There are times in life when it feels like nothing could hurt more than the pain caused by being disappointed by those we love. I have felt this pain personally and counseled others who have experienced it as well. We tend to be more emotionally vulnerable with our family members than with anyone else, and as a result, the disappointments cut that much deeper, the wounds sting that much longer. But how do we get over those hurts…how do we deal with the pain and put the pieces back together after the damage has been done? How do we move forward after we’ve been hurt and disappointed by family?
I have a few personal examples, but I’ve decided to keep the focus of this blog on the lessons I’ve learned rather than the specifics that led to the lessons. I made that decision, in large part, to protect the relationships involved, which is a good way to introduce you to the first lesson I learned: family matters should remain family matters. In this world of social media, it is easy to turn personal matters into public matters. With just a few clicks, we can expose our family business to people all over the world. The sad truth is that when we do this, we typically do it to get approval, to feel validated, to get people to understand our side of the story and join our team in the fight. It may feel good at that moment, as you count the likes and read the comments that say, “They were wrong for treating you that way,” but what have you gained by doing this? How do the likes and comments stop your hurting or mend the brokenness in your relationship? What do we hope to gain by revealing our private matters on a public forum? In most instances, exposing your private family matters on social media only vilifies the others involved and delays the healing process in your family. This is not to say that you should keep all matters to yourself. You should, by all means, seek wise counsel. Talk to a pastor, a counselor, or a close friend or family member for the purpose of gaining insight and perspective, not to gossip or gain an ally.
The second lesson I learned is that I should pursue reconciliation over being right. Now, you may not agree with me on this one, but hear me out. Relationships are like a bank that we can make deposits into and take withdrawals from. Every good thing that we do, every time that we put the relationship first, we are making a deposit into the relationship bank. The opposite is also true, every time we put our selfish interests over the relationship, or make a decision that is not in the best interest of the relationship, we are making a withdrawal. Each time I choose being right over being reconciled, I am saying that I am more important than us…I am choosing me over we, which causes a withdrawal from our relationship bank. What happens when the bank gets to zero? In marriages, the outcome is usually infidelity or divorce. In other family relationships it creates distance and distrust. In the interest of full disclosure, this relationship bank analogy is not my original thought, but I like it, so I am using it. Either way, reconciliation should be our goal when things go awry. There are no real winners in an argument; there is only victory when the relationship has been reconciled.
The last two lessons kind of go together: consider the source and fill it in with grace. Always consider the source (the other party) when you run into disappointment. Understand that some people may not be where you are mentally, emotionally, or in maturity. Take that into consideration when you are evaluating the wrong that was done to you. For instance, if my brother and my 14-year-old son both wrong me in the exact same way, I will handle the two situations differently. My brother is older than me and has more life experience and maturity than I do, so he should be more aware of the damage he is causing than my 14-year-old who has yet to have any real life experiences.
Fill it in with grace is a statement that we use on staff at the church I work at. We’ve made it a policy to assume the best when people wrong us and to fill in the gaps with grace because that is what Jesus does for us. This is especially true if you are a believer and your family member is not. If this is the scenario you find yourself in, I want you to remember two things: First, you are in the process of being sanctified by the Holy Spirit dwelling inside of you, your family member is not. Second, you have been reconciled to God, so you have been given the ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18). Your family member’s eternity is far more important than the wrong they did to you. Your reconciling with them, exercising forgiveness the way that God has forgiven you, may be what God uses to reconcile your family member to Himself.
Don’t get me wrong, I understand that some wounds are deep and some hurts are long lasting. I’m not making light of that in any way. What I am doing is challenging you, challenging myself, to be more like Christ. I’m not saying it’s easy, but I do believe it’s necessary. Let me make one caveat to all of this. I used reconciliation instead of forgiveness because I do believe that we should try to reconcile broken relationship with our family members. My caveat is this: Not in cases where you have been abused or where abuse is a possible outcome. In these cases, forgiveness is an option for you but reconciliation may not be the best choice because of the physical and emotional danger involved. In circumstances like this, pray for everyone involved. Ask God to protect you and to give you the grace and the strength that you need to heal. Ask God to mend your brokenness and to work on the other parties involved, but please do not put yourself or any of your loved ones in a dangerous situation by reconciling with an unrepentant, abusive individual. If you are currently in an abusive situation, call 9-1-1. Get the proper help that you need to get out of that situation!
As always, I hope this helps you as much as it has helped me.