Recently forgiveness has been on my mind. A family member whom I have never met attempted to contact me. This person has caused a great deal of heartache for the ones I love, so naturally I too feel hurt when I think of this person. As hard as it can be to forgive people who've hurt us, I think it is even more difficult when the person is “family.” Many people assume that forgiving family members is easier than forgiving strangers or acquaintances because we don't have a history or a shared connection with non-family members. In reality, I feel that's exactly why forgiving family members can be so complicated and so painful. I recently read an article by Sydney Thomas who addresses the key points below regarding forgiveness in the family.
Betrayal of our trust.
I believe that family members almost always start off with a basic level of love and trust, even if it is for no other reason than just being “family.“ From the moment children are born they naturally develop an attachment to their parents and siblings that usually grows deeper with time. Families are considered the most natural relationships in our culture. We consider the family bond to be sacred.
Cultural and historical importance of genealogy
The Bible illustrates time and time again the importance of genealogy. The Old Testament describes in great detail the lineage of King David and ultimately Jesus Christ himself. Thrones, family fortunes, legal rights and much more are determined by blood ties exclusively in many cultures.
Shared history and shared memories.
For some people shared history makes it easier to forgive family members. There are happy memories of better times that provide motivation to reconcile and return to the way things used to be. Yet, a serious hurt at the hands of a family member can cause some people to question every thing they thought they knew about their "loved ones." It seems that the history can sometime be erased given a serious hurt.
Families don't stop doing what families do when there's a rift between individual members. Many family members ignore the issue and “pretend” as though nothing has ever happened. Holiday meals, weddings, and birthdays are events when unreasonable and unfair pressure is forced on the ones who have been hurt. Often, they are expected to grin and bear it for the sake of the family, even when the family knows about what happened. While their intentions may be well-meaning, families often throw the wronged family member under the bus in the interest of maintaining the illusion of family harmony. This only adds to the pain of the person who has been hurt. In reality this only deepens the already open wounds and sets the family up for more bitterness down the road.
For me, it is extremely difficult to forgive the folks in my life, family or not, who do not identify their wrong and deny it repeatedly. I choose to forgive for my own well being as to not let bitterness take hold yet my heart is still very guarded. Forgiveness is especially difficult when the person appears to be a “repeat offender” with no remorse for the wrongful doing. I am not saying that I am perfect and there are more times that I can count when I needed to ask forgiveness from a family member. It is a humbling experience. I do find it amazing though that when Christ is in the center of your relationship with one another forgiveness is easy, bitterness never takes hold and peace reenters the relationship. In those relationships the act of forgiveness makes the bond stronger. I have found in my life that on the contrary, when Christ is overlooked in a relationship the act of forgiveness is a struggle and almost seems unnatural. Bitterness time and time again attempts to rear it’s ugly head and it is a struggle to push it away. The relationship is saturated in prayer and yet the forgiveness always seems one sided. It is very difficult to talk about forgiveness with someone who does not believe that they have wronged you and appears angered by the thought. Bingo- that is when I made the choice to focus on Jesus and His forgiveness for me. He forgave me before I even acknowledged it as He did for all of us. When I get to feeling upset or irritated about dysfunctional family dynamics I try to bring myself back to the foot of the cross. That is true unconditional forgiveness. I think if we can model sacrifice and humility in our own lives as Christ did for us forgiveness would be so much easier.
It is my prayer that no matter what hurt you are dealing with in your family that you meet it with Christ like humility, love and forgiveness. Only then will we see the miracles He has in store for us!
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