By Charlie Melton
“I don’t know why family is like that.” None of us had an answer, but I’ve been thinking about it ever since. I think I may have an insight.
Our tiny church at the end of a gravel road going nowhere has us in Sunday School on the corresponding day of the week. We, and the class, are informal. We take turns reading aloud from the Bible, and then we discuss what we’ve read. Whether you believe that we can’t stay on subject, or that the spirit leads us, is up for debate.
Whatever the reason, a member of the class brought up he was having trouble with his aged father. Although he is a strong, mature man he was visibly distressed. He said, “My Dad said some of the most terrible things to me. It went on for 2 hours.” He went on to say, “I don’t know why families are like that.”
I’ve pondered that for many years. Family is the dearest thing in the world, and the worst thing in the world. I often joke that the Olive Garden commercial that says, “When you’re here, you’re family” is a threat instead of an invitation. I always thought they should say, “When you’re here, thank goodness we’re not family.”
I think that a part of why family hurts us so much is that we hate in others what we hate in ourselves. For my part, I always felt that my (late) mother didn’t accept me because I was scarily like her. She saw in me what she disliked in herself. She projected those perceived flaws on to me. By seeing the faults in another person, she was trying, unsuccessfully, to purge those from herself.
It’s like my need to be lauded and applauded. I would rather that I didn’t need the validation of others, but it’s part of my being. I have more than one cousin that is the same way. They drive me crazy. I complain that they have to be “on stage” all of the time. I feel they don’t visit with others, they “hold court.” When I took the time to reflect on that, I realized that their behaviors are my behaviors. I assume that like me, they fear they’ll cease to exist if nobody is applauding them. I hate that about myself, and them.
This leads me to what I feel is the underlying issue, the real reason that family can be painful, and have hateful interactions.
If we, in fact, hate others because we see our own flaws in them, then the problem is basic to our faith. The most basic tenet of our Christian faith is forgiveness. We’re required to forgive others as God forgives us. There are plentiful references to this in our Bible. You could argue that forgiving is the main theme of the Bible.
The problem is that we cannot forgive ourselves. My child may get on my nerves because she’s flighty and doesn’t seem to finish anything. Deep inside, I recognize that I’m flighty and can’t finish anything. I have trouble forgiving myself for that perceived shortcoming. If I can’t forgive myself, how can I forgive others, and how can I really believe God can forgive me?
We spend a lot of time and energy telling others they’re unique and exactly what they’re supposed to be. When it comes to ourselves and our family, we don’t really believe that. We’re scared of being a failure or unable to be something, and we hate that in ourselves and those closest to us.
To me, self forgiveness is necessary for us to forgive and truly love others. Maybe it’s basic for all of our interactions, whether they’re with family or with acquaintances.
I worked with a guy I’ll call Woody. Woody was not the brightest of us. He was kind of lazy. Woody was an alcoholic that spent every available minute in a tavern. He was about one DUI from prison. At the time, I was despondent because I’d learned my ex-wife had a boyfriend. Despicable Woody said the most profound thing. He said, “If you feel good about yourself, you’ll never cheat on your spouse. If you feel good about yourself, you won’t hurt other people.” I was floored. I don’t know if he was secretly very wise or if the Holy Spirit spoke through him. Maybe it was just a line from a country song. However Woody came up with that, it helped me through a tough time. To me, that is in line with forgiving ourselves so that we can accept and forgive others.
To summarize, I think that family hurts you because they’re hurting inside and project the blame on to those the most like you. If we forgive ourselves, we can forgive others. If we forgive ourselves, we don’t need to hurt family.