Thanks for the Struggles

As Thanksgiving fast approaches here in the US, there are equally as many joyful posts as there are begrudging posts passing through my news feed regarding the impending family time. It's no secret that family is often the most challenging group of people to spend concentrated time with. Expectations run high, and "the way it's always been" is an easy cop out for objectively evaluating the situations and people that we endure time with. And so we endure, while seething underneath our skin, but wearing that beautiful smile pasted across our face. Oh gratitude, where art thou?

What I've come to observe is that all too often a family member will open their mouth, and what they mean to say is, "I love you," but it doesn't come out that way. It often sounds very different.

The "why don't you's..." and the "I wish you woulds..." and the ever famous "You really shoulds..." The words are so barbed, leaving searing pain right on top of the old scabs that have barely just begun to heal from the last round of being forcibly pressed into that mold that we outgrew many long years ago. The pain and sting of the remarks remains long after the table is cleared and the dishes are washed. And yet, somewhere underneath their razor sharp edges is often an "I love you" shrouded in fear. "I care, and I don't know how else to express it without feeling vulnerable, so I'll say something else instead."

The fact that blood relationships are often so highly conditional despite the fact that they should be the most unconditional of all is ironic. Our own personal fear causes us to keep not only ourselves trapped, but those around us trapped as well. Often the prior generation will inflict those same fears upon the next generation, perpetuating a pattern of fear and unhappiness long into the future.

The key to breaking the cycle is beginning to pause and take a look around us to see where those patterns exist, both within ourselves and potentially in others around us. When we can begin to see those patterns, we can begin to notice the "I love you" underneath the barbs, and they begin to lose their sting.

I'm grateful for all of the struggles with family and friends that I have had over the years that have helped me to notice the "I love you" that doesn't sound very much like I love you at all. I have found more compassion for myself, and those around me when I can listen for that whisper of "I love you" under the cloak of fear. And sometimes I can find the patience and strength to say "I love you" back, no matter what was said.

So my wish to all of my friends and family is that through those moments when the old wounds are opened yet again that you find the strength to see through those hard defenses and find the "I love you" underneath.
And maybe, just maybe, in the midst of that, you can simply say, "I love you, too."


Mary Branden