By Joanna Oey
The following paragraphs and short comics stem from my personal experiences and daily struggles in wanting to love my family better. I have always struggled with my pride and temper at home, and it was only a few months ago that my mum briefly mentioned to my boyfriend, “she’s (me) changed a lot after School of Witness (SOW). If she didn’t go, she probably wouldn’t even say hi to her father at home.”
My dad was, is and will always be a workaholic. It took me a number of painful sessions to learn to not only forgive my father for his lack of presence at home but to also appreciate, let alone accept, his love language: his hard work in providing for the family. Many peers that come from a typical Asian family can probably understand.
So after many “yes”es to the Lord in various areas of my life, I decided to say “yes” to Him with respect to my family. And because my dad is not catholic, The Lord challenged me to bring love home in small gestures or acts that do not necessarily seem like “evangelizing” at first. I would like to share with you 6 tips which have helped improve my relationship with my family.
1. Conversation starters
Waking up and going to bed with our families may make small conversation starters unnecessary and trivial. But, why not? Why not fill in your parents’ day with a little bit of what went on with your day? (Hint: Resistance is probably out of pride or indifference)
Even if they do not seem to care (like my dad sometimes), I find that it changes me. I start connecting to my parents more and acknowledging their presence and efforts more. I start having an actual relationship with them and this is what it means to be family.
2. “Calm down…calm down…*deep breath*” a.k.a. controlling temper
This may not speak to everyone, but there are definitely times when our family’s gotten on our nerves and it is usually the occasional bickering or slight annoyances that just blow us up and sometimes we “just can’t help it la!”.
However, we are Catholic! We are disciples of God! And that means we are called to lead a life “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love” (Ephesians 4:2).
3. Contemplating on the ‘weirdos’ God gave
“Sow a thought, and you reap an act; Sow an act, and you reap a habit; Sow a habit and you reap a character; Sow a character, and you reap a destiny.”
– Charles Reade
I found that when I started noticing my dad’s quirks more, they were funny and silly. I started taking things more lightly and seeing my dad as a normal, weird (as we all are) and a funny human being. What used to be slightly annoying, now makes me smile – and this has helped improve my relationship with him because he is more likable to me now. This little “reflective” practice can manifest itself to a habit that allows me to love others. Especially those ‘others’ that used to be slightly annoying, but are now more tolerable.
4. Saying “thank you” more, even if it does not really need to be thanked
“An act of love makes the soul more loving. A deed of humbleness deepens humbleness.”
– Frederick William Robertson
This may seem unnecessary, especially when many things are routine and “a given”. For example: my dad dropping me off to church or school. I used to think ” they know I appreciate them” and thus, this validated my lack of vocal appreciation for them. However, I found that saying “no” to my pride and indifference, and being free in my speech to love, nurtured more and more gratitude in my heart, and I slowly began to appreciate and love in a deeper way.
5. Secret sacrifices
Choosing to sacrifice something important was my secret love language. I do not think that my parents were aware of the number of times I have turned down an invite or an event so to just have an ordinary dinner with them. Of course, I did it out of love, not obligation.
The sacrifices or gestures that we do in secret is the love that helps us grow the most – giving without expecting anything in return. It becomes our act of answering the call to become self-gift.
6. Smile more
For those who find the above 5 daunting, this last gesture may seem like a breather. Yet, as simple as it is – there is beauty in it. If genuine, a smile warms the heart and melts any nasty sin of pride or anger. Try it!
The abovementioned gestures are not meant to become expectations of reciprocation, and definitely not exhaustive. These are meant to be acts of Love – freely given of ourselves, without expecting anything in return. These are meant to aid us in carrying out the Lord’s 2nd commandment for us:
“The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” – Mark 12:31
We do not need to look so far to find a neighbor to love. Our closest neighbors are the people that sleep in the rooms next to us! How can we truly love others (strangers), without first starting with the ones God gave us? I understand the difficulties in being a Christian at home. However, we are not called to live mediocre, ordinary lives, but extraordinary lives – the Christian life. We are called to love freely, generously, painfully. If it is painful or difficult, good! It means that there is room for God to work in your life.
I end with a quote from Saint John Paul ll, from the Apostolic Exhortation followed the Synod, Familiaris Consortio (The Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World):
“Thus the little domestic Church, like the greater Church, needs to be constantly and intensely evangelized: hence its duty regarding permanent education in the faith…the family, like the Church, ought to be a place where the Gospel is transmitted and from which the Gospel radiates…the future of evangelization depends in great part on the Church of the home” (#51-52).
May our families start reflecting the most Holy Family of Nazareth. May we be vessels of God’s love and kindness at home. Don’t just try, strive to love more and more in your homes, starting today. God bless!