training ground

“I tell you, families are definitely the training ground for forgiveness. At some point you pardon the people in your family for being stuck together in all their weirdness, and when you can do that, you can learn to pardon anyone. Even yourself, eventually. It’s like learning to drive on an old car with a tricky transmission: if you can master shifting gears on that, you can learn to drive anything.” (Anne Lamott, Traveling Mercies)

I’ve been thinking about forgiveness and grace and family recently.

My sister Jill and I just returned from a week in England where we visited some of our extended family. Our maternal side is English, and our grandmother and aunt reside in a quaint village in the county of Suffolk. It’s one of my favorite places in the world and I love that the land over there feels like home. There’s something incredibly comforting about being in my grandmother’s home, letting her feed me crumpets soaked in butter and eggs and sipping tea in her cozy living room.

We were there because my aunt is sick. She was recently diagnosed with cancer and so we went to spend time with her while we still have time. The best way to describe the visit was bittersweet. I loved being there, but of course I wondered if it was Goodbye or just See you later. I hope it was the latter.

Not only was I trying to make space (mostly unsuccessfully) to process feelings about my aunt and her illness, but the trip was also hard at times because of family dynamics and tensions that have been present for years. Most of us were tense, stressed and sad – at times it felt as if each of us was hanging on by a thread. There were some shouts and tears and hurt feelings. I had to wrestle with my own anger and confusion regarding my relationships with certain relatives. I wanted to point the finger and say It’s all your fault, you made things this way, you don’t deserve a relationship with me.

Yep, that’s gross and real.

When my anger and hurt subsided and some of the dust settled, it occurred to me that maybe I was blaming and judging people for doing some of the very things I was doing. I was holding on to bitterness and waiting for someone to deserve my forgiveness, while mentally chastising others for doing the very same thing. I could look at someone and say, Why can’t you just move on, get over it? Why are you running away? And here I was, holding on and wanting someone to pay.

Now, let me say I am a huge proponent of letting myself feel what I feel. I can’t help when I experience hurt, sadness, pain, anger, confusion, joy and happiness. No one can tell me, or anyone, what I am feeling is wrong, and I try to encourage others to just feel what they feel. So I know these things that came up in me last week were real and okay. I tried to let them be there and accept them for a minute, while keeping the thoughts of what I should feel at bay.

But then…forgiveness.

In the end, there is always forgiveness. We’re family. Maybe families really are the best place to practice forgiving and letting go. At the end of the day, my family will always love me, will always accept me. I want to do the same for them and truly see them. No matter how I’ve been disappointed or hurt, they are my flesh and blood. Maybe if I learn the art of forgiving with these loved ones, where I am safe to make mistakes and ask for forgiveness myself, I will be more quick to do this with others.

I love my family, I really do. They’re quirky, nerdy, hilarious. They can make me laugh and cry and scream, sometimes all in one conversation. They bring out the real Kate. It’s incredibly refreshing and I am reminded all the time of how blessed I am.

Family relationships – relationships in general – are hard. We can hurt each other because, if left to our our devices, we will always default to selfishness, to our flesh, to sin. It’s only through grace from our Creator that we become something different. It is through Him that we learn how to forgive and say I’m sorry, because He forgives us over and over. He makes us new.

When I step back and remember the grace I’ve been given, when I forgive and let go, there is freedom. There is real life. When I get back in the car and try shifting gears on that tricky transmission again, I realize that this is the training ground and I will probably mess up. And it’s okay if I stall, because my family will let me groan, hit the steering wheel, say a little prayer and start the car again.

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