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  • Writer's pictureJim Donaher

Families. Are. Hard.

We often extend grace, patience, kindness, and understanding to complete strangers, while harshly condemning those closest to us.

In one sense, this is understandable, as we know in our brains as well as our hearts, that family is or should be, 'forever.'

So, given that generous timeline, reconciliation with family, whether the issue is small or large, is usually on the back burner.

There will always be time later.

That is until there isn't.

Anyone who has lost a member of their immediate family knows this, at least on some level. Our time on earth is limited, and our relationships are gifts from God. Whether they are gifts for us to simply enjoy, or whether they are there to help us learn something important (usually both, I'm figuring out), we cannot simply throw them away, even when we want to, and feel justified in wanting to.

The families in which we all grew up are imperfect. They are comprised of imperfect people, and many of the philosophies that governed our daily lives growing up are products of compounded dysfunctions passed down by generations.

'That's the way I was raised' is the battle cry of those seeking to do things the old-school way.

On the other side are those who are aware of how damaged they are by their upbringing and bend over backward to compensate. 'I'll never do that to my kids...' There are many gradations in between.

The truth is, we are all products of our upbringing. Truly, some of us fight our upbringing so hard, that while we have successfully become 'nothing like our parents' we still have to admit being shaped, even in the negative, by what they did or didn't do.

Whether you feel great about yourself and are able to give credit to your upbringing, or whether you don't like yourself and blame your upbringing, the common thread is parents.

People become parents in all kinds of situations, including unintended ones. One of my favorite observations is that you need a license to start a business making sandwiches, and, far from leaving it at that, the authorities check on you regularly.

But starting a family and raising the next generation is a free-for-all, everybody-into-the-pool enterprise where there is little oversight, at least until things deteriorate so much that it becomes a law enforcement issue. Up to that point, they're your kids to raise 'as you see fit' or 'however it turns out.'

Lesson: Sandwiches need oversight more than families.

So, lacking an owner's manual, set of directions or on-board navigation system, parents sally forth doing the best they can for their child.

Depending on their priorities and resources, they will emphasize different things - education, self-reliance, hard work, pleasure, popularity, achievement, status, toughness, privacy, outward dignity, faith, charity, competition, devotion to God or family or country or political party.

These things are not intrinsically bad, but balance is the key, and most of us are not as balanced as we could be.

If you are fortunate enough to live into your 50's, you may be facing the transition wherein you become the responsible adult and your parents become the dependent ones.

Elderly parents are the product of their decisions, as we all are.

Some of those decisions were mistakes. Some may have led to very unfavorable results.

But they did the best they could. With you, and with themselves.

People in their 80's and 90's are in uncharted waters. They usually have no frame of reference or role model to look to. Chances are their parents didn't live as long as they have.

They may not have planned well or saved sufficiently. A lot of that may be because they had kids, and how they spent on them has affected how they live now. How do these older folks feel?

  • Maybe they're at peace with their situation,

  • or their situation is so undeniably 'good' that they dare not complain.

  • Maybe they worry about their children - or some of them - as they continue to struggle.

  • Maybe they continue to relive and regret their mistakes.

However they feel, it is certain that they need our forgiveness for something, whether they realize it or not. And even if they don't realize it, we need to give it to them anyway, for our own sake, if not for theirs.

The point is, given hindsight, most of us would do some things differently. Though they may not admit it or are unable to articulate it, parents are no different. We lead the league in woulda, coulda, shoulda. Also, didn't.

Regrets and second thoughts don't change the fact that, in real-time, we all do the best we can do. Given that, we have to forgive errors and omissions and transgressions, for our own sake, as well as for the sake of those who made them.

There is more than enough pain to go around. Many of us have been hurt, in various ways, some of which are slow to heal and become very infected over time. Forgiveness, mercy, and grace are the best treatment for these hurts.

They are hard to achieve, especially for hurts that are old, lifelong, and fundamental wounds.

So, in families where the factions are dug in and ready for a long siege, how can peace be broached, never mind achieved?

Someone must be brave enough to put down their weapons, demonstrate to the others that they trust, if just a little, their family. That they value the family, and its members. The odds of the next member taking the plunge increases sharply after someone else has gone first. And once another dives in, and others see that they have survived, others jump in too.

Soon, the whole family is splashing around in the cool, clear waters of reconciliation.

Okay, cheesy metaphors aside, it may not be that simple. It rarely is.

More likely the process stops and starts and regresses and breaks.

Stick with it. Don't give up.

Recapping, the challenge is:

Put down your weapons. Take the risk.

Realistically, how much more can you be hurt than you already are? You're playing with house money! The worst that can happen is that others will not take you up on your gambit and you will feel foolish for trying.

But you're not foolish. You are doing what the Lord wants you to do. 'Blessed be the peacemakers...' Remember that?

In a family, everyone can play the role of peacemaker, just as they can be an enemy combatant.

Choose your role wisely.

God bless you.

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