Gaining Confidence Through (Or In Spite Of) Family

            I spent last week visiting my family of origin in Montana. My brother and I shared a book signing there for my novel, Hope and a Future, and his photography book, Visions of Montana.

            I left for my hometown expecting that the trip would provide input for me to write about Alan Loy McGinnis’ recommendation, in order to grow in confidence, “Make the best possible peace with your parents.” I’d like to extend his words to include families.

 Make the best possible peace with your family.

            However, it wasn’t my own family that drew my attention. Throughout the week in Montana and the days in Oregon since, other families’ pain pressed upon my heart.

  • On the airplane, I sat next to a 16 year old who was being sent to live with her grandmother because of falling in with the wrong crowd at her school. She fingered a beaded cross her little brother had made and sighed, “I’m going to miss him so much.”
  • At daily Mass I listened as one child requested “Prayers for my mama because she’s been crying a lot and having a hard time.”
  • An acquaintance divulged her heartache over her adult children’s refusal to speak to each other.
  • A dear friend and her siblings grow weary from their efforts to help a parent with Alzheimer’s Disease.
  • People I care about contemplate divorce and, though I spent years studying marriage counseling, I cannot heal their relationships.

             Our families cause us pain by the very nature of how important they are to us. We share any hurt they feel. In addition, loving them deeply opens us to vulnerability. Our intimacy creates countless ways that we can be injured. They know about certain of our weaknesses, or past wounds, and sometimes inflict pain with that knowledge.

            They know we were shy/awkward/a bully/mean/selfish/nerdy, etc., and often can’t realize we’ve grown beyond what we used to be. Being around family can wear away any confidence we’ve built. We need to remind ourselves of both our growth and our ability to continue to grow.

            Perhaps our past failings don’t haunt us now. Perhaps it’s the way our parents or siblings or classmates or neighbors treated us. Even Jesus had that problem: “Jesus said to them, ‘A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and among his own relatives and in his own household.’” Mark 6:4 (NASB)

            Our families are filled with imperfect people who make mistakes. Those mistakes damaged our confidence in our past and may continue to do so in our present. They were flawed people trying to overcome their own obstacles back then. Let’s refuse to allow their mistakes or their treatment of us to continue to affect us now. Let’s make a conscious choice to let go of the wounds, to realize the roles or labels our family gave us do not need to be maintained or accepted as true. Let the sweet satisfaction of liking who we now are replace the embarrassment or frustration or pain of the past.

 Let it go.

             For as difficult as our families can be, they are also some of our dearest blessings and sources of meaning of our lives. Think of our children. What a gift to the world! (Ok, those of you with preschoolers have my permission to use these 4 minutes for a nap. And if you have teenagers, you know deep down they still love you even when they roll their eyes, right?)

            Even if we aren’t blessed with children, we have relationships that we nurture with parents or spouses or the friends we consider family. If those relationships are more positive than negative, congratulate yourself!

 Here’s the answer to the age-old question, “What is the meaning of life?”

 It’s to learn to love.

             That’s what God wants from us: that we steadily learn to love him, others, and ourselves more deeply. He wants us to grow in love. And since he is love, he wants us to grow in him.

            Whenever we feel like life lacks meaning, we need to think of the people we love. That love itself gives our lives significance. And if we don’t have anyone to love, then it is time to connect to others who feel unloved. Be the one who shows them love. Reach out. Volunteer. I guarantee life will bloom with meaning.

            We talked before about how finding and following a passion gives our lives new momentum and builds confidence. However, we don’t need grand, extravagant actions to make our lives more consequential. It also can  be done in the few moments we take to send an encouraging email or letter. By humming to the baby while we change the messy diaper. When we smile through an elderly uncle’s repeat of his favorite story. Or maybe when we decide to forgive our spouse for the latest mistake without even mentioning it.

            Our lives become more meaningful every time we show love, and love-filled lives produce confidence.

  • By J Louise, April 13, 2011 @ 4:54 pm

    Great reflection, it’s always good to remind ourselves how important family is, and how blessed we are, and that we should do what it takes to keep our family relationships strong! And it’s not every day I receive an email with the meaning of life in it! 🙂

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