*Sarah sat cross-armed close to the car door. Her brown eyes darted back and forth as I spoke, “What are you doing this summer?” I asked, turning my head to look at her from the driver’s seat.
“Are you talking to me?” she spurted.
“Yes, you!” I smiled back.
“Uhhhhh….. nothing? Staying home?” she said curtly and diverted her eyes, working hard to frown at me.
I had volunteered to take a car load of 8th grade girls on the field trip that day to the mountains. The teacher put a random group together and Sarah obviously was less than excited about it. The other girls looked at each other with knowing looks, then continued on with their separate conversations.
When we got to the field trip site, my daughter looked at me and said, “Mom, Sarah doesn’t like anyone. She calls us names that are not nice. In fact, I think she hates us.”
I had a new goal that day. It wasn’t to help these students with their science lab, it was to get Sarah to smile.
All morning long I followed her around, refusing to be discouraged by her lack of engagement. I was going to melt this frozen tundra.
“Sarah, you seem to know what you’re doing. Hey everyone, let’s look at Sarah’s measurements and copy them down.”
“Hey Sarah, what do you do with your free time?” Her answers about violent video games did not stop me. “Tell me about them.”
She would run in front of the group, I would follow and match her stride.
About half way through the morning, it happened. She discovered the most interesting bugs at a particular site along the river, and as I cheered her unique find, her ice began to melt. A shy, almost embarrassed smile spread widely across her face.
By the time we were “lost” on the way home and ended up the local ice cream parlor, she was chatting with me like we were old friends, telling me about her family. She joined in merrily as the girls came up with a great story for their teachers about why we were a little late to get back. Much to my daughter’s surprise, she even asked to borrow her notes. Later Kenna would say, “Mom, I didn’t even know she knew my name!”
There are two things Sarah was looking for that day, and they are bedrock elements that ALL of us look for when we meet people:
1. Is this person safe?
In other words, can I trust her? Will she turn her back on me or is she a person of loyalty and character?
2. Does this person accept me?
Is who I am good enough for her? Does she like me? Am I loved for me?
Until these questions are answered, a relationship most likely will not move forward. Or if it does, it will be marked with insecurity and disorder.
As I spoke with my daughter about Sarah, my eyes welled with tears. “She just wants to be accepted. That cold act she plays? Just a cover. Underneath the surface she feels alone, and isolated. She is protecting herself from getting hurt.”
And aren’t we all? When our safety and acceptance are threatened, we build giant walls around our hearts. No one gets in. But that’s the problem. No one gets in. And there we stay, protected, but alone…and so lonely. The greatest palace will not bring joy if there is no one with whom we can share it. Joy is meant to be a communal experience.
We cannot control what others do, but we can change our world today both for ourselves and others by being the kind of person that offers acceptance and safety to those in our sphere. Reach out today with words, arms, and efforts that communicate you are not only a person of trust, but a person who values others.
Joy will grow, loneliness will dissipate, and just maybe, you’ll find ice melting.
What actions make you feel safe and accepted in relationships?
Which actions don’t?
*Sarah is a changed name for confidentiality.