I had the distinct privilege this past weekend of attending a family reunion. I was not sure what to expect, given our family’s history, but I had a blast and owe a great debt to my sister for seeing her idea through. (And thanks for dragging me into the pool fully clothed. My shoes are dry now, thank you.)
It has been probably 30 years since my family had enough people talking to even have a reunion or for anyone in it to want to attend one. That is pretty profound considering I am not yet in my 40’s.
Noticeably missing from the event were my two uncles, and a couple of cousins. Some simply couldn’t make it, others were hindered by hatred and bitterness that once started off as something so small, but which grew bigger over time.
I have been married for over 16 years. For those of you who have done 50 or so years, I know I am a marriage rookie. For those just starting out, I have accomplished at least what you hope to. The fact is that many marriages don’t even see 5 years. The reasons are many, but one of the great pitfalls is pride. Bitterness and pride have a lot in common and often walk hand in hand.
I called this article ‘a sermon perhaps’ because I believe in the authority of scripture, and two verses in particular stand out for this story and I would like to expound upon them quickly. Ephesians 4:26,27 read “Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath: Neither give place to the devil.”
When I was a kid, I would read that line, and like most scripture, it wouldn’t mean a whole lot. Then, after getting married, my wife and I made an agreement that brought me back to it. We promised to never go to bed angry. I hadn’t really considered why we made that agreement. Someone had imparted that thought to me and it sounded reasonably sound in its logic.
While on the surface the idea of not retiring until you finish a disagreement may seem pretty benign, it is in reality very profound. You see, bitterness is like a ferry pulling away from the dock. We have all seen the scene where someone is about to miss the boat and has to leap to get onto the deck. The longer you wait, the further the boat moves away and therefore less likelihood that you will make it. Bitterness is also like an oak tree. It may seem a trifle too small to do much damage as a seedling, but once rooted, it can tear the foundation out of your home. Simply look to the Middle East for the best example of bitterness and hatred.
I am writing this today not only to impart what little wisdom that I may or may not have, but because two family members whom I love dearly have now let their own oak tree grow for six months and I cannot remain silent. The roots are already well established, and it worries me. You see, they are brother and sister, and that makes for a dangerous combination.
My family has a history of cultivating oak trees. As I mentioned above, we have seldom had enough of a functioning family to even hold a reunion. If sibling ‘A’ wasn’t talking to sibling ‘C’, then sibling ‘A’ would talk to sibling ‘B’. If sibling ‘B’ had the audacity to talk to sibling ‘C’, then sibling ‘A’ would stop talking to both of them. The reason for all of this foolishness? Pride.
One had wronged another one time, or had perhaps perpetrated a long string of wrongs, perceived or real. One thing is certain. To the one who feels wronged, the offence is always real. As these family members began to talk after 25 years or so of unrelenting hatred, they came to the conclusion that they had all, (the one’s who are now talking, at least), wasted a great deal of time. There were tears and apologies, and most important, healing.
One of my cousins and I watched the goings on of our family and we made somewhat of a pact. We would never, we promised, allow this foolishness to permeate our generation. It would stop at our parents. It would not find the soil with which to grow in our lives. Now, sadly, he and his own sister are no longer in contact.
I have to refer back to marriage for a second. After all, it is not unlike our other personal relationships with family in many ways. My wife and I don’t go to bed angry. Sometimes it isn’t because the one at fault apologizes, but it is sometimes because the one who believes that they are right apologizes.
I have two choices when there is contention between my wife and I. The first choice is that I can ‘stick to my guns’ but the end result of that is that I may rip my family apart. It is called pride when one is simply too foolish to do what one must to restore peace. That may sound a little like weakness to some, but I can assure you, it takes a strong person to take the blame for something that isn’t theirs. The other choice is to apologize to my wife for the wrong, real or perceived, which I have done to her.
When it comes to a wounded spirit, there is absolutely no difference between what I call ‘real or perceived’. Sometimes we can see our offense clearly, but other times, we simply don’t get the big deal. Us men are famous for that. I have learned that the perceived wrongs are sometimes the one’s that we refuse to acknowledge, and we are very good at avoiding reconciliation with these.
Just last week at work, a co-worker did something to me that really set me off. It isn’t important what it was, I was angered by her. I have never really cared for her, but I am pleasant regardless. After the incident, she ‘somewhat’ attempted to apologize or explain, and I bit her head off. She walked away and that was that. On Friday, I pulled her aside and apologized for my behaviour. Sure, I could have simply not spoken to her again, but that leaves an awkwardness and bad feelings in the air. I swallowed my pride and apologized in front of the coworkers who witnessed the episode. The result is that I set a good example for them and left myself looking better than I had done earlier in the week. I also restored a healthy atmosphere between the two of us, however cautious it would be.
I still think that what she did was stupid and unthoughtful. I also think that while way overboard, my response was justified. So what. That is simply pride, not logic. Who cares who was right. We both did something wrong and I owned up to my share.
Now, in my personal life, I find two family members who are opposed. As I said, their oak is now six months old. Unless one or both of them swallow their pride and admit defeat, then the stalemate will continue. The bad feelings will grow, and they will no doubt pass them on to their own children. They need to see clearly what it has done to our family in the past, this pride, and they need to really see how it makes themselves feel.
It isn’t something that I would want my children to inherit, and I know that it isn’t something they wish on theirs. However, unless one or both simply choose to reconcile, whether they feel they are right or not, then the divide between them will grow and engulf others along the way.