In response to the Pope’s prayer intention for the “treasure of the family” this month, I’ve been praying for my own family and many others that are struggling to be cohesive. It is increasingly harder for families to find common ground when so many are divided by geography, political positions, religiosity and enmity resulting from unforgiveness.
As the oldest of four I think my DNA includes a gene that makes me feel responsible to take the lead on any challenges affecting my family. Conversely, when I got married my husband who was also the oldest had no inclination to resolve challenges within his family. So I took on his family challenges too!
How to be a family was modeled by my parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles and primarily first cousins. There was no need to negotiate time during the summer or holidays because our parents simply rotated hosting gatherings. Celebrations of sacraments being conferred or school graduations were hosted accordingly. It looked so easy growing up. But, like so many who long for the family model they experienced in their youth or the one modeled by TV families are finding – it’s not so easy anymore.
Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. From the east I will bring your descendants; from the west I will gather you. (Isaiah 43:5)
Geography is increasingly becoming a challenge for families to be close. We just learned we are going to be grandparents and unfortunately our daughter and her husband moved away to another state so they could afford to buy a house. The nearest family to them is 4 hours away by car and on her husband’s side. We thought of moving closer, but the first home in modern culture is rarely the forever home. So we are already thinking we’ll be using technology to try to connect daily while negotiating in person visits so the grandkiddos will know who we are.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. (1 Peter 2:17)
Politics are really dividing families in a cataclysmic way. Our current societal norms, no longer seem to include civility on the subject. The level of negative emotions and health outcomes associated with our current political climate is causing some families to severe ties. The adage “Blood is thicker than water” doesn’t seem to hold water anymore. Out with the old generation, that would out of respect for their elders simply keep their thoughts to themselves. The new millennium is being characterized as a new frontier for technological tools for communication, but at a cost of losing in person communications. In many families limiting interactions to digital means only, when there are opposite political positions is holding a strained family tie by a thread where an in person interaction could cause that tie to break all together.
Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it. (Proverbs 22:6)
Religion is also beginning to drive families apart. My parents and grandparents modeled the faith for me. You have already heard about the emerging culture of the “Nones.” This mindset will present challenges for modeling the faith in the 21st century. I have watched friends lose access to their grandchildren because they tried to force the issue of modeling the faith. I have seen marriages end because one spouse is living their faith and the other abhors their religion. I personally have experienced family ties broken because one sibling stands in judgement of another who identifies as LGBTQ.
When I think about these challenges it reminds me of two of our Church’s great saints. St. Monica is a great representative of modeling the faith in a non-threatening and respectful way. She simply prayed for her son, St. Augustine, for 17 years to see his conversion from a “None” to a “Doctor” of her Holy Catholic Church. You can do that too! By the way we celebrate the Feasts of St. Monica and St. Augustine this month, on August 27th and 28th.
Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all offenses. (Proverbs 10:12)
The most insidious division for all families is unforgiveness. Whether it’s because a parent wasn’t the one you thought you needed or another member who did something more grievous — it’s painful. When something causes us pain we tend to avoid the source of the pain, but avoidance only increases it. Yes, you have a right to honor your pain, by feeling it and practicing the healing process in your own time and space.
My mother and I for years had such a difficult relationship. After years of prayer I was led to write her a letter outlining all the things she did to hurt me and an offer of forgiveness. It was also an opportunity to outline things done maliciously to her by me and to ask for her forgiveness. It was the beginning of a revelation for me! The Holy Spirit helped me understand for the first time in my thirties that I came through her in accord with God’s plan. In response to my letter my mother said a lot of things, but what resonated for me was when she said, “You didn’t come with a manual and I did the best that I could.” It was such a great relief to be free from holding all the anger, enmity and worst of all judgement.
It is being said by many that the structure of the family unit is under attack. Relationships are hard because they involve interacting with people. People with differing personalities, priorities and lifestyles from your own can cause conflict. Maybe it’s just me, but our culture is moving toward an isolationist one: a culture that seeks to eliminate any conflict or disagreement from their lives. Yet, our church espouses us to be in community with one another. As Pope Francis has called us, and using St. Monica as a model, let us pray for our personal families and families of the world.
The organizers of the World Meeting of Families have designed an awesome prayer that we are encouraged to say during the week long event. It would be great to say it over nine days so it would truly be a novena for the intentions of strengthening your family ties that are strained, hanging on by a thread or broken and in need of restoration. Download this prayer printable from the World Meeting of Families and pray with your family.
Copyright 2018 Sherry Hayes-Pierce