Recipes for Connection

2016 November 22


This holiday season, let’s bring something other than food and spirits.

Prior to gathering together with friends and family, there is one refrain that echoes silently within our collective psyche. Before we get on that plane, or in our cars, we go through our mental checklist.  This year, it’s all about what we don’t want to talk about.  We remind ourselves . . .

Don’t, under any circumstances, bring up the election.

Don’t, under any circumstances, share how I really think about what just happened and what might happen.

But this isn’t our only warning to ourselves.  When we gather together with those we care for, something else happens to us.  We go into protection mode. Being in the company of family and friends means we should be more willing to let down our guards, right?  Too often, this isn’t the case as we perfect the art of maneuvering around the very topics most pressing on our minds and in our hearts.  Consequently, our sacred gatherings are too often marked by what we don’t share, not by what we say . . .

I don’t want anyone to know I’m worried about what is happening at work.  I don’t want anyone to know that I’m not as confident about the future as they think I am.

I don’t want anyone to know that I’m still grieving over the death of a loved one. I don’t want to depress anyone, this is supposed to be a festive occasion, but I can’t let go of the feeling that things don’t seem like the same anymore. 

I’m embarrassed to share that I feel like I’m in over my head as I’m trying to care for my parents and my own children.  There’s not anything anyone can do, so why even bring it up?

I’m worried about my father’s declining health that no one will acknowledge.  I fear I can’t talk about this without getting angry about the fact that everyone seems to be in denial but me. Why do they just assume I’m going to be the one who takes care of dad?

I desperately want to know why my sister and I don’t talk on the phone like we used to but I don’t want to ruin the fact that we are gathered together, today, even though I know we’ll return to being strangers once we leave each other’s company.

I don’t know how to tell my family that I’ve changed—I’m not who they thought I was.  I’m concerned they won’t be ready or willing to accept who I’ve become. 

In a world that allows us to pause only long enough for once-a-year gatherings, do you really know who you are sitting next to you?  Their names may be the same, but they are not.  Do you really know who you are staring at across the table?  The routines may be familiar, but their experiences are not.

Why is it that these gatherings become so stressful for so many of us?  Amidst our smiles, we are strategically silent and evasive.  We worry about what we might (not) say and what questions might be asked of us, knowing that the people that should know what we’re going through, don’t seem interested. Or we think they shouldn’t know. Or even worse, we believe they don’t really want to know.  We have reputations to uphold.  Appearances to maintain.  Relationships to protect.  These are our burdens this holiday season.

There are risks in being vulnerable by sharing with others—especially with family and friends. But there are also risks in sharing space with others without fully engaging.  Hollowness. Emptiness. Deep exhaustion from knowing we are surrounded by people with whom we should feel free to be most authentic around, but can’t or don’t know how to anymore.  Suffering occurs in these very moments when we so want others to know what we’re thinking and feeling and going through, but we don’t feel we can let them know.

So this holiday season, I urge you again to bring something other than food and spirits.  Let’s also bring our recipes for connection . . .

A readiness to be open and available to the people who are sharing space with us in that room and around that table.

Questions without agendas that help us give our full attention to those we are gathered with.  Not the people we remember them to be. Not the people we think they need them to be, but a commitment to spontaneous and genuine curiosity.

The capacity to listen without judgment that makes it possible to understand, not accuse.

A willingness to appreciate similarity even when, at first glance, we might assume there is only difference.

A tolerance for difference even when, at first glance, we might assume others’ choices are threatening to who we are or what we believe.

We need connection now, perhaps more than ever.  It’s not about being political or controversial or right or wrong or left or right or having answers.  It’s about being open and vulnerable and honoring our efforts to join others in thanksgiving for the bridges we’re willing to build with those whom we share presence.  Then, and only then, can we find ourselves again—with others—if only for a brief moment in time, when all else around us is changing.  Change is never as threatening when we allow others into our lives rather than feeling like we have to walk into the unknowns of our future alone.

6 Responses leave one →
  1. November 22, 2016

    Dr. White, this is wonderful and healing advice for the holidays. Thank you.

  2. Teresa H permalink
    November 22, 2016

    Great advice and a pretty tasty looking cookie recipe!

  3. Mike Douthitt permalink
    November 23, 2016

    The cookies were great! The advice was even better.

  4. November 23, 2016

    Thanks, Mike. The happiest of Thanksgivings to you and your family.

  5. November 23, 2016

    Teresa,Teresa. So hope you enjoy your Thanksgiving!

  6. November 23, 2016

    Thank you, Norris. The happiest of Thanksgivings to you and your family.

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