ROOM FOR UNDERSTANDING
By: Ginny Luedeman
June 16, 2003
I felt forlorn. We had taken a teenage, Chinese
American foster child into our hearts and home because she needed a
place to stay for about a year; while she recovered from a mental
breakdown. Our home was her last stop before returning to her family
after a year at the state hospital.
We rearranged the bedrooms of our three other children so that Ling (not her real name) could have her own private space. I cooked meals that I thought would be like those of her homeland. We included her in our rather lavish gift-giving at Christmastime. And we bought her school clothes and holiday presents as if she were one of our own.
But she never once said, “Thank you.” And that made me feel that she didn’t appreciate our efforts. So resentment began to crowd in on me, even as I kept on giving and giving in hopes of connecting with her.
After Ling had been with us for about nine months, she and I finally had a heart-to-heart talk. And this wasn’t easy to do--she was quite shy.
When I asked her why she never said, “Thank you,” Ling was amazed at my question.
“Oh my!” she exclaimed. In essence, she explained it this way to me: “If I said, ‘Thank you,” to you, that would be a big insult. It would make my relationship to you one that said that I did not feel very close to you--like you were a stranger I would need to say thank you to because it was proper. But you are much more like a mother to me. A child would never say thank you to his mother, because their relationship is a natural one and is so close that a ‘thank you would lessen that closeness.”
So I’d had it all wrong! I was surprised and ashamed that I hadn’t understood better. I had let opinions based on ignorance tell me how to feel toward Ling. I had let something completely unimportant become a barrier to my loving this young woman. The result? I had wasted a lot of time on resentment when, instead, I could have been enjoying her beautiful spiritual qualities. She had done nothing at all to give rise to my self-righteous attitude. To her way of thinking, she had been enjoying our family and feeling grateful for us.
Ling and I were able to laugh at our differences, and we celebrated our new level of understanding with a hug. Then she asked to talk about something that had been troubling her.
She meekly asked if we really wanted her to live with us. She explained that having her own private space in our home made her feel isolated, as if she weren’t welcome. In her culture, she said, large families lived together in small houses. Closeness meant acceptance. As many as 20 people would gather in the living room in the evenings to do homework to be near each other. To her, that felt like home. And our rather large house with so few people seemed somewhat cold and lonely to her.
I explained that in our culture giving someone space of her own was honoring the individuality and the privacy of that person. It was a sign of respect and affection. She was surprised at that. And we laughed again at how thoroughly we had misunderstood each other.
After this talk, we began to relate to each other more freely. We loved learning about our differences. Never again did our very spiritual relationship get lost in ignorance or misconceptions.
As we watch our world shrink and our far-off neighbors become our next-door neighbors through better communication, travel, and more frequent contact, the kind of lesson I learned from Ling grows in value. It helps to know that to find our sister - and brotherhood, we need to get beyond appearances and assumptions.
The Bible says, “There is a spirit in man: and the inspiration of the Almighty giveth them understanding” (Job 32:8). In prayer to mend the hearts of those who need understanding, we can remember that our unity as the children of one God is forever. This link is worth discovering and cherishing, regardless of our differences. Prayer looks deeply--and continues looking--until it finds the spirit of God in each one of us.
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