Family is where you first learn how to tolerate others. It amazes me how very different two children from the same two parents can be. Their personalities, their likes and dislikes, their favorite meal or ice creams – all widely distributed across the spectrum. There’s no right or wrong about it. You like chocolate, he likes vanilla. It doesn’t make him “weird” or “gross.” It makes him different from you and that’s nothing to be ashamed of.
When children aren’t set straight on this, we get judgmental kids, or we get self-conscious embarassed kids. Ew Sally likes peanut butter and tuna fish! She’s gross. Well, it’s not what you like, but that doesn’t make her gross. (Btw, I ate PB and tuna and I once made my Grandma Duerr eat it and my whole family reprimanded us.) But it goes far beyond personal tastes. It starts seeping into who does better with less effort in school, who excels in sports, which one whistles better. Kids start attaching social status and likability to these things, pre-judging whether another person is good enough or normal, whatever they have determined that to be.
In family, you also experience the true meaning of annoyance for the first time. Because you spend so much time with your family, every little thing the other person does start to annoy you. Whether it’s your kid’s incessant “are we there yet” question or your brother’s complete lack of ability to chew with his mouth closed, it’s in these close proximity situations where we first learn the meaning of the word tolerance. It’s about leeway, permission to be as is, the capacity to endure at personal cost and sacrifice of one’s personal sense of space and preferences.
But it’s easier said than done, isn’t it? You really should let your kids sing that most annoying song ever because it’s making them ridiculously happy and at least they are getting along at the moment. But it’s getting on your last nerve and you want to rip their tongues out and nail them to the Sesame Street sign.
But isn’t that more about you? It’s in family that we begin to see where our buttons are and how they get pushed. And if we don’t learn in our families, where will we learn?
Because the best place you should be learning the lessons of tolerance is in your family. Family is forever. It isn’t just a cute plaque in the country store. It’s true. Your family will always be your family for better or for worse, even though you didn’t get to choose them or have a wedding ceremony to make promises to each other. Maybe families should have a promise ceremony! Maybe we should be teaching our families that being part of a family means certain things – it means forever. It means this group of people are the single most important people you will ever know. It means that we honor each other and respect each other, no matter what our differences. It means we don’t hold grudges and we are quick to forgive. We are slow to get angry and rude and selfish. It means we are there for each other, no matter how inconvenient or painful it may be for us.
I know families who are very very far from this reality. I know friends who wish they had a family like mine, with parents who will do anything the law will allow for me and will drop everything to help anyone in trouble. I know people who long for better relationships – more respectful ones, more open and accepting ones – with their parents or siblings or children. And I could say something like you have to work on it and put your own selfishness aside and seek peace as much as you can.
But the truth is, it comes fairly easily to my family. Sure we’ve had our differences and awkward conversations. This has been moreso as we are all getting older and throwing in spouses and kids to the mix. Life becomes more complicated and as such there are more instances that give opportunity to be upset with each other. Misunderstandings crop up. Our own goals and hopes for situations clash with other people’s goals and hopes and expectations. And it all needs to be brought up and dealt with, in love and for the mutual benefit of all involved.
The trick though, is that we all start at the same place – we all stand on the same foundation. That is, our love of God, our acceptance of His love for us, and how that must define our love for each other. I set aside my rights, my expectations, my fool-hearty pigheaded ways, and I ask you what you want. I let go of my prideful arrogance in thinking I’m always right – whether it’s something as stupid as the way I think kosher hot dogs should be cooked (boiled for the record) or something as important (to me) as we celebrate birthdays together as a family ON the ACTUAL date of birth.
It boils down to entitlement. My sense of what I deserve and what I work for will always clash on some level with your sense of entitlement. And how they learn to negotiate between the two sets up your child for the rest of their lives, how they will navigate the ever more complex world of people they will meet along the way. My hope is that my children will learn quickly that being the greatest means being the servant of all, that there is great joy and fulfillment and peace in learning to serve others, accept others fully as is, turning the other cheek, and walking a mile longer than you were asked to. There is no greater entitlement on earth than to love another person.
And maybe your family wasn’t like this at all. Maybe your family was competitive and judgmental and painful. Maybe you’d rather be hog tied to a raging bull than spend an afternoon with your family members. Or maybe it feels like that’s exactly what’s going on when you’re together. I am truly sorry for that. Because I know there are families who are so far from the reality of serving each other, and have such little understanding that family is a gift of God to be cherished and encouraged.
And I can say this as one who had a different view of family growing up. My family is an adopted one. I was adopted at 6 months old and I grew up as if this was the most common thing in the world. And my hope is that, if you are a child of God, a joint-heir with Christ, covered by his miraculous amazing grace, that you will see your ADOPTED family, the family of God in the local church, in the community of others who believe, as the place of refuge and peace. That our churches will be the family we are called to be, to struggle together, to weep with each other, to celebrate together, to build each other up and push each other to grow. I pray that you will find the family that God has designed, that goes across blood ties and ethnic groups, the family that doesn’t always look like each other, but ACTS like each other in love and truth and grace. Because that’s the family we were meant to have and we have been given this family for all eternity.