When you read this, it will be Christmas Eve. As I write this, I’m traveling back home from a family gathering; a gathering that included both extreme happiness as children squealed over tea sets and over dinosaurs that, when immersed, grow to 600 times their original size. (I can’t wait for that!) and tears that flowed unbidden.
There were four families within the larger family that were able to come: eight adults and four small children. Four men (all of the men present) are gospel preachers. During our short 16 hours together, there were five prayers led. Some of them were fervent prayers for the one family that was unable to be represented there because of an intense battle with cancer. We sang songs about heaven and hope and our precious Jesus.
I did some cooking and a lot of dishes and filled a lot of Tupperware tubs with leftovers ( and, yes, we are in the South, so I filled some cottage cheese containers and ice cream buckets with leftovers. too.) I made a palate in the closet floor for Ezra. I lined a sofa with garbage bags topped with quilts for another little one (just in case of an accident in the night). I was invited to several tea parties and I was arrested and jailed (in a closet) by a short red-headed “po-weese-man” several times (but I always found a co-conspirator to help me escape), and I was the conductor on a train.
And traveling home, I am extremely tired. But I am back here in the “way-back-in-the-back” little seat of our Pilot (the one you from which you cannot be released till somebody opens the hatch and then you do gymnastics to get out.). We are pulling a big trailer and we’ve had two of our singing “Days of Christmas” in this Pilot already. When we get home, our kids are going on a birthday date/retreat overnight and we are keeping the grandkids. (Rough job, but somebody…). I’m thinking about how blessed we are to have families (on both sides) where we can go and feel love in Him and sweet unity.
So, as we’re traveling home, we’re talking about family. While we certainly are not experts on doing family right, we’ve been talking about the things that are challenging in some extended families— things that get in the way of fun and unity—and things that help us to be close and supportive of each other.
My husband just said something profound. (He does that a lot.) He said this:
“The key to having peace and happiness in extended families is a paradox: Unity lies in being able to remember and it lies in being able to forget.”
He went on to explain that he who wants to provide a place of comfort and security within the family must remember what it’s like to be in the shoes of the other person. Old folks need to remember what it was like to have small children and, thus, make allowances for misplaced items, for occasional breakage and for the occasions that require discipline. Young parents need to remember that they are in the presence of people who are more fragile and less agile. Extreme respect and deference should always be given to the aged. All people should remember that we are each on the precipice of eternity and, in a very short while, it will not matter which material possessions were protected. It will not matter whether or not every single tradition was honored. It will not matter if the children were dressed in vintage or in trendy clothing or if everyone was dressed in ecru and jeans for the family picture. It will not matter if we all rooted for the same team. It will not matter if we lived in relative cleanliness or relative clutter. It will not matter whether our kids faced forward at two or at four. It will not matter whether we stopped to eat at Cracker Barrel or Los Portales. One thing will matter. If our families can get that one thing right…just that one thing…
Then he explained that it’s important for us to forget. If we could just forget that time that Aunt Bertha had a come-apart over the sugar in the casserole. If we could forget that awful episode when everyone was tired after the funeral and said things they really did not mean. If we could forget that Sally sometimes doesn’t bring a dish or that Fred eats and then leaves or that Tom is always talking through the game commentary. If we could forget all the things for which people have apologized. If we had better forgetters, we could make families safer emotional havens.
I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love…(Ephesians 4:1,2)
Longsuffering is the key. It means your ability to “put up with” things that rub you the wrong way. And, in this context, it means your ability to do it while you keep loving people. Longsuffering requires both remembering and forgetting. And the Word tells us, in the very next verse, that this is the way we endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. That unity is an invaluable blessing whenever found in families.