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Photo of woman exercising on the beach at sunset.

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Today and this week, think about the gifts of your family. For some, it is simply the family your were born into. For others, it is a bit more complex. It may even include step-family in addition to your family. Or, you may be my age and it includes the family you married into and even family your children married into. and even family your grandchildren married into (we aren’t there yet.). Whatever form your family takes, in-laws, steps, halves, or wholes, it all becomes family at some point and you learn to love them.

Despite scars we have received from our family of origin, we want to be instruments of forgiveness, if possible, to them and find ways to be thankful for them.

Some of our most painful scars often come from our family of origin even if they didn’t necessarily mean to hurt us. Their motivation is really irrelevant. The end result is that we are hurt from what happened. We need to find a way to deal with it just as with any physical injury. So we will start there. I’m not a psychologist nor do I have training there. So I’m not about to give that kind of advice to you. But you are wise to get counseling from a wise counselor so you can resolve your problems. If you have a broken leg, you don’t decide to continue through life with the broken leg, struggling as you go with no treatment. Yet often, we have had hard issues from our childhood that we minimize and think we can just keep going through life without some help.

I do know that in all our relationships, there are aspects that come under the categories of the good, bad and the ugly. It can sometimes help to think through this part of our relationships in these terms. With rare exceptions, most of our relationships have a little of each in them. It is helpful for us to find the good parts, pay attention to the bad parts and deal with them. The ugly parts can be a little more problematic. We need to be able to discern that they are truly ugly and also discern that we many need extra help in confronting the people involved in the ugly harm brought on us. The especially includes sexual abuse, but does not only include that. The bad and ugly  parts should not take us by surprise. We live in a fallen world. They will be part of our lives as long as we live here on earth.

However, our relationships are often in categories such as good, bad and ugly. Sometimes, we need to get away from the ugly ones.

So as much as I want to be thankful for the good and ignore the bad and the ugly, it is not a healthy way to live…for anyone! It is sort of like living in a pretend world. The best way to live is to be sure to find the things we can be thankful for so we are not consistently negative. It is good for our souls to be able to find things about another person that are the good, blessed, hopeful.

But we need to look at the bad and the ugly in order to live in the real world as well. That is where we learn about grace and forgiveness. Those things don’t happen in a place where we aren’t sinned against, or people don’t hurt us, or we don’t suffer from real hurt and pain from others. It’s like grace and forgiveness are on one side of the coin and sin, failure, and brokenness are on the other.

Ignoring pain and hurt doesn’t take it away. It just removes it from one part of our brain to another. Often, it affects our body. Unless we deal with it, it will just sit there and fester.

Is it easier to ignore those hurts? Yes, in the short term. But in the long term, it isn’t. It affects us physically, emotionally, even spiritually when we ignore the pain caused us by others, Why? Because there is something in us that doesn’t completely ignore it. Eventually, it catches up with us. This is why we need to learn to forgive in the sense of refusing to hold what the person did against them anymore. There is a cost. We often want justice. We want revenge. I’m assuming those things aren’t possible and you are continuing to carry the weight of the area of unforgiveness or resentment. But contrast that with the freedom that comes with no longer carrying that load. It may be a conversation you need to have to clear the air with a family member. Maybe it was a misunderstanding. Maybe it a clear understanding and your were hurt. Do you need to let them know you were hurt and suffered pain? Do you need to let them know that you did but you are going to forgive truly and never hold it against them.

On the other hand, there have been times when the person did mean to hurt you very much.,..whether they admitted it or not. As you checked the facts, you discovered that to be true. This is one of those ugly times. They meant to hurt and they did. It may even be a pattern. You may be wise to limit the times you are with that person. This is particularly true if opportunities for reconciliation don’t seem to help. That doesn’t mean you are always right in every interaction. It just means that the mix is not a good one. Maybe, the interactions should be kept to a minimum. Only you can determine that with God’s help and that of a wise, Godly counselor.

Finding forgiveness and reconciliation. We can always find forgiveness and reconciliation with God. It won’t always happen with humans,. We don’t have full control over that.

Reconciliation is when the relationship is restored. It takes two people for that to happen. You have control over only one person, yourself. Often, the first conversation is just that, the first conversation. Leave it on a positive note,. Realize that there may be a follow-up conversation. Broken relationships don’t always get fixed in one conversation, especially if they have been broken for a long time. You can forgive, but full reconciliation may not happen.

I didn’t plan to get into this topic as deeply as I did, but I also realize that when we think about things we are thankful for, we also recognize loss and pain at the same time. My nope is that we will find things to be thankful for in the family members we think about even when the relationships may be lacking in other areas. My goal is for us to find hopeful things as we look at our family members that we can encourage them with. But still not ignore the huge problem areas, “forgiving” prematurely before we have thought through what we are doing because we don’t want to think too hard about the bad and ugly parts of the relationship. Who does?

This exercise is designed to help us especially think about finding ways to be thankful for the contribution many of our parents or children contributed to our lives and find ways to thank them, especially if we don’t do it often.

So as part of this exercise, definitely take time to thank God for the people you can easily be thankful for in your family and the things about them that cause you to be thankful. Ask God to open your eyes to other things you need to be aware of in their lives.

Then go through and look at the bad and the uglies that you need to think about and be aware of. Not in order for you to be judgmental, but so that you are simply being alert and aware. God is judge of all.

Maybe you need to have a conversation to discuss an area you have struggled to forgive and clear off the books. Maybe you need to take time to pray about a relationship that you struggle with. It may take some time and help from the Holy Spirit and God’s Word for insight into what is actually going on in your heart in relation to that family member. The most important thing is to keep these conversations about hurt feelings, etc; more one-on-one rather than around the meal table during the holidays! They need to be quiet conversations, not public ones.

I hope this will be an encouraging and uplighting time that you spend with your family during the holidays.