It’s important to notice things that seem unimportant but end up building walls that separate us from others.
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When it comes to family, there will always be people who are easier to deal with while others take more effort. It has to do with “chemistry” between people — character traits, shared opinions and interests, and a similar approach to things.
It’s also true that sometimes it’s easier to live together than at other times. A family is like a living being: it changes constantly, grows, and exists in relation with other living beings. There are moments of peace and moments when everything feels like it’s on shaky ground. And it’s more demanding when challenges like illness or economic instability befall us.
I remember when a boss of mine, who was married with children, used all of his and his wife’s savings to buy a new house. It was their dream and all their hopes were pinned on it. But overnight they realized they had been victims of a real estate scam. It was a cruel blow.
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.”
When there are problems, they affect the way we act and can affect our closest relationships the most.
That was a big financial problem which, thank God, was solved in court and had no further family consequences.
But it’s important to be alert to situations that seem unimportant, but actually matter a great deal. In family life there can be obstacles that seem like minor issues but end up building walls that separate us from others.
- Reactions resulting from a family member’s difficult character that we don’t talk about and that bother us more and more;
- Mistakes for which we haven’t asked for forgiveness (or for which we have not been asked for forgiveness);
- Other people’s mistakes that we prefer to keep silent about but we hold to in our memory.
The moment when the accumulated list comes to light
Perhaps we do something similar to what cashiers do at a small corner market. They make a note of sales at the cash register and when the time comes to balance the books or take inventory, they have a long and confusing list. In our family relationships, we can end up with a very long list of grievances that leaves us perplexed. And we may have built up an account without being conscious of it.
In the end, these lists are a bomb that inevitably explodes, a wall we build that separates us from our loved ones.
Especially in family life, it’s important to be attentive to avoid raising, even just a little, those sometimes imperceptible walls that distance us from each other.
“If we nurture resentments instead of overlooking the little things that bother us, things that are normal and harmless could gradually numb our hearts so that our dealings with others – and thus the atmosphere in the house – become strained,” warns Fr. Carlos Ayxelà, a priest who works in youth and family ministry in Switzerland.
What can I do to avoid building walls in my family?
Fr. Carlos offers a recipe for us to avoid building those walls that separate: mercy. Allow me to repeat that in capital letters: 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 others due to their real or imagined shortcomings.”
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 my sister, or at my brother-in-law, my child, or that person who gives me headaches? A prerequisite for looking through Jesus’ eyes is having a relationship with Jesus to get to know him better and understand his perspective.
Speaking to God about what separates us
“God’s love,” Fr. Carlos explains, “pushes us, instead, to look for him in our heart, to find our relief there.” It’s a great solution: should we talk about conflicts? Yes, of course, but first we should talk with God, who will provide the perspective from which we should judge those facts and the appropriate words to confront them when speaking with others. Or maybe after praying with God we’ll already have found 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 explained in his Angelus on December 26, 2015 – that is, the day after Christmas, the feast of the first martyr, St. Stephen.
Get rid of the bitterness that separates me from my family.
Fr. Carlos goes on:
It begins with our own heart: we can confront the resentment we experience with prayer, entrusting the person who has wronged us to God’s mercy: “Lord, I pray to you for him, I pray to you for her.” Then we will discover that this inner struggle to forgive purifies us from evil, and that prayer and love free us from the inner chains of resentment. It’s so ugly to live with resentment! Every day we have the opportunity to train ourselves to forgive, to live this noble gesture that brings man closer to God.
Fr. Carlos’ reflections are found in his book God’s Tenderness: Mercy and Daily Life (“La ternura de Dios. Misericordia y vida diaria,” published in Spanish.)