I am convinced that there are more unhappy families than there are happy ones. Divorce and single parent statistics are only the tip of the iceberg. There has to be many more families as good as broken that fly beneath the radar because they are from all appearances ‘happy’.
I know (sadly) too many people with broken families. There are those who had a parent who strayed (and still straying). There are those who at a young age had a parent abandon their family and leave them in a financial lurch. There are those whose parents don’t leave but whose irresponsible life-style has put the family in debt, leaving it to the children to pay up. And there are those who may not have with any external signs abandoned the family, but who inflict great psychological and emotional pain through their words and actions, leaving their family feeling entrapped.
Family can be a wonderful thing. It can also be the scariest place to belong to. It is supposed to be the safest place in the world where you are accepted and loved for who you are from the moment you were born. But in reality, few people experience such unconditional love within the family. And when family members start hurting one another, abandoning each other, it can make home hell.
Sometimes we read in the news of grown children who refuse to take care of their aged parents, or who refuse to let their parents see the grandchildren. Quite often, the initial response is one of disapproval for the children and sympathy for the aged parents. Few people would consider the possibility, nay, the probability, that the aged parents may have inflicted terrible damage to their own children in the past.
If your father gambled and drank and womanized and left your mother to raise you and your siblings on her own… would you willingly take care of him in his old age when he has nobody left to go to? Even if you forgave him and did the filial thing although he never in his life exercised the responsibility of being a parent, wouldn’t it be very difficult?
There have been legal cases where the court orders grown children to care for their aged parents. But how many cases of parental neglect and abandonment of their children are there? If children were to take their parents to court, would they be deemed as unfilial and ungrateful? Why is it that children or spouses are expected to care for someone who failed to take care of the family, but irresponsible spouses and parents are spared?
Broken and dysfunctional families inflict pain that have lasting effects. And because all families have their problems, we all bear the marks, invisible or otherwise, of our suffering. These marks in our psyche are often repressed and ignored, becoming like buried land mines that lay quiet until one day, they are triggered in some other relationship.
As many of you with personal experience already know, many problems in the family are not easily resolved. That’s because it requires the entire family’s desire to work together, and usually, there is always someone who does not wish to cooperate. After all, the root of family problems are the family members’ personal issues.
Do we acknowledge that we bear psychological wounds? Do we acknowledge that we have been both victim and aggressor in our families? Do we desire to go on the path of healing, or do we choose to ignore our inner cries for help and harden our hearts instead?
I admit: it is much easier to harden our hearts. It can be so draining to have to deal with family problems that it is tempting to just shut my ears, my eyes, and my heart. Sometimes the frustration, indignation and anger get so strong it’s difficult to even consider being kind. But that would be wrong as that in itself would become an act of aggression, inflicting more wounds in the family.
What can we all do? Breathe. Remember that life goes on, and that life can still be beautiful. Remind ourselves that as ugly as human beings can be, humanity is still capable of kindness. If we keep our hearts and eyes open, we will still experience such instances of love and beauty. Above all, we must believe that the power of love is still greater than that of hatred, and that forgiveness is the best ‘revenge’. For our enemy is not the person who hurt us – our enemy is fear and hatred.
We must be prepared that it will take all our strength and will and might to even decide to choose the path of love. To walk this path is to ‘take up our crosses and follow Christ’. Christ’s path led Him to the Cross. Are we prepared to suffer and ‘die’ with Him?
I am. Where I stand now, I am unready. But I am willing to try, and I am willing to suffer. I am scared of what might come, but I fully believe that this is the path to life. And because my Lord is beside me, I will not be afraid.
The loving thing does not necessarily mean compassion at the expense of justice. But before we mete out any ‘measures of justice’ we must be honest with ourselves. Are we really doing it out of love, or are we masquerading revenge as justice? At the end of the day, we cannot help others without first helping ourselves.