Unfortunately, there are numerous instances where members of a family become embroiled in long-standing disputes with each other suffering ongoing feelings of tension, irritability, and judgments that take on a life of their own. This can result in a stand-off over many years in which others are tolerated, but not without a great deal of good-will. There are also times when something much quieter and more subtle takes place which creates distance between self and others. Often the reasons are unclear, but may appear to have to do with differences in faith, jealousy or values which create obstacles to closeness.
The desire to build a bridge to those who seem lost to us or separated from us is a need of a spiritual kind, for it involves acknowledging the inner nature of the relationship between ourselves and our parents, ourselves and our children, ourselves and siblings-ourselves and God.
Under the cloak of righteousness is a lining of anger and judgment, a heavy article to wear each day. However, the path to forgiveness and acceptance comes from throwing off that coat, leaving us bare and vulnerable for God’s touch. If we don’t, within the absence of forgiveness we carry the pain of self-judgment with us throughout life as well as judgment of others. This is because judgment of another is always and without exception based on judgment of ourselves in some way that remains hidden. And because it is hidden, it is revealed only by what we reject in another. It reminds me that without forgiveness we become what we hate–we are called to love and only to love. Often, this is hard to see, and yet rejection of another for seemingly ‘justifiable’ reasons is always rejection of that part of the self that is like or could be like the other who cannot be forgiven.
In the case of alienation, estrangement, and distance between family members, the situation is somewhat different. Here, there is not the volatility or heat of anger to bring family members into a confrontational engagement. Rather, there is a quiet lack of feeling which covers another more profound layer of experience, namely, a sense of sorrow or loss, based on the feeling that love is not or was not possible. This sense of loss or lack permeates a relationship on such an internal level so that it no longer seems possible to be in a relationship at all. It can be buried so deeply that it may be impossible to remember that there was a time when love was present or a time when love was lost. In our stubbornness, the original experience of woundedness becomes covered over, and in its place we find a sense of apathy or indifference – tools of the devil that are designed to conceal the more painful experience of feeling that love could not be.
In cases where relationships are difficult or painful – even in such cases, souls have come together in order to learn from such relationships. Often, the learning is one of the heart about what to appreciate in life, what to seek, what to value. It requires humility, self examination, and an openness to forgive each other’s transgressions
There are, in the end, no relationships within families that cannot find their way back to love. This is true no matter how far apart family members may be physically, and no matter how many years have passed. There are no relationships in which the heart cannot seek to extend itself in love and forgiveness to all. It is a matter of viewing things from God’s perspective-an understanding that each being who comes into our life, and especially those with whom we have a significant relationship, come bearing gifts of learning and of growth.
While we pray for reconciliation, if we do our portion to bring everything to the foot of the cross, God will do the rest–whether in this life or the next.