I know I'm not the only one rethinking the family dynamics of the holiday season. After several decades of some not-so-merry family gatherings at Christmastime, we now have a better, more relaxed atmosphere, and I'm grateful for the progress we've made over the years.
But I wouldn't have said that our family was yet a place where the stranger is welcomed. The selfishness of the young adults is still obvious, the willfulness of the seniors is still an issue. And although I can hide my irritation, I still feel an intensity I don't like in myself when my guests don't help out. Regardless, this year I had a new friend who didn't have a place to go, and I knew it was right to invite him. As I prepared the family, it was clear they were willing, but suffering the same caution I was.
Mustering my courage, I called my friend late on Christmas Eve. I apologized for not thinking of it sooner and found myself bumbling through warnings about being with my family. He said something I will never forget: "But they are your family, so they must be wonderful." Wonderful is not the first word that comes to mind to describe this group.
What I heard in his words was something more than a compliment and an effort to put me at ease as he accepted the invitation. I was being required to accept a fact: This was my family. And it was time to be at peace about that.
To compensate for the unhappiness of my family life, I have naturally gravitated to embracing humanity as my family. While this helps cultivate a greater unselfishness and a global outlook, sometimes pursuing that grander view is a cop-out to justify not looking for the beauty of those right in front of my face or at the other end of the phone line.
I have come to think of these folks who share my history as appointed to me - that somehow I am related to them because they are the ones who will best help me learn the essentials of forgiveness, good humor, and unconditional love. Often those lessons come through reverse example, but what I can feel working in me is a preparation for a bigger perspective: that we are being prepared to know and love as many people as God knows and loves.
God, the source of all life, is the infinite Love that cherishes and maintains what it creates. God's love for His creation has never lapsed or been postponed. God is the assured Love that supports each of us.
I've told my boys over the years that every effort to improve family relations will make them better employees, roommates, spouses, and parents. This universe is organized with people and things in relationship. There is a profound blessing in yielding to the basic assignment of figuring out the harmony God has established among people, the environment, and the animal kingdom. The blessing demands a tempering of that exaggerated sense of ourselves, our wants, feelings, disappointments, and ambitions.
Jesus suffered many agonies without complaint, with a persistent love, with the secure knowledge that love came from a higher source than the whims of the human mind. Jesus worked at love, not to love only those closest to him, but the Pharisees who plagued and mocked him. Writing of this struggle, Mary Baker Eddy said: "...Jesus spares us not one individual experience, if we follow his commands faithfully; and all have the cup of sorrowful effort to drink in proportion to their demonstration of his love, till all are redeemed through divine Love" (Science and Health, page 26).
To be redeemed of divine Love is to be brought into conformity with Love. It means as we hunger for others to respect our beliefs, individuality, and ways of living, we must cultivate the maturity that can respect the good in others, even when their choices and ways of doing things feel so foreign to our own. The key is believing in the generosity of God's love regardless of the human ways of doing and being. God is untroubled by human character weaknesses. He preserves the innocence and integrity that He originally created, and everything unlike that original innocence and integrity must yield. Why? Because of another axiom of the universe: "Truth spares all that is true" (Science and Health, page 474). This also implies that Truth does not accommodate anything outside of the harmony of the universe.
The Love that is God is not separate from the Truth that is God. The patience of living Love has to do with the confidence in the authority of Truth to remove whatever is out of sync with God. This is what has happened in my family over the years. And this is what happened at our dinner table this season. Frankly it was a delight and relief for us all to love our newcomer together and to focus less on ourselves. This success promises that there will be more guests in the years to come.
Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners,
but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God.