Sunday, December 13, 2009

On Accepting My Family Members the Way They Are

(This is a re-post of something I wrote in 2005).

It's the holiday season....

So that means it's time to get together with friends and relatives, go to parties and work get-togethers, and plan how we're going to spend those special days.

I've been thinking a lot about these rituals, as I prepare to spend part of Christmas Eve with my in-laws and most of Christmas Day with my family. I always try to reflect upon what the season means, I mean, aside from running around and shopping.

I spent seven years living away from my family, and now we're all in the same town again. I'm getting a crash course in what being a family member means. Ideally, families accept and support us no matter what. They provide company and friendship and a sense of where we come from. Ideally. Now, I don't know how your family is, but mine doesn't always meet my ideals.

For me, the birth of Christ represents a wellspring of hope into the world. This year, I am celebrating that hope by working on accepting others. That means accepting every single member of the bouquet of humanity, as I would like to be accepted.

It's no picnic, accepting others. Some people are quirky. Or abrasive. Or messy. Or absolutely lacking in empathy. Or really self-absorbed. Some are just plain clueless. One of my family members, who shall remain nameless, seems to need to have the TV turned up very loud to get through a social gathering, even for just a few hours. Another, also anonymous, is absolutely lovely and a joy to be around, provided that she's getting her way. After that, all bets are off. She becomes snippy, short-tempered, and brittle. And it's always someone else's fault!

All of these special qualities in my family members tend to make me have feelings in response, and they aren't generally comfortable or enjoyable feelings. I find myself wishing they'd change, fantasizing some more perfect family gathering that would result from their transformation.

But this year, I'm trying to avoid spending my time wishing these traits away.

Because I think it distracts me from being present. This year, I'm working on beholding my family in a spirit of gratitude and acceptance, treasuring each encounter just the way it is.

I'm working on giving and accepting love. Giving love even though someone else may have done something or been some way that means they don't deserve my love. Accepting love even if it doesn't feel just the way I hoped it would.

The tricky part is that some of these folks can really offend me, and I don't think being accepting means being a doormat. So it's a fine line to balance, accepting someone just how they are because it's probably the best they know, and also speaking up for myself, firmly, when my gut tells me I need to.

Lately, I've taken to wearing what I call an Invisible Teflon Shield. You can't see it, but it's silver, and I activate it with a switch above my head. And I also think a lot about the general health of my spirit in any given moment, and try to remain inspired no matter what goes on outside. I have an internal dialogue when someone irks me, and it goes something like this: "OK, so that happened. What does that really have to do with me?"

I've also been thinking about the 23rd Psalm, the part that says, "He prepares a table before me in the presence of my enemies." It may be shocking to think about family members as being enemies, but in a spiritual sense, they really can be. The way certain family members wield disapproval and judgment is truly a form of violence. That passage reminds me that God will continue to bless me even if every single person doesn't agree with or approve of me. Remembering that makes it easier to let go, to let others be nasty if that's the path they choose to walk. What does it have to do with me? I don't need them to change to know who I am and to walk my own path with confidence.

Finally, as I approach the big holiday week, I remind myself that it will all be over in a few days. We'll come together, there will be a bunch of moments, some warm and fuzzy, others cold and bristly. Each person will most likely do what each person tends to do. We may all get surprised by something. The experience either will or won't live up to our expectations of how a family holiday should be. My plan is to just keep breathing in and out.

Then we'll all go back to our respective lives.

In a way, the holidays are annoying, because they're a disruption to my normal routine, and they're a lot of extra effort. They can be truly overwhelming if I'm not up for it. But this year, I've really enjoyed the extra effort. I am excited about giving gifts. I attended a Christmas party that felt like Old Home Week, where I saw about a dozen friends I hadn't seen in almost a decade, most of whom didn't know I was even back in town. And I'm so looking forward to watching my kid open the gifts Santa has brought him because he's been so good! Today someone asked me how I was doing and I said, "I'm riding the wave." The wave, of course, being the holiday surge of energy. We have a few more days left until we reach a fevered pitch and then the wave will pass for another year.

God bless everyone!

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