Chasing after the wind.

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A while back, I read an article that was talking about poor relationships with in-laws and making suggestions about how to “fix” that problem. The article, written by someone with good in-law relationships, was essentially based on the idea that you should check your own attitude first and if you are nice and pray a lot, the relationship will improve over time. I do agree that you should check your own attitude, and I am in favor of praying a lot. But the article itself filled me with a helpless rage. Because we are talking here about people who rejected me to the point that they did not come to our wedding, people we have not spoken to in ten years. Ten years is a lot of life to live without them. I will confess that I do not pray about the situation anymore, because I think God knows how I feel. And what else is there to say at this point? But I also think that being nice and praying a lot wouldn’t do much of anything at all. There is no system that works when we are talking about broken, hurting people. We have to do the best we can. And sometimes the best we can do still looks and feels like a mess. I know the article wasn’t written for people like me, but I wish there had been more of an acknowledgement of . . . the difficulty of it all.

Over the summer, when my pastor was preaching on Dr. Seuss stories, one of the sermons featured The Zax. In it, he encouraged us to take the necessary risks to work on healing broken relationships. After the sermon, I went to him and said, essentially, “What am I supposed to DO with something like this? Because I would love to have a good relationship with my in-laws, but that seems to be out of the question.” And he told me that what we are experiencing wasn’t the kind of situation he was talking about, and that we should keep on making our lives with the people who love us. If we feel nudges to do something different, we should follow them, but we can’t choose a different sort of life for people who have un-chosen us. I need to hear those words of grace from time to time, because I want to do what is right, and I want what is right to be a plan of action, something that will fix this brokenness.

Lent is often a time to focus on our own mortality. From dust you were made, and to dust you will return. Alleluia and amen. If you are anything like me, what you have been given, both good and bad, is not what you expected at all. I do not have advice for people with difficult in-law relationships (or even good in-law relationships), because I don’t know what it’s like. I don’t have a relationship with my parents-in-law at all. I think that the advice to look at your own attitude and to pray a lot is probably good in those situations, though I will acknowledge that I know that relationships are complicated. I do believe in redemption, but I think it does not always take the form or figure we would like, choosing instead to surprise us in complicated, unexpected ways. At church, this week’s scripture text was from Ecclesiastes, which are a good reminder that we can see things as meaningless, or we can make the choice to do the best we can with what we have.

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3 Comments

  1. Thank you so much for this post. Although I don’t necessarily share the same struggles you do, I think we all need the reminder that sometimes, we just need to do the best with what we have. And sometimes, the best we can do is accept grace, accept that some things are out of our control.

    Posted 2/22/2010 at | Permalink
  2. Your pastor sounds like he’s got some sense. Ours … went and visited my family (the ones who didn’t show up to our wedding, and with whom we didn’t speak for years). He actually walked into their office (they’re all doctors, in practice together) and sat down for a pastorly chat with my older brother – without an appointment. Needless to say, nothing was accomplished except for us telling him to stay out of our business.

    We’ve been married, now, for nearly 16 years, and it’s only in the last 3 or 4 that I’ve managed to have any sort of a relationship with my parents. Why? Because they’re getting old & feeble, and I’m probably willing to put up with a whole lot more stupidity out of them than I used to be able to handle. They don’t get to have access to Tanita, though. Not one bit.

    Posted 2/23/2010 at | Permalink
  3. Nancy

    This post resonates with me. Scott Peck’s book, The Road Less Traveled, starts with the sentence: “Life is difficult.” I have found that to be so very true. As you say, we need that acknowledgment of the difficulty of it all. I, too, want to make things right, but sometimes it is just not in my power. And sometimes, when I think I may know what might help to “make it right” (at least, what I think “right” is), I just don’t have the courage or fortitude to do that thing that might help. And sometimes I am just baffled – with no idea how to make it right. Just being nice and praying a lot certainly doesn’t always do it. I really think that’s an arrogant thing to say, as if those of us for whom life hasn’t worked out as we hoped aren’t “nice” enough and don’t pray enough. What a guilt trip that idea lays on those of us for whom life has turned out to be less than perfect. Jesus died to take away not only our sin, but also our guilt, and I do not appreciate anyone else trying to lay it back at my feet – or at the feet of anyone else.
    You are so right that we can’t choose a different sort of life for others – and can’t make their choices for them. But we often do have to live with their choices. Which, I think is where the grace of God comes in. Because his grace truly is real and there for us, but it does not always (or even often, perhaps) come in the ways we expect or desire. I like your pastor’s advice to live with what we’ve got and follow the “nudges” we get when we can. I think that’s saying enjoy and be thankful for the grace of God that we do see and know that his grace is working in ways that we can’t see. I, too, agree with you that there is redemption, although in my life, I haven’t seen it in some in the ways I had hoped. But I have to keep believing that redemption is possible even in the most impossible-looking situations – is perhaps happening now in ways I can’t see.
    So thanks for this post. Being able to share our struggles and know that we are not alone in finding life to be difficult is a blessing in itself.

    Posted 2/25/2010 at | Permalink

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