In the life of a family, it’s logical that there are always some people with whom it’s easier for us to get along, while we need to put more effort when dealing with others. It’s a question of “chemistry,” of temperament, of sharing opinions and the way we approach matters.
It’s also true that we don’t always get along with each other in the same way over time. A family is like a living being: it changes continuously, grows and has relationships with other living beings. There are moments of peace and moments when everything shakes. It’s not the same when experiencing an illness or period of economic instability, for example.
It’s good to be alert to small situations that seem unimportant but which, when added together, create a family problem.
I remember a boss of mine, married with children, who used all his and his wife’s savings to buy a new house. It was the dream of both of them and they had put all their expectations into that project. But from one day to the next they realized that they’d been victims of a real estate scam. It was a shock.
One day, when I asked him how they were doing, he replied: “My wife and I don’t even speak to each other when we pass each other in the hallway.” The fact is that when there are problems, they affect the way we act and can even adversely affect those we love the most.
That was a big financial problem which, thank God, was solved in court and had no further family consequences.
However, this illustrates how it’s important to be alert for situations that may seem unimportant but which actually are. In a family there can be obstacles that seem like minor issues but end up building walls that separate us from each other.
- typical reactions due to temperament, which we don’t talk about and which bother us more and more;
- mistakes for which we haven’t asked others for forgiveness (or mistakes of others for which we have not been asked for forgiveness);
- mistakes of the other person that we prefer to keep silent about but we hold on to in our memory.
The moment when the big list comes out
Perhaps it happens to us in our family as it does with the cashier at the supermarket. She’s been tallying things up in the cash register and when the time comes to pay, we end up with a very long list and a high price that leaves us perplexed. The fact is that often in a relationship, perhaps without being very conscious of it we keep a “black list” of offenses people have committed against us.
In the end, such “black lists” are a bomb that eventually explodes.
They’re a wall that we build which separates us from our loved ones. Each “unimportant” item on the list becomes a stone with which, in the end, we build a wall that divides us, separates and can even end up breaking our relationship.
Especially in family life, it’s important to be attentive to avoid raising, even a little, such sometimes imperceptible walls that distance us from each other.
“If, instead of overlooking the things that bother us, we nurture resentments, what in itself is normal and harmless could gradually numb our hearts, so that our dealings with others, and thus the atmosphere in the house, would become strained,” warns Carlos Ayxelà, a priest who works in youth and family ministry in Switzerland.
What can we do to avoid building walls in our family?
In the book La ternura de Dios, Misericordia y vida diaria (“The Tenderness of God: Mercy and Daily Life”), there is a recipe to avoid building those walls that separate: it is mercy. Let me repeat that: MERCY.
“Mercy,” says Ayxelà, “gets us out of the vicious circle of resentment, which leads to hoarding a list of grievances in which the self is always exalted at the expense of the shortcomings of others, real or imagined.”
Mercy is key to maintaining family unity.
That mercy, for a Christian, means having the same feelings as Christ when looking at others. How would Jesus look at my mother-in-law? How would Jesus look at that sister or that brother-in-law, and that son who gives you headaches? In order to learn to look at others like Jesus, we must first talk to Jesus.
Speaking to God about what separates us
God’s love,” he explains in the book, “pushes us, instead, to look for Him in our heart, to find our relief there.” Should we talk about our conflicts? Yes, of course, but with God first of all. He will provide the filter for us to know how to judge those facts and to have the appropriate words to describe them when speaking with others. Maybe after praying to God we’ll already have peace about that issue and can opt for silence in peace.
“From what point do we begin to pardon the small and great wrongs that we suffer each day? First of all, beginning with prayer,” Pope Francis recommended in the Angelus of December 26, 2015, that is, the feast of St. Stephen the martyr.
Get rid of the bitterness that separates members of our family
The pope continued …
We begin with our own heart: with prayer we are able to face the resentment we feel, by entrusting to God’s mercy those who have wronged us: “Lord, I ask you for him, I ask you for her.” Then we discover that this inner struggle to forgive cleanses us of evil, and that prayer and love free us from the interior chains of bitterness. It is so awful to live in bitterness! Every day we have the opportunity to practice forgiving, to live a gesture so lofty that it brings man closer to God.
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