The People We Don't Know

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

I call them "forced relationships," for lack of a better term. I mean to say that they are relationships that must be had, that are simply understood. They don't often start as natural relationships do, through birth or familiarity or common situations. They can be good or bad, awkward or comfortable, depending on how those involved approach the relationship.

These relationships are most obvious between spouses and in-laws, though they can exist anywhere. In a world where people no longer stay in one place and grow up together and marry the son or daughter of someone our parents have known all their lives, it is often difficult to form and maintain relationships outside of immediate family. For instance, I spent months getting to know my husband before we became engaged; but I met his New England parents only a few times before the wedding and his sisters only once, I think. Pete met my family a few times, since they were closer. (Compare this with a client of mine who is marrying someone she has known since she was five years old; their families are very close and their wedding will just be one big family celebration. I'm so jealous...)

You spend time getting to know the one you will marry. You know his habits (I speak from my own female wife girl perspective), what he thinks about his family, the things he loves, what he feels. But your family doesn't know what you know about him. And his family doesn't know what he knows about you.

During the holiday season, we're thrown together as familiar strangers, bouncing off one another, trying to interact where there has been very little previous interaction. We are suddenly mother and daughter, father and son, brother and sister. We try to relate to one another in happy, traditional, familial ways, pretending that the people we didn't know have always been there.

We don't often spend time thinking about the hearts beneath the people we don't know in our families. We often grit our teeth, remind ourselves how nice it is to see family and look forward to getting back to our own lives. (I must note here that I am generalizing for the sake of rumination and I don't mean any of this personally to any family member, in-law or otherwise, who may be reading this post.)

When was the last time you spent some real time with someone who has joined your family? I have a four sisters-in-law and two brothers-in-law, a mother-in-law, and a father-in-law. And it looks as though I may have another sister-in-law before too much time goes by here. Poor Pete married me and got seven more siblings and two more parents.

I'm a relationship-oriented person. I want to know that the people in my family me are happy. I that I want to know what is going on in their hearts. I want to know what makes them tick. I want to have more than just a passing-on-holidays relationship with my in-laws.

Even though these relationships didn't start as relationships that I chose, I would like to pursue the other people in my "forced relationships." I'd like to discover who they are, to be a friend. I would like my "forced relationships" to have a chance to be real.

I love that when I come to God, I don't have to share a history with Him to have relationship with Him. He knows me completely and loves me where I am, even if I'm not "there" yet as His child. His patience with me is unfathomable.

I think it is important to remember that we all don't know each other; it's okay if we take a little time to get to know each other as people. We don't have to be close right away, but we can try to get beyond the weather, the trip, the recipes, and the kid-talk. We can give ourselves time to grow and to share life and make new memories and traditions together.

My mom found her mother-in-law to be a second mother after her own mother died. I have found a friendship with mine that grows each time we visit. I got a gem of a guy who is comfortable enough in his own skin to give my siblings room to get to know him and like him for themselves. Sometimes sisters-in-law become close and share similar interests. Brothers-in-law can always watch football together (hee hee!).

I was a stranger to God before He brought me into relationship with Him and His family through Jesus. Through Him, I think I can offer that same patient affection to the strangers-turned-family in my own life. I might not have chosen them, but then, who chooses the people God brings across our path? I can't control everything, now can I? ;-)


Becky said...

Great thoughts...especially this time of year. I struggle sometimes with family dynamics - but that relationship with God - He knows my whole history, all the ups and downs, and loves me just the same. It's a huge comfort when family isn't quite what you wish it was.

Katrina said...

Wonderful post! Your last paragraph especially touched me. Thanks for writing this.

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