We never met our neighbors on one side. By the time we bought our home the husband had already moved out. We saw the children once in a while, roughly the same age as our own, but that was about it. Otherwise, the house usually looked vacant.
Then one day I heard some racket and looked over to see a work crew dismantling the extensive wooden playset in the back yard. Piece by piece, it was being unceremonially hurled into the back of a rusty pickup truck. Soon, all that remained was a sad patch of woodchips where a happy playground had once been.
It was all a metaphor for the pain of broken relationships. My seminary professor, Dr. Doug Bookman, once made a profound statement about the deepest pain in human experience being relational pain. Contemplating this, I agreed with him. Nothing hurts more than a broken bond with another person. Hurt feelings are the strongest feelings of hurt we can experience. In particular, when a family breaks apart it is serious business. Pain flings itself in every direction and misses no one with its touch of lasting destruction.
Watching those workmen that day, I thought back over my life and the empty patches of woodchips in certain backyards of my memory. I have been fortunate, as there are not too many of them, but the ones I do have are strong testimony to the truth of Bookman's comment.
Keep the playset in your backyard in good working order. Maintain it daily with love and affection. Be intentionally loving and serving in the lives of the people God has brought into your life. Guard your relationships with constant vigilance. It's much easier to maintain good relationships and mend frazzled ones than to let them be carried away in a rusty truck. Once that happens, all that is left is a lonely patch of woodchips quietly suggesting what could have been.