Thursday, February 2, 2012

Family Dysfunction and Lessons to be Learned

I recently had a relative to pass away. He was a good Christian man who did a lot of selfless things. He was inspirational in a lot of ways - he had compassion for others and gave generously to those in need. But sometimes those that need us the most are right in front of us. I say this, not to disrespect this person, but to try to take something I found hurtful and learn lessons from it. Instead of becoming bitter and angry.

How often are we kinder to friends and even strangers than we are to our spouses or children? I'm in no way saying we should not reach out to others - the poor, the less fortunate, the people Jesus commanded us to take care of. He talks about caring for the poor and widows over and over in Scripture. Obviously, this is very important stuff. But does it have to be to the exclusion of those closest to us? Does it mean we neglect our own family in the process? What does it mean when a person does good things for the needy but leaves his own family wondering if they mattered to him? 

As I heard story after story of how this man cared for people he barely knew, I couldn't help but wonder, 'So why didn't you care about me? Was I not important to you? *Why* was *I* not important to you?' Selfish, I know. But that's what I was thinking. It hurt. It felt like a slap in the face. I felt cheated. 

Those kinds of questions don't ever really end up in a good place. I realize that dwelling on them doesn't do much good. There's no way I can answer them now that he is gone. I'm sure I did matter to him - he just didn't feel the need or see the importance of showing it. And I never felt it. I'm sure he did the best he could in the situation he was in. 

I'm sure there are varying reasons for his lack of interest in my life. It probably wasn't intentional. But one thing I know - after I'm gone (or even while I'm still here) I don't want those around me wondering if they mattered to me. I want them to KNOW they did. I want to tell them, I want to show them. I don't want to leave any doubts.

Are we always going to do the right thing? Probably not. Are we always going to even know what to do or say? No. Will we make mistakes? Yes. Will we be misunderstood? Maybe. Dealing with family and family dysfunction can be more than slightly difficult. But I would much rather be the one who at least makes the effort. I don't want to be guilty of sitting in my safe little world. Doing nothing. Thinking I'm being neutral. Or so scared of making mistakes or looking foolish that I do nothing. Because the truth is, when it comes to family, there *is* no such thing as being neutral. We WILL have an influence. We can choose to make a little effort so it will be a positive influence. Or we can choose to make very little to no effort and have a negative impact. As with most things in life, we DO have a choice.

I do not want to contribute to the pattern of indifference, neglect and isolation in our family, so I choose to sometimes do the harder thing, the inconvenient thing. It may mean risking rejection at times. Not everyone responds when we reach out. But at least they will know I cared enough to try.

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