Friday, December 18, 2009

How to deal with difficult relatives...and other matters requiring Christian charity

Do you have a relative you'd much rather not have? One you cannot understand why the good Lord chose to pair up with you?

Well, you're not alone. Most of us have at least one relative (close, distant, whichever--there's usually one in each generation of any given family), that we've got absolutely nothing in common with, aside from the genetics (and you'd wonder about those, if the resemblence between the two of you weren't more obvious).

Do I sound like I know of what I speak? Well, I do. I have a relative like that. One I'd just much rather *not* deal with. One I'd rather just...forget. But I cannot. Cause they call. And they email. And they make demands. And more demands. And complain about the way we choose to do this, or that, or the other. Being polar opposites on 99.9% of the issues that come up in life, doesn't make getting to a plateau of common ground, any easier. In fact, as I'm sure you can imagine, it just manages to inflame already 'sensitized' personalities, until every meeting or conversation, is likely to end in a flare of anger or hurt feelings on one or the other. It makes it difficult indeed, to end each call on a positive note, because so much of the time, I just don't want to 'go there'. I am short on time, short on energy, and this person does not fathom what life is like in my shoes. I don't have time to sit and talk, I don't have time--or the desire--to listen to how they think I should raise my children (not to mention how many I should have), or how I should worship our Creator....

To be honest--and there's a lot of honesty in this post--I'd much rather just avoid their calls completely. Or hang up when they start getting irritating. But where is the Christian charity in that? I cannot be an example if I end every conversation with a slammed shut phone, and a dial tone. Maybe they'd get the point, maybe not. Maybe they'd realize that "gee, every time I get to telling her x,y, and z, she gets 'cut off' . Hmmmm". But given past history, I doubt it.

Part of me wants to tell them I am not at their beck and call, obliged to answer a phone every time it rings. I want to tell them to leave me, and mine, alone. Not to call, not to email, not to leave messages on my voice mail, telling me I need to change it because they don't like the tone. Look, fine, you're a relative. I get that. And I get that you supposedly love my children. I also get that for some reason that God only knows, He stuck the two of us together in a blood relationship...that I don't want to be a part of anymore.

But we are bound by blood. Bound by the family we share in common. Bound by a shared partial history. My children would be the poorer, in some respects, without this relative. But the challenges to my Christian charity, are immense. I suppose that, in itself, is why I have been "saddled" with this particular relative. To force me to exercise more charity in my dealings with chisel away at my...well, whatever it is that that would chip away at! I suppose all sin eventually comes down to pride, although pride seems an odd one, when this person regularly suggests/does things that are outside of the boundaries of Christian morality, and they do not tolerate discussion of where we feel differently, and why. Our morals and beliefs, our reasons for living the way we do, are considered joke fodder, something only a moron would go along with, or "alright for those who really believe that way"...morality is subjective...

Fortunately, our move to Oklahoma has placed us outside of the ready reach of this particular relative. We've not seen them since before our move. So, almost two years. But while distance has removed them from physically being here, the phone calls and emails do tend to make more problems. The phone calls appear out of nowhere. The text messages likewise. And the emails.

Combine our different beliefs on so many important issues (and morality is a *very* important issue, and to me it isn't subjective, it is objective, and there is no gray), with someone who likes to drink, and whose behavior is boorish in the extreme when they imbibe too much (and being so far away, I cannot always tell when they have been consuming alcohol), and you have a recipe for disastrous communications and an even more strained "relationship" than what was there before.

And so I have put their number on "refuse". I can do nothing about the text messages, but so far, they have not been an issue, since a large, earth-shaking run of them this last weekend. In a way, I wish that this relative would contact me. But on the other hand....the silence is perhaps best. For now, at least. My feelings are a touch too raw, yet, to move on so swiftly.

My main concern, is not for them, or even for me. It is for those relatives in common...who don't realize, yet, the stricture I have placed on future communications with this other relative. And they *will* be upset. And they *will* be hurt. And there will undoubtedly be a second round of fireworks when they do discover the vastness of the gulf between said relative and myself, and the fact that I am not again trying to keep a rickety bridge intact, but am instead, letting that bridge fall into the bottomless pit below. I have maintained it, and maintained it, at great cost to myself and my family, and I will no longer do so. Not out of pride. More out of self-preservation.

I know we are to love as Christ loves. And I know we are called to see those who trouble us, with the eyes of Christ, who died for all of us--not just the agreeable, likable folks, but the cantankerous, demanding aunt, the deaf, blind, manipulative as all-get-out grandmother, the brother who drinks too much and then makes passes at his sister-in-laws....all of them. But sometimes, a separation seems to be required. While it has been hard to see this relative, sometimes, through the eyes of Christ, I know, even then, that scripture instructs us to shake the dust from our feet, when we take the good news to those who will not hear it. And I think, in some small measure, that applies to our personal relationships, one-on-one, as well. I have tried to lead by example--they have wanted no part of what Christianity has to offer (unless it comes with a "Get out of hell" card with no strings attached). They have wanted no part of traditional faith and morality. They have berated and denigrated such things in not only my presence, which pained me greatly, but also in front of my children (whom they protest to love, and yet, have called them freaks, because, among other things, we homeschool them). I must protect my children. How are they to deal with a relative who says "I love you", and then turns around, and tell them that they are weird, bizarre, not normal, because they don't go to a brick and mortar schoolhouse on the bus "like everyone else"?

Protecting my children from such people would be a no-brainer, if they weren't relatives. And so I have come to the conclusion that there is just no way around it. For the good of my family, this relative must be--at least temporarily, placed on the "Do Not Call" list. Was it easy? No. Will it be easy? No. Does it make me happy? No, it does not. I wish that things were different, indeed I do. But I cannot, and will not, subject myself and my family to it anymore.

If I am doing wrong, I beg God's mercy. If I am right in my actions, I still beg for His mercy, as I am all too well aware that I need it, more than even I think I do. I ask for your prayers, for myself, for this relative, and for those we love in common...that this seperation will prove fruitful for us both, and that we will come out the other side, the better for it. It is hard, this Christmas season, to have this on my mind. But it brings home the fact that my home is truly not here. And that my family is far greater than the one I was born into, the one I married into almost 15 yrs ago, and even the wider family of friends and neighbors. For my family is the Bride of Christ. And my body does not abandon one part when it is in need. It acts much as our bodies do, circling the wagons, and defending and protecting the wounded part. And so, I beg you, to circle the wagons. Encircle me, and my family, with your prayers to Our Lord, as we go through this time, at the end of one year, and the beginning of another...that we might emerge from this, stronger than ever.

Thank you....

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