No doubt you’ve heard it said before, “Oh they’re a dysfunctional family”, and maybe you’re convinced that your own family is dysfunctional — you might even go so far as to think that you’re the only sane one in a big ol’ bag of nuts?
If you’re the latter, I want to be at one of your family gatherings — crazy people are the best! However, I regret to inform you that you’re probably nuts yourself and just don’t know it yet 🙁
But you know what I have found myself pondering as of late — why do we expect any family to be anything but “dysfunctional”? I mean, we’re not emotionless machines — we’re human beings!
We all have moments when we find ourselves behaving in a dysfunctional way — and I think we’d all be happier if we stopped expecting our family to act reasonably in every situation, and just started to accept them for what they are: flawed individuals probably trying their best.
We just got back from our last get-together of the Christmas Season. I especially love the family gatherings that happen this time of year — but family gatherings are when our dysfunctions really seem to shine. Can anybody else relate?
What is about getting together with family that leads us to saying and doing things we wouldn’t ever do at other gatherings? If I were to guess, I would say that while we could easily let a comment pass at a gathering of friends and strangers, something about the fact that we’re all stuck with each other until death-do-us-part, makes us a little less polished — a little more real.
Honestly, sometimes I am just waiting to see who will be the first person to hit the landmines that are known as politics and religion — you just never know when pleasantries will turn into a heated discussion.
You know the definition of insanity? It’s doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. I get why people grow nervous or even dislike family gatherings — but at the end of the day, this is your family! Stop expecting them to change and just love them where they are! We can’t change anybody else. If we’re being honest, we can barely change ourselves 🙁
As my Great Aunt Anne used to say, “You can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family.” God placed us in a family so that we could work through a few things. He knew, that if we choose to see our family as a means for our sanctification, then we actually could become better people because of our family — not despite them — but because of them!
Imagine yourself at your own family gathering. Imagine you are so pleasantly surprised by how well behaved everybody is being. There’s a really nice conversation going on and your hope is beginning to rise — and then Aunt Sally (insert other name here) starts talking. She just starts talking about something harmless, that leads to something else, that leads to the dreaded topics of politics and religion — and all of a sudden you know you are on dangerous waters.
Maybe you love a good debate on faith and politics — which I kind of do — or maybe you despise confrontation and awkward moments at the dinner table — either way, you begin to brace yourself for impact because you can feel that things are just about to get ugly.
Now what do you do? At this point, you have three options. (This post is becoming like a Choose Your Own Adventure book.) The first option is to get up and run away. The second one is to try to change the topic. And the third one is to, gulp, engage in the conversation.
So what do you do? Okay, I’d like to recommend a fourth option. Say a prayer! That’s right, say a prayer! And then, you have to choose one of the three options. You have the ability to choose your own adventure — because either choice you make will result in a different outcome.
Part of the adventure of being in a family is that the outcome is highly unpredictable — because people are highly unpredictable. Buckle up kids– it just might be a bumpy ride. But don’t be afraid of that bumpy ride — life is not about controlling every factor around us — sometimes it’s about seeing where it takes us.
I don’t like the word “dysfunctional” — I really don’t — it just puts such a negative slant on something that is part of the human condition: brokenness. We live in a broken world and we are all broken people trying to function properly, but we’re often missing the mark.
We’ve inherited original sin, and even though we are washed clean in baptism, we still have wounds that remain with us throughout our entire lives. And we can seek out God’s healing of these wounds — that’s the best option — but we can also feed these wounds with hatred and bitterness and make matters much worse!
There is a battle going on for our hearts and, sometimes — through no fault of our own — we have touched upon a battle that is going on in the heart of another. At a family gathering, we just might find ourselves in the midst of something that has very little to do with ourselves.
Most people don’t wake up saying “I’m going to be an ass today” — oh, there might be a few, but most people wake up saying, “I want this day to be a good one. I want to love the people around me. I want to help the people around me. I want to be good.” And then, they are faced with their own weakness, their own hurts, their own bad examples being raised in a family and they start to do things and to say things they wished they hadn’t done or said.
Let’s give the benefit of the doubt to our family — most of us are trying our best — and sometimes our best is pretty darn lousy. 🙁 Welcome to the human race — terribly flawed, but beautiful all the same.
Just look at the family that Jesus was born into — sure, his mother was pretty perfect but what about the rest of his family? I mean this with all respect — but John the Baptist was a bit of a wackadoo — running off to the dessert, dressing in animal skins, eating locusts and honey, screaming to the crowds to repent and be baptized –and that wackadoo happened to be a Saint!
And when you when you start to look further at the names in Jesus’ geneaology, you see a whole lot of sin and dysfunction. You see hatred, envy, greed, irrationality, murder, adultery — I could go on, but I won’t. Point is, that if it’s good enough for Jesus, then it’s good enough for us!
And when St. Paul told us to bear with one another’s weaknesses, he probably knew that people had to bear with his own weaknesses too. Yes, Paul, I get it. I get what you’re saying when you lament, “Why do I do the things that I don’t want to do?” I know I have said and done things I wished I hadn’t done, and just maybe those difficult people in my family struggle like I do.
Have you ever asked God why you do the things that you wished you wouldn’t do? Have you ever spent time in adoration and examined your own ugliness and dived neck deep into the sludge that is your own issues? Because it’s easier to speculate on everybody else’s problems and their issues, but what about your own?
I’m asking myself the same question, because — darn it — I have my own issues which need addressing. And if you’re being honest with yourself, you do too. So maybe we’re all a bit dysfunctional at times, but there is hope for us!
People deserve a second chance and a 7th chance and a 70th chance. At least that’s what Jesus said when he told us to “forgive one another 70 times 7 times in one day”! And I think that after we start to look at our own life and our own shortcomings we just might be able to find a little mercy for the shortcomings of our family members.
And sometimes we do actually discuss politics and religion at our family gatherings — and sometimes it doesn’t work out very well. 🙁 But you know what, I still think it is a very valuable thing to do. We are enmeshed in a world that is hostile to the truth — and there are people who shut down anybody who has a different opinion from themselves — and the truth is not allowed to be spoken or to shape people for the better.
So if you’re not willing to speak the truth in love, then you might be denying somebody a true path to freedom, for fear of what they might think of you for disagreeing with them. So what I’m saying is, don’t be afraid to bring up the hard stuff with family — even if it’s over a plate of figgie pudding. 🙁
As St. Paul says, “Woe to me, if I don’t preach the Gospel” — but tread lightly because people are more likely to listen if they don’t feel like they are being attacked!
The key is love — you need love for this person — or anything you say, no matter how true it is, won’t make a difference. Examine yourself and ask yourself, am I going to say this thing I’m about to say in love, or because I want to win a debate? And if it’s the latter, then just don’t say it! Say a prayer and keep quiet because you’re not going to help the cause of truth.
If you feel God prompting you to speak, then speak the truth. And if the response is violent and completely unexpected — well, sometimes the truth works that way. It shakes people up — it makes them angry — it even disturbs them.
Jesus said, “Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but division. From now on, five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three.” — you just might be a part of that division that eventually brings peace.
Here’s an idea: What if — before you show up at the next family gathering — you say a prayer for everybody who is going to show up?
And what if you even said to God, “I know I can’t change anybody else at that gathering, but I am giving you permission to change me. Change me, Lord, and let me be an instrument of your peace.” What if you allowed God to change you? What if He filled your heart with forgiveness for your family — what if He took away all the bitterness, all the anger, and He left only love in it’s place?
What would your gathering look like then? I don’t know, but it’s up to you to choose your own adventure. Buckle up, it just might be a bumpy ride — but I guarantee, if you’re riding with Jesus, it’s gonna be amazing!
~This post is dedicated to my big ol’ crazy family. I wouldn’t change a thing about you, even if I could — okay, maybe a few things come to mind. 😉 ~