Sunday, November 30, 2008

A scroll of remembrance

I struggle with "family issues" around holiday time; I think most of our family does, though we don't mention it. In our family there are a lot of old hatreds and wrongs that have never been addressed, though at the holidays we all get in the same room and try to be polite. All the unspoken clutter in the air can be uncomfortable. It has the feel of a bomb with a fuse, and every conversation is playing with matches.

Last time I wrote about these struggles in any depth, my to-do list for one relative included "Seek out chances to break the ice" and "Rehearse stories of every good thing they've ever done, back as far as I can remember, and in front of other people". I'd made some progress under ice-breaking. I'd even told a good story or two on this relative to my children. But I knew there was more to it than that. This particular relative of mine is very charming and incredibly helpful -- to everyone but family, I would find myself thinking in my worse moments.

In some corner of my mind I was aware that, whenever some important good was done in Biblical days, somehow or other the names and deeds of the people found their way into the permanent record. At one point it even mentions that a "scroll of remembrance" was written before God of all those who feared God and revered his name (Malachi 3:16). The solution was staring me in the face, but it took me awhile to reconcile myself to it: I needed to make a written record of all the good this person had ever done me. It took longer still before I could bring myself to put a pen to paper and actually write it.

Once I started writing, I was really surprised how quickly the list grew with all the helps and kindnesses the person had shown me over the years. The record was soon to two pages, with new memories tumbling over themselves to get onto the pages which were filled into the margins and packed tight to fit in all the things that were now coming to mind.

A few weeks came and went, and the "scroll of remembrance" faded from my mind. Once again I saw this person spending far more time on others and ignoring family. I spent Thanksgiving morning cleaning the house finding resentful thoughts creeping up around me. I was going to be in a terrible frame of mind to host Thanksgiving. Looking for a way to get my attitude under control, I re-read the "scroll of remembrance." (When I started, the nasty part of my mind said I should have a "scroll of remembrance" for all the horrible things this person had done, too. But I'm counting on God taking my own "horrible things" list and casting it in the sea and remembering it no more, so I figure I'd best not start a list like that for anyone else.)

The resentment melted away, and with the freshly defrosted heart, there was a suitable "neutral territory" in my home to host the sometimes-tense family gathering. There were still a few tense moments, glances exchanged at various things said ... but at the end the person whose "scroll" I'd read did something that I do not believe had ever done before: reached out and gave me a hug. (We'd been trading hugs ever since it got on my to-do list to find ways to break the ice. But this was the first time the other person had been the one to reach out.)

I don't know how anyone else's family is. I just know there's a lot of sin and brokenness in the world, and I take it we're not exactly the only family to struggle with all the togetherness during the holidays. For what it's worth, it did help in our case to write a scroll of remembrance of the good things the other person had done -- and to have it handy to re-read when it was badly needed. ;)

8 comments:

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

I'm very sure every family has at least the awkward relationships. In our family, there are two people, plus their spouses, who will not even speak to one another. They need your scroll!

PS (PSanafter-thought) said...

I had a time that I felt justified by the "injustices" of others. When I did some praying to forgive, I finally figured out that these deeds weren't intentional. And another person to me once about how people usually "do the best they can with what they know/have at the time." Both of those thoughts have really calmed my internal dialog. I think that I'm more patient with the foibles of others because I wonder what people see as my own foibles.

Tony-Allen said...

Your first paragraph reminds me a lot of my family, for various reasons. I often hope every year that the family around the holidays will only be the immediate family, so that there's less chance for someone getting ticked off.

I like your idea, though. Sometimes it is so, so easy to harp on the negative things that happen, and forsake any thanksgiving for the good that happens or the good people do. Just from personal experience, anytime a person you feel any amount of anger towards does something nice to you, a feeling of guilt comes over like you wouldn't believe. I pray for patience this holiday season.

Weekend Fisher said...

Thanks for the companionship on the road, you all.

Holidays are hard. You get a bunch of sinners in a room, with a lot of history, put them at the same table and ask them to keep each other company for awhile ... when they are used to pushing each others' buttons out of habit. I remember when I lived in another city a couple hundred miles away from the rest of the family. I used to go home *from* Thanksgiving when it was over, glad that it was over, and that was probably what I was most thankful for: being able to leave. I'm not proud of it but there it is, y'know. Our family has a lot of skeletons in the closet and I just wanted to get away from all that.

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF

PS (PSanafter-thought) said...

OOPS One of your statements just "convicted me." There is one person in our family whose buttons I push and I push his buttons. He is really a fine person, but we get under each other's skin.

Weekend Fisher said...

That's hard, stopping a button-pushing contest. I know two brothers who push each other's buttons so much you'd think they were playing Nintendo ...

If you find a way to stop the button-pushing fest, let me know. I'm always keeping an eye out for useful advice on breaking up things like that.

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF

Tony-Allen said...

I think part of the problem is a lot of families have a very hush-hush policy about problems, so a lot of stuff stays under the table and just simmers, hurting the relationship.

It's sad how we can sometimes trust complete strangers even more than we trust our close family.

Weekend Fisher said...

Funny you should mention that. Our family definitely has a hush-hush policy about problems. The reason is that if we once started, the problems are serious enough that if the dam were breached there would probably be red-faced screaming matches and fast-flying obscenities. I think we're worried that if we started speaking about all that, we might never speak to each other again ...

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF