I come from a family of quitters. Especially in relationships. In the Barrett family the tradition is when someone doesn’t do what you want, you cut them off. Forget about second chances or forgiveness. If you fail to meet expectations or cross the line, if you hurt someone, you are done.
This is how I did not speak to my father for 20 years. My father was offended by something I said so he cut me off. Over the years there was no contact, no communication. There were no change of address forms or Christmas cards. I did not even know how to reach him. I was nothing to him. I was not worthy of his time or his love.
My mom was similar. She was an alcoholic who eventually drank herself to death. 6 years before her death I called her when one evening when she was drunk. After that very uncomfortable conversation I decided not to chance initiating conversations in the future. I told her that she was welcome to call me at any time when she was sober but that I did not want to call her for fear that I would again catch her under the influence. 5 years went by before we spoke again, and we only spoke a total of two more times before she died.
My relationships with my three brothers have followed the family theme. I did not see or speak to one brother for 20 years, and another has not talked to me for the last two. The other brother has also shunned me at times, going for months without communicating, at one time telling me that he did not need people like me in his life. Turning away when hurt or offended seems to be the Barrett way.
My wife’s family is not like this at all. Her relationships with her sisters are not perfect and have seen their share of hurts and slights, there have been blow ups and arguments and disagreements, but no one has been cut off or left behind, and the sisters have always been sisters. Forgiveness and acceptance are more the norm.
The different attitudes about family relationships can be traced back to our parents. My mother was married four times, with each marriage punctuated with periods of separation before the ultimate divorces. My father was married three times, with all of them ending in divorce as well. My mother died estranged from her children, my father lives in a nursing home somewhere in Louisiana and has not seen any of his children in many years.Lisa’s mom and dad were married for over 50 years. There kids were not perfect and there were difficulties and arguments, struggles and pain, but their relationship endured. Theirs was a relationship that seemed to grow in difficult times, a commitment that never wavered or wobbled. They were truly a rock, immovable, unshakeable and untouched by any storm life could bring.
The difference in our families is love, in particular an aspect of love described by the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 13 , “Love always endures.”
Lisa came from a family characterized by love, a love that was not and is not dependent on circumstances. Regardless of what life brings, in the morning love will remain. For my family, love was conditional and temporary.
By the grace of God Lisa and I have been blessed with enduring love in our home. We have been able to make her family heritage our family heritage, building a family with a sense of permanence in our relationships. My children sleep well each night knowing that as long as we live, their Mom and Dad will always be their Mom and Dad, will always be Husband and Wife, and will never quit on them or on one another. Love does this.
While there is no question that God wants this type of love to characterize our families, we need to remember that God wants this type of love to characterize our churches as well. Paul wrote his instructions to a church that struggled with politics and division, and his words were intended to correct their lack of commitment to one another. His words apply to our faith communities today as well. We are called to love one another with an unconditional love, with a love that endures and is not shaken or diminished with time. We will be hurt, let down and disappointed by others, but through it all there should be love.
PS: I am now talking again to the brother from whom I was estranged for 20 years. We are working on forgiveness, understanding and rebuilding a relationship. Love does that too!
This is part 12 in a series on Love based on 1 Corinthians 13.