Happy Chinese New Year! … Or is it?
Speaking to a number of people recently, I’ve realised that the festivities can be a difficult time for some. Not all’s well at family reunions, it increasingly appears to be.
Are you one of them? Are the relationships in your family breaking down faster than traditions can keep them together?
Maybe you once held out hope as a child, that things would get better in the family. Maybe you’ve tried, over the years, to get everyone together – but you no longer see a point to it when you’re the only one trying.
Maybe the relationships in your family are breaking down. Maybe you’re not even sure if there’s going to be a reunion dinner this year.
But what I do know is that it’s easy to feel like everyone else is having an amazing time when you’re scrolling through Instagram. It’s important to have perspective: We’re looking at the highlight reel of other people’s lives on social media.
Think about the things not present on Instagram: Strained relationships, family deaths, generational tensions, divorces, bitterness … The list goes on.
But I’m not interested in staying stuck in self-pity – we don’t have time for that. I want to think about how we can respond, if in reality, our family isn’t that perfect, shiny and colour-coordinated dream we see on-screen.
Love gets harder as we grow up – which only means our love needs growing up too.
British-Ethiopian poet, Lemn Sissay, was fostered from birth and abandoned at the age of 12. By 18, he had lived in four children’s homes. He illustrates the importance of family using the game of squash:
“Family are like the walls in a game of squash. You hit the ball and it comes back at strange angles and you try to get it again … It develops your muscles in strange places, because you have to stretch sometimes to get the ball back in to continue the game.”
You have to stretch sometimes. The stretch is the place where love is learnt. We begin young with the easier stuff: We shared our favourite biscuit with dad, or gave our favourite toy to our sister.
But love gets harder as we grow up – which only means our love needs growing up too!
It’s harder when love requires more from us, like when we’re faced with an aunt whom we just don’t want to tahan any longer. It’s hard when family culture seems impossible to change. It’s hard when money gets involved or when “face” gets in the way.
But when it’s hard that’s precisely when we need to persevere.
It’s not easy to be the first one in the family to say a loving word in response to toxicity or sarcasm. Unity is not easy. It’s not easy to put aside our pride and ask for forgiveness. And it’s not easy to choose to love when others don’t care.
If we give up on family, we never develop the “muscles” that we need. Sissay also says this:
“And that all that would happen throughout my life is that my muscles would waste away beneath me because I’m not using the muscles that develop in the game of family … Family is defined by how it deals with difficult issues. It is strengthened by how it resolves them and weakened when it tries to ignore them.”
So don’t be discouraged if your family is facing difficult issues. Consider what real love is to your family members. Be the one who would love them.
Why should you do it? 1 John 4:19. “We love because he first loved us.” Jesus Christ loved us to the point that He would die for us – all while we were still sinners. God’s love takes the initiative. Jesus did – so we must do the same.
If we give up on family, we never develop the “muscles” that we need.
We may not have gotten the love we needed from our family. We may even have even been disappointed by the very people who were supposed to be our best bets – but we always have a Father in Heaven who loves us perfectly.
“And I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty.” (2 Corinthians 6:18)
Being filled with our Father’s perfect love for us enables us to love those around us. If your family is challenging, then let it challenge you. That’s where the growth is at.
I pray you’ll have faith to see that your best days are ahead of you. I pray you’ll have hope in God to do what you cannot on your own, and I pray that you will love someone enough to step out of your comfort zone.