Monday, April 14, 2014

Healing: a family affair

Family relationships are messy. Our families are the source of our greatest joys, our best laughs, our most tender moments—and our deepest pain.

Many of us are “the walking wounded,” with deep hurts that started in a family setting.

Unattended, these injuries fester and canker. They never heal on their own. 

A day comes when we have to decide—do we want to free our minds and hearts from guilt and loss, and our bodies from stress-caused hormones that trigger poor health?  Will we ever release loved ones from our desire to get even—not because they do or don’t deserve to be punished, but because we choose love over resentment?

Dag Hammarskjold said, "Forgiveness is the answer to the child's dream of a miracle by which what is broken is made whole again, what is soiled is made clean again."

It’s a long path, sometimes requiring help from clergy or psychologists. But these injuries are best healed where they started—in the family.

Writing is a useful tool.  First, we look at feelings and memories, jotting down resentments and grudges. How old are these feelings—do we bring up past events in arguments?  Does a loved one have a pattern of behavior that continues to offend us?  Are we willing to push ourselves to forgive?

Second—this takes courage—we reflect on situations where we may have hurt someone.  We ask, “Have I taken responsibility? Did I apologize? Have I tried to change my recurrent patterns that offend?” 

Family expert Howard Markman says, “You stand in the way of reconciliation if you never take responsibility for your part of the problem.”

Next comes the hard part—reaching out to the family member.  It requires a phone call or personal visit to break the ice and set a good time to talk. 

Then, we listen, listen listen. Noted storyteller Kim Weitkamp says a vital key to forgiveness is to hear the story of the one who wronged us, to understand where that person is coming from.

We then tell our story, and the stage is set to discuss the identified problem and its pain. Hopefully, eventually, these magic words will be spoken: “I’m sorry—I was wrong. Please forgive me.” If one person isn’t ready to say those words, great peace can still come to the one who made the effort to reach out—that is the nature of forgiveness.

The book of Genesis tells the story of ten brothers who carried a burden of remorse for selling their brother into slavery many years before.  When a gruff Egyptian ruler, who held their future in his hands, declared that he was their brother, they were speechless.

Then Joseph “kissed all his brethren, and wept upon them, and after that his brethren talked with him.” Perhaps they spoke of long-ago jealousy over their father’s favoritism; surely, they asked his forgiveness, and Joseph no doubt spoke of his loneliness and his determination to forgive if he ever saw his family again.

Years of distance, estrangement, guilt and anger flowed away with their tears and they were family once again.