During the presidency of Ronald Reagan, one of his greatest moments came in a speech before the infamous Berlin Wall, where he issued the challenge, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” In time, that wall did come down, and freedom replaced it.
Dr. Gary Smalley in his book, “The DNA of Relationships“, refers to the “walls” people construct in their lives when they have been hurt in relationships, to protect themselves from further pain. So often, especially with those we love, we feel we must tear down those walls, like Reagan in Berlin. Yet often in relationships, the “bull in a china shop” approach can cause deeper withdrawal, leaving the hurting party to build even higher walls behind the ones we attempt to tear down.
Smalley suggests a more sensitive approach, which he calls “respecting the wall.” It is recognizing that behind the wall, behind the hard exterior, is a wounded heart, licking its wounds. Respecting the wall means we communicate, “I see that you have been hurt deeply. I respect that, will wait here on the other side for as long as necessary, and will be here when you need me.” Taking that approach will, in time, often lead to the hurting person tearing down their own wall, brick by brick.
My younger daughter Kelsey encountered this recently at the cellular store she works at. A wife and husband came in, with what felt like a dark cloud hanging over them. The man never spoke a word, and the woman was grumpy, terse, and somewhat rude with Kelsey, demanding they cancel their daughter’s cell phone line. Initially Kels bristled inside, thinking “Great, another grouchy customer to make my day.” But then, she felt God speak to her heart, saying, “She is hurting. Love her.” Kelsey’s perspective changed, and she went overboard to be helpful and resolve the couple’s issue.
By the end of the transaction, the woman confided to Kelsey that their only daughter had died tragically in the last month, and she was having a difficult time coping with the loss. Kelsey felt her heart jump into her throat, and with tears welling up in her eyes, offered, “I am so very sorry for your loss. I will pray for you, that God will be with you and your family in this time.” She gave them her card, encouraging them to contact her if she could ever be of service to them. The grieving mom hugged and thanked her, as did the silent father.
As Kelsey told me this story, I realized she had “respected the wall” this couple had constructed in their pain- hers being a wall of anger and resentment, his a wall of silence. By standing on the other side and offering love, the couple felt safe enough to remove a few “bricks” and let Kelsey love them with the love of Christ. I was very proud of my girl.
There are hurting, broken people all around us, every day. May we see them with the eyes of Jesus, respect the walls they have constructed, and patiently offer the life and love of Christ from the other side. Then watch the bricks come down, one at a time, from the inside out.