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  • Writer's pictureJim Donaher

Mercy, Pride & Reconciliation

Do you have relationships that are broken in your family?

They are hard because of conflicts amongst siblings and between kids and parents, the long history of how far back the conflicts go, things said and unsaid, failed efforts to resolve the conflicts and if so, who was the final judge and what were their biases?

Depending on the immediate issues of who is right and who is wrong, the underlying culture of the families can exacerbate the conflict by one side charging 'bias' on the judge's part, usually one or both parents. They might also cry foul as to whatever was agreed to previously, and question the wisdom of entering another agreement.

All of the members may be able to compare the current issue with punishments and wrongs done to, or by them in the past.

The long timeline for families also poses another risk. Some or all of the family may 'freeze' members in a role that they have long grown out of. I am familiar with a grandparent who referred to their youngest grandchild as 'the baby' until she was 14.

In more subtle ways, families with adult children struggle with the 'role-freeze' problem which plays out more often. When contentious or high-sensitivity decisions need to be made, older siblings can still treat their youngers the way they did when they were, actual children. Youngers may get aggressive with the elders, to show they are not a kid anymore.

The culture sometimes helps free the parties from accountability for helping to make peace. Some examples of what this sounds like include:

  • If she doesn't care, then I don't care.

  • He never takes responsibility for his part.

  • She can't ever admit when she's wrong.

  • Being around this or that one is bad for my kids.

  • I would help with his rent, but he'll probably just use it to buy beer.

  • He's just like Mom.

  • She's just like Dad.

  • Mom and Dad like that one best, so they've always gotten away with murder.

(I could go on all afternoon, but that's no fun for either of us.)

These comments are just annoying whines when they come from young children. But when they continue to come after people have reached adulthood, the behavior threatens to stymie any attempts at reconciliation, particularly with long-standing and/or very sensitive disputes. It deters someone who might otherwise 'take the first step' from being brave enough to try.

There was once a family, and the father had 11 sons (he would later have a 12th.)

The 10 eldest had their rivalries amongst themselves, but they all agreed that the youngest was not just annoying, as little brothers can be, but as his father's favorite, he was also spoiled rotten. For his part, the boy was a tattle-tale who sometimes got his brothers in trouble. So they hated him.

The man, who was very wealthy, shamelessly favored his youngest son, and one day he gave him a very fancy, and expensive coat.

The boy liked to wear it around his older brothers and tease them about how nice his coat was, but it wouldn't fit them so they shouldn't have it. The brothers grew increasingly furious.

One day, the 10 brothers were together and were discussing their father's considerable inheritance. He was aging and they were discussing who would get how much. They came to agree that the youngest, the one with the coat, would probably get more than his share, or maybe even all of it.

As they got more and more worried, they finally made a plan to kill him. And they would make up a story about what happened to him, so their father wouldn't know.

One day, the brothers grabbed him, took his coat away and threw him into a deep hole, where they intended to just leave him, knowing no one would know he was there, and he would starve.

Then one brother feeling both guilty and greedy, suggested that they sell their brother instead, and make some money.

So they did. Then they trashed the fancy coat and poured red on it like blood. They broke their father's heart, telling him that the boy had been mauled by an animal and killed and this was all that was left.

Meanwhile, the boy was having an up and down life. Eventually, he ended up in Egypt, where he rose to the second-highest position, after the Pharoah.

After many years, the boy, now a man, was running the biggest empire in the world. He even saved his country by stockpiling grain ahead of a vicious 3-year famine in the area. People from other countries would come to Egypt to get food since no one else had any.

Back in his home town, the man sent his 11 sons (though one had been killed, he'd had another by now) to Egypt to get food for the family.

This was when they came to meet the second-highest-ranking official in Egypt. He recognized them, but they didn't know him.

The now-grown little brother, Joseph, had a decision to make. His brothers had done a horrible wrong to him, and it was only by the grace of God that he had not only lived but thrived and though there were major bumps, he eventually landed in the lap of power.

His decision was simple. He would either use his power to take brutal revenge on them, or he could be merciful and help them.

Joseph decided to help them, and the rest of the family back home, including his aging father Jacob, who was the son of Isaac and the grandson of Abraham, father of the nation of Israel.

He moved the whole family, including the extended members, slaves, and their animals and brought them to the nicest part of Egypt where their community grew and thrived.

I told you that, in order to tell you this:

Your family may be a mess.

You may have several bones to pick with different family members.

There might be intrigue and interrelationships and backbiting going on at near Olympic levels.

But unless your family faked your death and sold you to some passing traders, never to be heard from until years later, your family is not as messed up as the House of Jacob was.

Think about one dispute you have with just one family member. Assume, for this example, that you are objectively in the right and they are dead wrong. NO ONE expects you to forgive them. NO ONE thinks you should. NO ONE expects it to be resolved, because EVERYONE KNOWS they will NEVER apologize. Stalemate, in a bad place.

Because everyone knows you're in the right, you already feel like the bigger person. How much bigger will you feel when YOU are the one who initiates the peace, that you reach across to hug them and tell them it's alright.

You're not taking the blame, nor are you reminding them that they were wrong and you are just the bigger person. If you're the bigger person, having the last word is not important to you.

You are, however, showing that the family is more important than the squabbles as well as the nuclear wars that have separated you.

You are taking the brave first step. You are facing what could be a messy outcome. You are giving the correct, God-endorsed response, an example to your entire family. When you do what God wants you to do, you win, regardless of whether the others are receptive. You have done your part, with sincerity, seeking peace.

If someone offers you an olive branch, they're doing what God wants. And he wants YOU to accept it. Make peace. Even imperfect peace is better than war.

Time is limited. You may have a lot of time, but you may not. Don't hesitate, do it today.

Joseph, having all the cards going his way, with the perfect opportunity to take his revenge, instead forgave. And while he didn't forget, he didn't let the memory cause any bitterness. He responded, not with hate, but with love.



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