‘F’ Words

As the leaves fall and I find myself spinning from pumpkins, to turkeys, to Christmas trees, I feel a heightened sense of that other holiday staple, the ‘f’ word … family. Let me state from the start that I love my family very much and I have grown into a more mature appreciation for all of our quirks and craziness. However, all of that learning and loving still comes with certain stresses and strains. Ram Dass, the spiritual teacher, once said: “If you think you are enlightened, go and spend a week with your family.”

This past weekend I visited my family in New England and found myself easily triggered by all kinds of behavioral minefields that I thought I had long left behind. This is a common enough situation… many people share similar challenges when visiting relatives, but this visit really left me shaken at times. What had changed? I had.

As I have continued to grow and mature in my capabilities and spirit I have also dragged along a nagging sense of perfectionism. I convinced myself that not only did I need to change and grow, but I needed my family to see that I had changed and grown. This sub-conscience need for approval was as prevalent now as it was when I was young. With my ego taking the steering wheel I couldn’t even see that I was stuck in old patterns and unproductive communication habits. My mother, whom I adore, and I even found ourselves in a wicked shouting match. I realized later that my escalating reactions had less to do with what she was saying and more to do with how she said it. In turn, she became defensive and irritated– and so on and so on until I actually said “I just won’t talk then until I leave.” When we finally retreated to different spaces I felt ashamed that I had let myself get so out of control. I felt defeated and even like another ‘f’ word … a failure. Perfectionism strikes again.

I went to my room and decided to pray, even though I was not in a calm head-space. Crying and cursing seemed to work for the Psalmist, so why not me? I reached for my community’s prayer book and remembered I had brought it on the trip to pray with my mother. I sheepishly walked to her bedroom doorway to find her reading in a big arm chair. As she looked up I said, “Will you pray with me?” She said yes, and we worked our way through the prayers and scripture readings. When it was over it felt as though there was a great weight lifted off our shoulders. We didn’t have to say I’m sorry because the prayers had done that for us.

I know that God was sitting with us as we prayed. God was no doubt with us as we fought as well and was most definitely with us as we enjoyed the rest of our time together on my visit. That’s the funny thing about some families, even when we fight and trigger one another, we can still find a space for grace and the most important ‘f’ word … forgiveness.