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April 20, 2020

When It’s Hard to Have Closer Family Relationships

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School is cancelled. Let me say that again – school is officially cancelled. And while that may bring shouts of joy and cheer to our children, it could also bring sobs of deep anguish from parents. While stay-at-home restrictions are gradually being lifted, we still have a long road of close quarters ahead of us.

My pastor, Gregg Matte, preached a great sermon yesterday. His text was Philippians 4:1-5, and while he drew many great points from the passage, one point in particular keeps rolling around in my heart and head: during this time of corona quarantine, the number one goal isn’t knocking it out of the park on your kid’s algebra homework, and it isn’t making sure they have all A’s by the end of the semester in just a few short weeks. The number one goal by the end of this stay-at-home time, however long it lasts, is to have closer relationships – first with God, and then with one another.

Four weeks ago, closer family relationships sounded really nice. It sounded comfortable and cozy and fun. Like we would all just sit around and play board games, take bike rides, and eat dinner around the table together every night. But now, closer family relationships sound downright exhausting. Can I be frank for just one moment? I don’t want to be closer to people in my family right now. I want to have a stay-at-home week by myself. With no people in it. And that’s because, at this point, we have all been in close quarters for so long, all the cozy, comfortable, niceness has worn off. We are now relating to each other out of the frayed edges of weariness and boredom with no end in sight.

Close relationship with my family members is going to require more than a board game or a nice meal around the table together. It’s going to require repentance and forgiveness.

And that’s because, in the words of my pastor, “A different set of social circumstances can both reveal and heal problems.” (To listen to his full sermon, click here.)

Many things have been healed over the past few weeks. Slowing down and staying home together has taken the edge of hurry out of my voice and enabled me to speak kindly and tenderly to my children instead of impatiently and angrily. It’s allowed me to enjoy my children instead of just managing my children and getting them out the door for the next activity.

But this time has also revealed things in me, my marriage, my children, and my extended family relationships. It’s revealed the true dynamic of our relationships, not just the pretend dynamic it’s easy to put on when you only have a few hours to be around someone. A few weeks? Now that’s a different story.

So what now? If you, like me, find yourself more argumentative and irritable than you were a few weeks ago, hit the pause button on relationships that seem to be pressing on a particular nerve. Take the advice of 17th century British pastor and poet George Herbert and “Take some time to be alone; see what thy soul doth wear.”

Maybe taking some time alone means getting up earlier than anyone else in your house. Maybe it means taking a walk by yourself where you can out think and pray. Or maybe it means escaping to a quiet corner of the driveway or backyard while everyone else is inside watching a movie (this is what movies for children are for – to help moms regain their sanity).

But whatever you do, be quiet and still enough to allow God do some searching of you instead of you doing all the searching and talking to God.

Only God has both the power and the goodness to see into the human heart and not only show us what is there but help us walk out of the habits and patterns that hinder relational intimacy with the people we love most and then lead us in a way that is everlasting and true (Psalm 139:23-24)/LINK.

What this requires from us is enough humility to sit still and listen. It requires us be willing to admit we don’t have all the answers and it requires us being willing to admit whenever there is an argument, rub, or misunderstanding, it takes two to tango. The problem usually never lies completely with the other person – we have to own our part as well.

This past week, it took me a full week to be willing to admit my part. It took a lot of wrestling, soul searching, and prayer.

But finally, once I was able to admit I had far more pride than I had dared to believe, I was able to repent, not just to the Lord but to the person I had wronged.

This stay-at-home time God has given us is to build closer relationships. But we are naive to think that closeness will come without conflict and without repentance. At some point, somebody’s going to have to give. Somebody’s going to have to say, “I’m sorry.” Somebody is going to have to take ownership for their part in a disagreement or a relational dynamic that seems entirely the other person’s fault. And then, and only then, will healing come.

Your conflict could be with your spouse or with your teenager or with your toddler. It could be with your roommate or your co-worker or your boss or your parents or your extended family.

But the fact of the matter is: this closeness is a gift and these people aren’t going away. Not for a while at least. So take the time to deal with the rut in your heart and the rut in the relationship, own your part, seek forgiveness, and move on. Or the rub can continue into the days and weeks ahead and instead of emerging from this time closer to the people you love, you will walk away with deeper ruts and higher walls. What it will cost you is your pride. But take it from a fellow traveller – pride isn’t worth holding onto. It makes for a terrible quarantine companion.

But humility lays the ground for real relationships and healed relationships instead of drawn battle lines and rifts in relationships.

So lay down your defenses, get alone with God, and get real about your pride. Pick up repentance and draw close to God and others in humility. Real, restored relationship is waiting.

Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved.

I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand.

Philippians 4:1-5

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