Families – Hanging on to the Precious

Just like there are no perfect people, there are no perfect families.  Even the best of families have their moments of insensitivity,  missed cues,  self-absorption and blind spots.    Each of us, goes through this life making mistakes, wishing we could change things in our past, feeling regret for words said or not said. At times we are wrong. We do and say what we will later wish we had not. Disagreements flare up.  People who should know better hurt us. What we do with those moments of hurting and of being hurt can shape the rest of our lives. Our response can turn a life around, or bury one in resentment.

One of the saddest stories I hear as a pastor, are stories of adult siblings who simply do not and will not try to get along with each other. In one of the first churches I served there was a woman in her mid seventies who continued to hang on to a grudge against a brother that started when they were teens. Worst of all, her anger was based on a simple misunderstanding. Her children and her other siblings begged her to see her brother. The brother so wanted to make peace with his sister. No appeal could reach her stubborn heart. Her grudge and the anger she carried had become a way of life.

In another church there was a man who refused to see his very ill mother, not because he was mad at her . . . No, that wasn’t the problem. He was angry at his brother. Harsh words had been spoken by both. After the argument, he had decided he would stay away from his family. When his mother because seriously ill, he refused to visit her, lest his brother be there.  I spent forty-five minutes one day  pleading with him  to visit his mom, who had only been given days to live.   Still her son refused.  But, sometimes God gives us the gift of extra time. His mother rallied. Then three months later, she was once again near death. I never knew just how God got through to her son. A  couple of days before his mother died, he came to see her that one last time.   Still simmering with anger towards his brother though, he would not attend his mother’s funeral.

One of the joys in my life is to have siblings who know and understand my growing up years. Shared memories bring peals of laughter and nods of understanding as a story begins. I think siblings are the only people who can fully appreciate your childhood. The know both the gifts and the flaws of your parents. There is a shared memory of what it was like to live in a particular family in  a specific time of  life. I know families that are terribly dysfunctional with a legacy of trauma, abuse and heartache.  It can be necessary to leave the family of origin behind for one’s emotional health. But, the families I’ve mentioned here were not ripped apart by addiction or dysfunction. They were just ordinary people who made a couple of mistakes.

For most of us, the arguments would have been over in a few days or we would have found a way to get around the disagreements. Someone would have apologized,  or made a phone call to break the ice.  But for others . . . Well grudges can lodge in the hearts of some very good people. This is what makes me the most sad. I see families where siblings are upset with  other siblings. Grudges are hung on to. Experiences which ought to have been left behind, forgiven or resolved years before have been carried into the present. I think of the joy that is being missed.  The shared journey which is unique to ones sibling. I listen to those who have never had a brother or a sister and how they envy those of us who do.  I think of how the person carrying a grudge is hurting themselves, denying themselves companionship, friendship and the joy of shared memories.

What I hope and pray for my children is that they always have each other and that they are wise enough to let go of the inconsequential to hang on to the precious  in their relationships with one another.  The psalmist says, “ How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity! It is like the precious oil on the head . . . It is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion. For there the Lord ordained his blessing, life for evermore.” Psalm 133:1-2a & 3)

Lent – A Season of Turning Around

IMG_8923 When Jesus began his ministry he said, “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.” Mark 1:15  Repentance is not simply feeling remorse for wrongs done.   Rather it is a time of turning around.   True repentance is a radical  reassessment of how we live our lives, opening ourselves to change our whole way of thinking, reasoning and being.  It’s letting ourselves see the world as God sees it and  turning away from those parts of our lives  which limit our compassion, our goodness and our following Jesus.  Lent is such a time of reconnecting and of turning around.

Many years ago, I knew a woman who could not let go of her anger at a sibling. The event in question had happened in her childhood. By then the woman was growing frail, yet she continued her long grudge. Her sibling had reached out many times in the sixty years since that breach. Other family members had intervened. She, however, refused all efforts, all kindness, all willingness to understand. She would not allow herself to be reconciled.

As I listened to her reasons, I thought how sad that she would allow those thoughts to destroy the friendship of a sibling who genuinely cared about her. I thought of a relationship she had missed out on and the family gatherings she had excluded herself from. I thought of her ongoing loss. What I found especially sad was how much healing would have come to her,  if she had only been willing to let go of her pride and forgive.

That we are willing to forgive others is important to Jesus. Who other than Jesus, or a mom with a brood of kids, insists that we forgive each other?  The problem with hanging onto resentment is that eventually it will eat us up. Long term grudges imprison our possibilities. We cannot live our lives with joy, while simmering with resentment.

The need to forgive is just as real and genuine as our need to be forgiven.  Not forgiving destroys our spirits and our souls. When we refuse to forgive it causes not only us grief, but God. Paul said as much when he wrote these words to the people of Ephesus: “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander together with all malice and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another as God in Christ has forgiven you.” Ephesians 4:30-32

In your life there may be a person who needs your forgiveness. There may be a person who really needs to know that you have decided to forgive. Who in your life might that be? What can you do to express that forgiveness? What symbol can you share? May God give you grace to forgive, even as God has forgiven you.

*The season of Lent begins this year with  Ash Wednesday on March 1.