For some people, the approaching holiday season is full of meaning. They anticipate joyful gatherings with family and close friends. But others eye the calendar with dread. One friend of mine, thinking of a difficult family situation, mentioned the other day that she hopes to "just get through the holidays in one piece." I've found that if one is engaged in conversation long enough with friends or even just in chance encounters, many people admit to having a longtime rift within their family.
This season of increased family gatherings often shines a discomforting spotlight on sore feelings, unresolved disputes, and old resentments. Regret and remorse can rise to the surface, stirring up anger, sadness, and even hopelessness. A verse in the Bible serves as a provocative and encouraging high note: "Let it rather be healed" (Heb. 12:13).
Instead of a Ferris wheel of unhappiness coming around again, why not approach this period as a healing season? The holidays – originally "holy days" – with their underpinnings of consecration, gratitude, peace, and love, lend themselves to heightened spiritual activity. They can be a time of keener awareness of spiritual good, of God's present care and providence, of deep prayer and healing progress for individuals, for families, and in turn for society. Though the love of God is present at every moment and in every season, I like to think of the holiday period as one with great healing potential.
Many quietly savor the possibility of healing in familial relations. They yearn for it deeply. Contrary to the general perceptions, this healing does not depend on the cooperation of another. It happens in one place – in our own hearts.
Years ago, when my family was coming together for an occasion, there had been a longstanding and glaring rift between another family member and me. It was a relationship I had tried to rekindle in every possible way but to no effect. It had settled in as a fact of my life as unlikely to change as the color of my eyes. However, anticipating the reunion, I began to pray. My prayer was simply the desire to love purely, consistently, and with genuine renewal.
The practical result of my prayer was a resolve I hadn't felt before, to abstain from participating in mental or verbal criticism, even cloaked in humor, regarding this family member. As part of my daily prayer, I'd incorporated a statement about relations from Mary Baker Eddy's "Miscellaneous Writings 1883–1896": "God is our Father and our Mother, our Minister, and the great Physician: He is man's only real relative on earth and in heaven" (p. 151).
This gave me much to consider. I realized that as I related all my peace and happiness to God, I could feel completely satisfied about every aspect of my life, including relationships. I could trust, not in cues from others or even in my own feelings, but wholly in God. Mrs. Eddy, who loved the Scriptures, continued this paragraph with words from the Psalmist: "David sang, 'Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee.' "
A couple of months later, when the family assembled and I walked into the room, I felt as though I were being offered two roles in a play: the long-suffering relative, or the child of God – free, whole, and confident in His great love for all. I approached my relative with an embrace, and we had a wonderful several days free of the tension that had hovered in the past.
I realized in that healing experience that the only place a rift can exist is in mistaken human consciousness. God, divine Love, knows of no such condition, and such a condition cannot be perpetuated anywhere except in our own hearts, if we allow it. Prayer enabled me to see that the mistake all along was having believed that love could ever be absent. Since God is Love, and is ever present, a lack, absence, or loss of love was logically impossible. The longstanding tension evaporated from my heart and it no longer caused me the perplexity and dismay it had for so many years.
Truly, the season we are approaching is full of opportunities to recognize Love as present, enduring, and able to repair whatever needs mending in our hearts.