All happy families resemble one another; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. (Tolstoy, Anna Karenina)
I’m just back from a mini-family reunion with my daughters for a few days. It was wonderful. It started with catching up on family gossip about who’s doing what where and our theories on why. Then we ventured on to several trips down memory lanes and the usual round of favorite family stories. It was like a deep massage for my soul. It was invigorating and soothing at the same time. Families are wonderful.
Sometimes. But when there are conflicts among family members the pain is intense, deep, and harmful. If you know of a family that hasn’t experienced such a conflict between two or more members you come from a very unusual family. I’ve witnessed such conflicts. I’ve been involved in such conflicts. I’ve tried to resolve such conflicts. They hurt. Plain and simple, they just do.
Ultimately it doesn’t matter who started it or what keeps it going. The divisions cut to the core of who we are and how we think about ourselves. Counselors have some words of wisdom and comfort to offer. Shelves in libraries and stores are lined with books offering ideas for how to repair the damage done and achieve reconciliation with the estranged ones.
Time does help. Growing up helps. Seeing things from a new perspective helps. Being willing to wait, to offer apologies, to swallow some pride, and to focus on something else all help. Ultimately, we have to learn to live with the reality we can only control what is under our control – and that is never how another person will decide to respond or refuse to respond.
No sane person every claimed getting beyond these painful family divisions would be easy. It’s not. However, it is possible. As one wise pastor told my husband, who has passed this gem along to me, “Hanging on to resentment about something some else did is like swallowing rat poison and waiting for the other person to get sick.”
Families are intended to be a gift to us on our journey through life. It is wonderful beyond description when they work that way. It is painful beyond description when they do not. Ultimately, hopefully, we reach a place on our travels from cradle to coffin where we are grateful for the parts that are good and generous in forgiving the parts that aren’t.
I am very grateful for my daughters and the time we had together and my husband for understanding my great desire to have them all to myself for a few precious days.