I'm home from a wonderful visit with a relative - the best I've ever had. But to say this visit was wonderful is to bear witness, in some small way, to the fact that even apparently irreconcilable differences can be healed.
For over three decades, I'd say this relative genuinely hated me. I couldn't do anything right. Snide remarks about my behavior, looks, and work abounded, often in front of others. My decision on any given visit to avoid conflict - to stay in the background and not open my mouth - was invariably met with another kind of angry outburst, this time accusing me of feeling superior to everybody else.
Worse yet, even though others told me they were sorry about these attacks, which they considered unfair and unkind, no one ever stepped up in my defense. I decided they were as afraid of this individual as I was.
I've been accustomed most of my life to praying to resolve problems, and this time was no exception. And as I clung to any inspiration I received through prayer - even if it was the directive to follow Jesus' instruction to "turn the other cheek," I was able to endure the visits. Still I dreaded them, and, whenever possible, didn't go.
Then, a few days before I made this most recent visit, I started thinking about a time when I faced an unusual number of challenges all at once. My father died and my mother's mental health declined, leaving me in charge of their finances and the disposal of their household.
Then, after years of stability ourselves, my husband and I moved twice within a year. Also, after a burst of success with my work, I hit an impasse. But even though I was very discouraged, it didn't occur to me to stop praying.
Nineteenth-century author and religious leader Mary Baker Eddy, who faced huge odds during her life - including early widowhood, ill health, betrayal by family - still had the courage to write in "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," "Divine Love always has met and always will meet every human need" (p. 494). She accepted that spiritual fact as a given in her day and age, and I knew I accepted it in mine. One by one, I found resolutions.
As I thought about the upcoming visit, I found myself considering the rough times this relative faced during what is now a very long life. Divorced parents. Early widowhood. A less than satisfying second marriage. Years of labor at a menial job so that the next generation could attend college. Then, the tragic loss of an adult child to an accident.
I began to feel an enormous respect for this individual for persevering despite almost overpowering needs. I knew there had to have been a higher power - divine Love - enabling that perseverance.
My outlook changed completely. I felt so much compassion that I think I would have been all right if the visit proved to be as unpleasant as before. But it didn't. My efforts were met with gratitude. There were no critical remarks - not even humorous ones. As I left to go home, I kissed my relative on the forehead and said, "I love you" - for the first time - and meant it. I wish I could describe how great that felt.
The Bible says, "One generation shall praise thy works to another, and shall declare thy mighty acts" (Ps. 145:4). I figure that if the conflict I had for so long with someone from the previous generation can be resolved this beautifully, then there has to be hope for whole nations.
As the new year begins, I'm making a pledge to pray for and support the resolution of conflicts in the world - even those that have endured over generations.
Lo, I am with you alway,
even unto the end of the world.