Most of us spend most of our lives near other people. We sit near our co-workers at the office. We sit near our family or friends when we eat our meals. Even though we’re in our cars, we’re near many other people (also in their cars) while we’re driving. We’re near other people at the grocery store, in the doctor’s office, at a club, in a meeting. We’re so near that we’re often actually physically touching other people in an elevator, at a concert, on the subway, waiting in a crowded line. Wherever we are, someone else is nearly always near.
And yet, as physically near as we are to many people on a regular basis, we’re rarely emotionally near to very many. Perhaps a spouse or significant other, perhaps a best friend, maybe even a parent or an adult child. But the number of people whom we would consider our literal “nearest and dearest” can likely be counted on our fingers, possibly even the fingers on just one hand. Why do we have so few people to whom we are near? Because to be near to someone, you need to trust each other. And trust is not so easy to establish.
I love to watch the birds eating at my bird feeder. In the summer, my feeder is on the far side of the pool, so I can watch from a safe distance without scaring them away. But this winter, the feeder is too hard to access through the many feet of snow, so I’ve been throwing seed onto the porch. And I find that I can watch from much nearer, but I need to be patient and wait for the birds to learn to trust me. I have to be quiet, and still, and patient. I have to listen rather than speak. I have to sit still rather than move around. I have to wait rather than act. And if I do all those things for long enough, the birds will come to trust me, and they will come near. But if I startle them with a sharp noise or a sudden movement, I lose their trust and have to start all over again before they are willing to once again come near.
Relationships are much the same way. They require listening, and stillness, and patience. Trust can only be established over time, and it is easily broken with a careless word or a hasty movement. But if we can only teach ourselves to listen and be still and be patient, we are rewarded when someone trusts us enough to come near.