddy, do you love me?” He was not surprised by this question as he often took the opportunity to show and tell his daughter he loved her.
On this occasion, however, he answered with a question of his own, “What do you think?” Looking intently at her father, and with a whimsical grin, she replied “NO.” He thought to himself how could she say such a thing. He restrained himself from his immediate emotional response, which was to say, “Of course I love you,” and said, “OK.” They gazed at each other through the mutually awkward, but momentary distance. She inquired again, “Daddy, do you love me?” He again asked her, “What do you think?” With more determination than before, she replied, “You love my brother more than me.” Her father’s response remained the same, “O.K.” She burst into laughter and tried to take in such an unbelievable response. She thought to herself how could he say such a thing?
Again, she asked, “Daddy, do you love me?” His response was clear to him now, “What do you think?” With the compelling need to hear the ‘right’ answer, she said, “You’ve never loved me, daddy,” as she looked at her father with the anticipation only a six year old can muster up. He accepted her rejection with, “OK.” She now knew her father’s response would be the same each time she posed the question every little girl asks. Changing her response to her father for their next exchange. She asked, “Daddy, do you love me?”Not knowing her direction, he remained true to his course, “What do you think?” With a broad smile and a twinkle in her eye, she said, “Yes, daddy, you do love me.” Without allowing a moments hesitation, he replied, “Yes, princess, I do love you” and gave her the hug only a proud father could deliver.
They smiled at each other and knew that something different and strange had occurred in those few moments. Perhaps they had actually stumbled upon the essence of love.
One-day eternity was passing without much fanfare. The Father was enjoying the beauty of his creation when a young woman walked up to him in innocence and vulnerability. Reaching over, he lifted her up and into his arms. As his child sat comfortably looking into his timeless eyes the question came to mind, “Father, do you love me?” He was not surprised by this question for all of heaven and earth was created for this moment and eternity prepared for those who could receive the answer. The Everlasting Father knew the real question being asked of Him was “Am I a person who can be loved?” The Mighty Counselor asked his child, “What do you think?” Looking intently into His ageless face and hoping to escape the responsibility for her self, this little one answered, “No.”
The Prince of Peace accepting his child’s answer with grace and humility replied, “O.K.” As they gazed into each other’s eyes his creature was faced with the weight of the question behind the question: ‘Am I a person who can be loved?” She inquired again, but with more determination to tempt the Creator with even greater leverage she asked, “Father do you love me?” The Lord asked again, “What do you think?” Hoping to lure the Center of the Universe off center and with greater determination, this reckless one replied, “You love others more than me.” From the essence of love itself, the Master replied, “O.K.”
With deliverance in the balance, the Redeemer recognized the urge to protect his child, but refused to give into the fear. Because of His love and in spite of fear’s knock, the I AM remained true to his nature. Again with innocence slipping into insistence the child asked, “DO YOU LOVE ME?” “What do you think?” asked the Holy One. On the edge of despair and hoping to escape into this Other this woman impetuously declared, “You’ve never loved me!” The Lamb of God humbly replied, “O.K.”
The air was filled with awe as this little one experienced the power of God’s humility and the presumption of her hubris. Filled with gratitude, she stepped into The Light. “Am I a person who can be loved?” was answered not with an answer as much as with the encounter of love itself. She asked again, “Father do you love me?” Her Father asked in reply, “What do you think?” Without a moment’s hesitation, her heart answered through the tears, “Yes, you love me and I love you too.”