Yesterday we awoke to a cold, dark house while outside in the dim, grey light of pre-dawn we could see the shadowy shapes of snow drifts. The electricity had gone off during the night and the ghostly white silhouettes of trees and lifeless power lines swayed in cold, north wind.
I was thankful I had the day off from work and after a call confirmed my suspicions that school had indeed been closed for the day, I was doubly grateful that I did not have to get out in the inclement weather and that the winter storm had given us a day free from our usual hectic schedule. Finally I had a day to stand still for a moment on my way to the barn and breathe deep of the cold, damp air; it was a day to listen to the winter wind whistle around the barn and sing in the icy trees. It was a day to stand still and look out across the snow-covered landscape and see the land blanketed in beauty with all its flaws and imperfections hidden beneath a fluffy, white blanket.
As I stood there in the cold admiring the beautifully camouflaged terrain, I wondered how often this is how I want others to view my life and my family; how I want others to see my grown children and our relationships – as beautifully blanketed, clean, and uncomplicated. I want others to view us and our relationships as they would view a Norman Rockwell painting – a picturesque scene of love lavished with grace. But like many homes, our family gatherings are not always the Norman Rockwell settings our heart longs for as unresolved conflicts and differing opinions lay just beneath the surface of our trivial conversations while sin divides our hearts and lives.
I don’t think we’re alone in our struggle; sometimes beneath the surface of seemingly perfect families lay empty and aching hearts, old wounds, estrangements, and damaged relationships. And while our words to one another may not be harsh, sometimes we still feel the sting of rejection, the pain of disapproval, and the hurt of misunderstanding.
Conflicts are always difficult, but when differences and disagreements divide families they cut to the heart.
So how do families – especially those with adult children – find peace and unity when lifestyles and the convictions that frame our lifestyles sometimes differ? Should we set aside those differences for the sake of peace and family unity and simply side-step sticky issues and avoid difficult conversations? Of course there are many issues when held in the light of eternity are trivial and do warrant avoidance.
But how do we handle the convictions and differences we simply cannot set aside?
And where does the gospel fit in this mix of sin and human nature; in this clash between right and wrong; in this jumble of hurt feelings, lacerated hearts, misunderstandings, pride and sin? How do we apply the gospel to the pain hidden beneath our polished image especially when some of us are clumsy carriers of grace and dabble it out sparingly, afraid that our words and actions might be misconstrued as approval or acceptance of sinful actions and attitudes? Is there a thin line between destructive, unloving condemnation and unintended approval?
How do we put an end to the conflicts and bridge great gulfs that divide us without compromising our convictions?
The truth is we can’t – some things are beyond our ability to change or repair. But there is still hope! We must not forget that with God all things are possible. The gospel isn’t just a passive message of peace, but a bold proclamation of hope, forgiveness, and love, and it can cross boundaries and bring conviction and forgiveness; it can mend broken hearts and restore unity to divided families.
And while we may not be able to change our loved ones, we can start by prayerfully applying the gospel our own hearts and remembering that we too are sinners saved by grace. When we take just a tiny glimpse of our own sinful hearts and remember the grace offered to us, we will be unafraid to boldly offer grace without fear that our actions will be misconstrued as acceptance. (When we are consistent in our faith and our reliance on scripture as absolute truth our loved ones know how we feel about sin and we don’t need to continually preach our views to them.) When we gratefully remember how longsuffering God is with us, we can practice patience that doesn’t ignore wrongs but kindly seeks to walk slowly through them. Remembering our own struggles with sin and reflecting on our own words and actions as if they were directed towards us will temper our words with mercy and compassion. With God’s help we can reward wrongs with loving acts of kindness and generosity that do not seek to be rewarded but are offered simply because Christ has offered us grace and we can offer grace in return. And as we delve into God’s word and saturate our hearts and minds then we will be better prepared to speak the truth with loving kindness. And while there is still breath in our lungs and words in our mouth, we can pray for opportunities to offer reconciliation and boldness to offer grace and forgiveness.
But… I know in my life these things are difficult to do and I stumble and fall all over the gospel message – especially in my attempts to live what I know in my heart to be true. I wish I had easier solutions and simple answers, but I know there are no simple answers for the complex problems that divide our families and burden our hearts. However we can take comfort when we remember we do not face our troubles alone and that those things that test our faith and weigh heavy on our hearts remind us of our desperate need for a Savior to both save and sanctify us.
And while some things are beyond our ability to repair, we must not lose hope.
It is possible for the gospel – that message of grace and hope for the saint and sinner alike – to become a ray of light that melts the barriers between the sinner and the self-righteous and softens the hearts of both the wayward and the virtuous. It is possible for those difficult conflicts that lay beneath the surface of a pleasant facade to melt into the rich soil that produces abundant fruit for the kingdom even if each tree looks a little different.
Today a bright winter sun is shining and icicles are beginning to drip from the eves. Snow and ice are falling from the trees and our winter blanket will soon be gone revealing dead grass, barren branches, and uncleared tumbleweeds piled along the fence. The landscape, while still a little dull in the lifeless grip of winter, has received some much-needed moisture from the snow.
While I don’t recommend airing our family’s ‘dirty laundry’ for any and everyone or gossiping about each other, sometimes allowing the warmth of a caring friend to melt away some of our perfect covering can provide us with the wisdom, encouragement, and the prayer support we need to hang on to our faith and the hope that our family differences may one day be resolved. A loving friend can also remind us that we are all part of a bigger family that will one day be joined together in unified praise for the one who loved us first and at that reunion all broken hearts will be mended and all broken relationships will be restored for those who truly know Christ as our Lord and Savior.