Of course you do! Most of us can easily identify the two or three people in our families who are complete screw-ups (though of course we’d never put ourselves in that category). We can recite their faults at the drop of a hat. In fact, it’s one of our favourite hobbies when sitting around the family table. “Hey, kids, do you know why Billy Bob’s nose is crooked? It’s ’cause twenty-four years ago he tried to rob the Kwik-E-Mart with Nana’s Queen Size nylons over his face, but he tripped on the curb since he couldn’t see and spent the night in the ER instead!” We can never get enough of stories like that.
My theory is that we do this because human beings are essentially lazy.
And one way that we avoid work is we like to categorize things, and people, so we don’t have to think anymore. My little brother is the black sheep. My mother is the martyr. Uncle Jim is the drunk. We’ve got it all sorted out.
Once that category is created, though, we don’t like to change it. It requires too big a shift in our thought patterns. So what if Uncle Jim has been sober for nineteen years? Let’s still laugh over the time he passed out and landed right in the Christmas cranberry sauce.
Family may love you, but quite often they pigeonhole you, too.
People tend to have an easier time reinventing themselves outside of the bosom of their families, because families remember your infractions. My brother-in-law, for instance, failed his driver’s test on his first attempt because, though he is an infinitely superior parallel parker than yours truly, he failed to get out of the way of a wailing ambulance. That Christmas, his father helpfully wrapped up one of those Tonka toy ambulances, just so he wouldn’t forget his stupidity. He may be a successful businessman now, but the family still likes to laugh about it. I, of course, am the exception, since I would never try to rub that one in by announcing it to the world or anything.
Another friend of mine has had a rough adult life. Things have just not gone his way. Recently, he pulled up stakes and moved to the other side of the country, where he’s thriving. People don’t think of him in terms of his past mistakes, because they don’t know them. They look at who he is now and at what he’s capable of doing. And they love him for it.
Perhaps this Christmas might be a good time to start treating our family members as strangers.
Don’t think of them in terms of all the mistakes they’ve made, or the ways they’ve hurt you in the past. Don’t replay those cruel words they said ten years ago. Instead, while you’re sitting down to turkey, look at everyone in your family and ask, “who are they today?” And if they’re kind, if they’re successful, if they’re trying, then celebrate that.
After all, isn’t that what Christmas is all about? The Christmas story is one of new starts: in the religious tradition, God sent His Son so that we could be forgiven. We’d have a clean slate. Wouldn’t it be refreshing if we could extend that kind of grace to others in our families this year?
Everyone deserves a new start. Even you.
So Merry Christmas to all of you, and to all of your families, too. May this be a season of grace, forgiveness, and new beginnings.
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