Last summer, my family and I took a trip across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge to the Eastern Shore of Maryland. It had been many years since we laid eyes upon the farm where my grandparents lived while I was growing up.
My brother and I have such wonderful memories of playing in the corn and soybean fields, as well as the wonderful meals my grandmother prepared in her farm kitchen. As children, we spent every Thanksgiving around her table and loved to visit each summer.
The farm was sold 30 years ago, after my grandfather died, and we don’t know the people who live there now. We drove by the house and noticed how much it has changed, but we didn’t go up to the door.
We decided to stop by the side of the road and take a few pictures.
The farm across the street, which used to be owned by a distant cousin, had also been sold. We wanted to drive up the lane to look at the early 1800-era family cemetery located on the farm, but there were ‘no trespassing’ signs all over the place warning us away. We thought we had better not ignore those signs!
Instead, we visited the public cemetery where my grandparents and great-grandparents are buried; we then drove through the little town of Goldsboro, past the church and other places that were part of our childhood. Once we had done all that, we had nothing else to do.
About midway through the day, I realized that we had no one to visit.
There were no cousins or relatives to reminisce or catch up with. It hit me in kind of a strange way. My grandparents are both in heaven. My mother, their only child, has gone there, too.
Mom’s cousins and relatives may still live in the area, but I don’t know them. In fact, I’ve never even met them. I don’t know them at all.
I know that sounds odd. The fact is, my family farmed that land since before the Revolutionary War. The farm was acquired as a land-grant from the King of England. That’s how far back my family goes – but I do not know any of our relatives — my own generation — who live in the area now.
There are ways that families are broken that, in the moment, seem justifiable. There are hurts and disappointments that happen – and sometimes relationships are severed as a result.
This was true in my family. The reason that I don’t know anyone on my mother’s side is that there was unforgiveness that went unresolved for decades. It was never made right and never gotten over.
Without going into a lot of detail, my grandfather ended his relationship with his two sisters — his only siblings — long before I was born. When this happened, my mother lost her two aunts and all of her cousins.
I only saw my great-aunts once. It was from a distance at a church supper. I was about six years old.
My mother pointed them out to me across the room and I remember thinking how much they looked like my grandfather. I also thought they looked like nice ladies, even though I figured they must’ve done something really bad if Granddaddy wasn’t speaking to them anymore. It was confusing to me, but I accepted it. I never saw them again.
My grandfather was a very good man, we loved him dearly and I do not plan on disparaging his memory in any way – but he was human. Something very hurtful happened to cause him to break off his relationship with both of his sisters.
I wonder why it was never resolved. Why didn’t they find their way back to each other?
The truth is, whether justified or not, my grandfather’s decision has affected our family for two generations. Right or wrong, it was a loss for the whole family. I didn’t fully realize it until we visited the farm.
Unforgiveness that is unresolved, never made right and never gotten over reaches far beyond the original offense.
To be clear, I am not speaking of a situation where something horrendous has happened. There are times when we must sever ties with people who have hurt us – even if they are family. Some people are not safe and there must be a break. Forgiveness, not necessarily reconciliation, is still the goal but, of course, it is a process. It can take a long time and we need God’s help to accomplish it.
This kind of deep, devastating hurt is not what I am writing about today.
I don’t know exactly what went on between my grandfather and his sisters. I do know that no one died, no one was physically hurt, and no one was unsafe. It was all a misunderstanding that snowballed and grew until it simply blew up.
Not always, but more often than not, unforgiveness is the result of pride, feeling justified and having to be right.
Many of us have trouble working through conflicts and problems.
When it gets hard, or we feel as though we might not win, we throw up our hands and say we are done. The other side feels the same. Lines are drawn and the relationship is broken. It remains unresolved because no one makes the first move or takes the first step. The stalemate can last a lifetime.
Here is a true and wise statement — I actually want to cross stitch it on a pillow, it’s that good. 🙂
“When in conflict with another person, the goal is not to be right – the goal is to be effective.”
Think about that for a moment. Isn’t that so true? What if we kept that in mind when navigating through any kind of problem-solving — and not just in our family?
In my mind, ‘effective’ means that there is no winner – the issue gets resolved, the relationship is preserved and both parties are ok.
With this approach, we allow ourselves and the ones we are in conflict with the room to grow, learn and do better next time. Grace.
Scripture tells us, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” – Romans 12:18
Since this is in the Word of God, we can’t pretend it isn’t there. Our response is our responsibility.
After my grandfather died, my grandmother lived another 15 years – she and I developed a close grown-up relationship. Many, many times she cautioned me about unforgiveness. She had deep regrets about the broken relationships within the family. In her generation, most women followed along with what her husband decided – even if she pleaded with him not to do it.
In her later years, she impressed upon me the importance of keeping the lines of communication open, to set boundaries if I must, but to forgive my loved ones. She knew something that I am only now realizing – unforgiveness that is unresolved can break a family for generations.
Ephesians 4:32 says that we are to, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”
We are supposed to be different, those of us who follow Christ. We are to extend the olive branch, give up our ‘right to be right’ and, as far as it is up to us, live in harmony with everyone.
After all, how can we explain God’s free gift of forgiveness to those who do not know Him, if we are not extending it ourselves?