How can I be present at family gatherings without being a hypocrite?

Good morning,

My daughter, her husband, and my new grandbaby are with us this week. Well only part of the week as they are heading out to Lancaster to visit his family too. But it’s amazing to me how fast she’s changed in just 8 short weeks.

We attended a family wedding this weekend in Chicago. Actually, my daughter never made it to the wedding because her first flight was cancelled and her second flight was delayed so that they missed the entire wedding. Sometimes we don’t understand what God is up to but I am learning that if we can rest in his Presence and trust in his goodness, then even these little aggravating circumstances can become moments for our own inner transformation.

I was reading this week the familiar story of Peter venturing out into the stormy sea, believing Jesus enough to step out of that boat (Matthew 14:28). But minutes later the reality of the raging storm took hold; the Presence of Jesus fell into the background and Peter began to sink. We so relate to Peter’s plight, we often don’t notice what Jesus said next to him. Surprisingly, Jesus did not commend Peter’s efforts, instead he rebuked him. “Why did you doubt me?” he asked Peter.

I ask myself the same question. Why do I doubt him? Just like Peter, whether we are facing the little storms or big storms of life we start to sink when we doubt what God says. Paul prays for us that “We will understand the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe him. This is the same mighty power that raised Christ from the dead and seated him in the place of honor at God’s right hand in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 1 NLT).

Lord Jesus, help me and my friends to believe you, not just believe in you. It is in believing what you tell us that we find rest, peace, joy and hope for our souls. As Peter and the disciples did in this story, help us worship you as King of King and Lord of Lords. You are who you say you are and we can rest fully in your love only when we believe you.

Today’s Question: My husband’s brother and wife have severely wronged my family. I am filled with so much resentment toward them I can’t stand to be in their presence. But sometimes I have to be. I know I need to let go of my hatred and resentment, but I don’t want them just to think everything is okay between us. How can I be present at required family gatherings without being a hypocrite?

Answer: I think the greatest emotional wounds come from those we thought were friends. King David struggled with this kind of pain in Psalm 55 when he cried out, “”It is not an enemy who taunts me – I could bear that. It is not my foes who so arrogantly insult me – I could have hidden from them. Instead, it is you – my equal, my companion and close friend.”

Let me break up your question into two parts. The first part is to look at what this sin against you is doing to you. The apostle Paul encourages us to “Not be overcome with evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:21). Evil was done TO you. But don’t allow your normal anger from what’s happened to fester. If you do it will infect you with its poison so that you will become full of bitterness, resentment and hatred. Understand that although you feel perfectly justified, when we get stuck here, we’ve allowed Satan a foothold into our life and heart (Ephesians 4:27).

Overcome is a fighting word. It is active, something we must do so that we will never be eternally injured by evil despite being wounded by it. Satan may have gotten hold of your brother-in-law and his wife, but don’t let him get a hold of you.

I’d encourage you to journal, pray to God (as David often did in the Psalms), when feelings overwhelm you. I’d also encourage you to choose to forgive, even if those who sinned against you have never asked for forgiveness. Forgiveness releases the toxins from your soul and body. It doesn’t necessarily restore a relationship, especially when there has been no repentance on the part of the other family.

Your second question however is also important. You do not want to be misleading your family members into thinking the relationship has been repaired or restored, just because you no longer are acting resentful or angry toward them. I think this is a really important issue because I find in counseling married couples, one or the other finds it hard to let go of his or her anger, because nothing has really been changed. Therefore we think that somehow hanging onto our anger communicates that “Things are not better.”

I think words can better serve that function. You might need to have a conversation or send a letter to your relatives saying something like this:

We have been severely hurt and financially impacted by what you have done to our family. We do not understand your reasons for the actions you took against us but whatever reasons you had, do not justify the pain you have caused. Our personal and family relationship has been broken and we do not know how to repair it. Although we will make every attempt to be polite and civil during family meetings, please do not engage us in personal conversation. We are working hard to forgive you but we do not trust you nor do we desire to share personal information about our family with you.

We will continue to pray for you and your family.

In the Bible, Joseph was severely betrayed by his brothers and sold in to slavery. Then he was falsely accused of rape and sent to prison. Joseph had every reason to be bitter and resentful but he did not allow what other people did to him, turn him into something evil. He overcame evil with good. (See Genesis 37-45)

Joseph had no contact with his family for years after they sold him into slavery. When they came to him for food during a famine in their own country, they had no idea that the person they were talking with was their brother Joseph, though he knew who they were. Although Joseph was gracious, even generous, to his brothers, he did not trust them. He remembered their treachery and did not make himself vulnerable to them. It was only after a series of tests, did Joseph reveal himself to them. He loved his enemies by helping them, (as Jesus commands us to do) but he did not personally fellowship with them until he knew their hearts were different.

In the same way, there is no commandment that says we have to have close fellowship with everyone, even if they are relatives. Therefore set up some boundaries that make it clear the status of your relationship so that you no longer need to hold on to resentment to communicate where you are at.

Remember, your resentment is hurting you, not them. Let it go.

Today’s Question: How hard is it for you to use words to communicate your boundaries with someone? How have you have worked on that?

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