How do you keep the family together once everyone is living on their own? If you ask many families, there is almost always a central figure in their family they can point to. Often, it is the mother, but sometimes it is the member of the family most proactive about meeting up and spending time together. Too often, when that person dies, the family no longer regularly meets together. How do you keep from becoming disconnected and make the most of the time you have together with your family, even when you no longer live with or around them?
For most of my life, much of my extended family has not been nearby, or even in a close vicinity of where I’ve lived. To boot, when I was 19, I moved out of the country and away from my own immediate family. While I already recognized the value in having family nearby, especially when I would hear friends speaking of the way they would see their grandparents practically every other day, this move out of the country only further reinforced the value of making the most of the time I had to spend with my family, no matter what. Indeed, there is an appreciation for family that is only learned through distance.
So, today, whether you’ve lived away from your family or not, I am sharing five simple things I’ve learned about family that I hope can stir a desire in you to spend more time with your family, to love them more, and to forgive them more quickly. Family is truly a blessing!
- Take time to spend with your family. I know you have other responsibilities in your life. Maybe you have started your own family, or perhaps you have people in your life you are working with in ministry or for a good cause, and you feel like you don’t have much extra time. The fact is, throughout changing seasons of your life, few people will stay constant in your life- even the best of friends-, but your family will. Be purposeful in carving out time to spend with your family and individuals in your family. It’s an investment that pays off in spades.
- Practice taking interest in what your family members are interested in. Relationships feel very empty without substance. Even if you don’t agree with what your family members are doing with their lives, ask them about it. They obviously see worth in what they are doing, or they wouldn’t be doing it, and not asking them doesn’t go unnoticed. When you take the time to ask about what is important and interesting to your family members, it sends a message that you value the person enough to invest some of your time hearing about what they care about, regardless of your opinion (which they probably haven’t asked you for, so it’s likely best to keep that to yourself).
- Let bygones be bygones. Your family is going to hurt you: fact. They are some of the, if not the, closest people to you in the world. It is impossible for them not to hurt you at some point in your life, because of this. That being said, you’re not always going to get an apology, either, so just let things go. This is where having a strong relationship with God really is important, as we can cast our burdens & cares on Him (Psalm 55:22) and let Him know our hearts- and, when you believe in God, you stop ranking sins and you realize that, whatever this person did to hurt you, you’ve done the same to God and probably lots of other people as well. There is little more destructive to any relationship than holding on to past wrongs.
- Take the time to be there when it is important. Spending time with your family is wonderful, but even better is showing up at events that mean a lot to your family members. This may be your niece’s soccer game, a graduation, an event your brother is speaking at, or even a simple family lunch, but putting forth that effort sows seed. There are times you may think the event is unimportant, but if it seems important to your family member, then you being there matters to them. Whether or not the favor is returned, there are great rewards in making the effort to be there for someone.
- Cherish every moment. Life is too short to stay angry or bitter about something that happened last week or even long ago. If you lost your family members today, would you have regrets about what was going on at the moment? Would you wish that you had spent an extra evening with them or made an extra phone call? I believe we all have family members in our lives we could be a bit better at reaching out to and staying in contact with. Take it from someone who has not always had access to her family whenever she would like to, every moment you spend together is worth so much. Cherish the people in your family for who they are and cherish the time you’ve been blessed to have together. The time will eventually run out- make the most of it.
In closing, I would like to say that family is a great blessing. Not everyone has one! Regardless of the flaws in your particular family, take time to just enjoy being together. One of my favorite things about my family is that we can just be together. It doesn’t have to be fancy or crazy or loud, and it’s usually quite the opposite. Every family has its own dynamic. If you’re married, I’m sure you’ve already experienced that! Accept your family for the way they are and operate within the context of how they choose to live. Love them, forgive them, and cherish them. Those three things, you will never regret!
A side note: If you have family that has hurt you and has little interest in being there, I’m sorry. There is a time to evaluate whether it is healthy or not to continue being around people who constantly hurt you, yet I would caution you that cutting your family off is something to take very, very seriously. I have met too many people that are estranged from their families or hardly ever spend time with them, simply because they don’t like their families and haven’t practiced the unconditional love they desire, themselves. Life is too short for grudges and holding them will not make the people in your life change- it will only make you bitter. If you truly feel like you need to distance yourself from your family, I encourage you to speak to someone with an outside perspective whom you know won’t automatically take your side. It’s a really big decision and that wise advice can be very helpful.