Just before dawn this morning, the space shuttle Atlantis touched down at Cape Canaveral, ending a 13-day business trip delivering scientific equipment and supplies to the International Space Station 250 miles above Earth. It was the 135th and final mission, a poignant close to NASA’s 30-year shuttle program.
For the four astronauts aboard Atlantis, it was a quick trip–barely long enough for their kids to miss them. But for the two American astronauts who remained behind, aboard the Intl. Space Station, separation from loved ones is more difficult.
Astronaut Mike Fossum, the Space Station’s commander, told reporters at a press conference before he left Earth that the most challenging part of returning to space for his third six-month stint would be the long separation from his wife, four children and one grandchild.
Over the years NASA has tried to ease the pain of separation by giving astronauts an Internet and email link, videoconferencing, and an Internet protocol phone, so they can see and talk with family members frequently. In some ways, they may be more connected to their families than those of us with feet shackled to Earth.
It’s a far cry from our grandparents’ world, where friends and extended family lived within walking distance of each other. A friend of mine now lives in Nairobi, Kenya, so she called me the other day to “catch up.” We talked for an hour for three dollars. Other friends in Niger, Africa, use Skype, which is free, to stay connected to their kids and grandkids scattered all over the world.
Proximity may be preferable for nurturing relationships, but we also can’t blame distance if relationships flounder. In some ways, lack of proximity may actually be a blessing. It forces us to take more responsibility for nurturing intimacy when we are together and for finding new ways to foster it when we aren’t. Here are three suggestions:
- Intentionality—My husband left before dawn this morning for a week of business and out of town travel. He made breakfast for me and left it on the counter with a lovely card and note. I know how to make my own breakfast and I already knew he loved me. But his gesture showed me his feelings in a way that said, “I mean it.”
- Time—I frequently ask people what they feel is the most precious commodity they have to spend (setting aside, for a moment, those spiritual qualities Christ expects all of us to “spend” lavishly on others—love, grace, forgiveness, etc.). Hands down, people tell me their most precious commodity—because they never have enough of it–is time. Spending time with someone—even if it has to be at a distance–communicates honor and high regard. It says, “Of all the things I could be doing right now, I choose you. You matter.”
- Attentiveness– There’s something very powerful about being fully present to someone. In the movie “Avatar,” we saw a creative demonstration of the difference between looking at someone vs. truly seeing them. Jake and Neytiri repeatedly used the words, “I see you,”—not only to express their love, but to communicate what happens when two very different people can look past their cultural differences and see each other. Seeing…really paying attention…changes us and our relationships.
The same principles apply to our relationship with God. Sometimes, He, too, can feel further away than the Intl. Space Station. Maybe we need to be more intentional about our relationship with Him. We may need to give Him and our relationship more time and our full attention–seeing Him with our hearts and letting him see ours. The distance will vanish, with no Skype or videoconferencing required.