This morning I was on the phone with a colleague. As we were winding down our conversation I mentioned that I had just returned from my annual family reunion. “Oh,” he said, “you know what my family calls those annual get-togethers? Dysfunction Junction.” We had a laugh.
Families and their awkward attempts at reunion are an easy mark for critics and comedians. We love each other (in my case, my father, my six siblings and their families, all numbering about 70), but we don’t always know how to be with one another. At moments of high drama, when schism threatened, my mother would always deliver that well-known line, “Blood is thicker than water.” Yes, but as Mignon McLaughlin acidly observed, “There’s an awful lot of blood around that water is thicker than.”
Still, I love my family. Blood and all. We’ve had fights and hurts, but we keep coming together. At some point—maybe it was the death of my mother—we instinctively, quietly decided that we ought to stop trying to change each other and just try being with each other. It’s a work in progress, but it’s working.
I’m a firm believer that all our primary relationships—marriage, children, mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, deep friendships—are the proving ground of the soul. If the spiritual life is all about a love relationship with God, then our earthly loves are where we learn to persevere and trust, to forgive and endure, to hold on in spite of difference, to never let go.
That is how God loves us, and—thanks to families—that is how we learn every day to love something like God does.