Growing Into Family
by John Blase
A wise old man once defined “family” for me in this way: Family are the people who will always listen to your story. Now at the time I was young and nowhere close to wise, so I didn’t realize the impact of his words. But by God’s grace those words hung around somewhere in the corners of my mind and that same grace has allowed me to grow into that wise old truth, to see and know it for myself, with a small addition. Family are the people who will always listen to your story, or at least sure try.
I’m in the middle these days when it comes to family. And I’m thankful. We still have children at home and we still have parents who are living. Many of my friends cannot claim the latter, and I know the former is quickly passing away, so I’m grateful. It’s interesting how that wise old truth comes into play these days. My precious children will tell me stories they’ve told me once, twice, sometimes three times. And you know what I do? I listen, or at least I sure try. Why? Well, because that’s what family does. And my parents, God bless them both, I’ll call and we’ll talk on the phone awhile and inevitably they’ll tell me stories they’ve repeated umpteen times, quite often even saying “Now I may have told you this before…” And you know what I do? That’s right, I listen. And why? Right again—family.
Now this doesn’t mean that I just sit there like a bump on a log and open up my ears in some robot fashion. No, I try and listen, which means I may ask questions about someone or seek clarification about something or challenge an attitude or opinion. That’s part of the difference between listening and hearing. One is active while the other can be quite passive. One is born of love while the other can be nothing more than tolerance. One can knit the hearts of people together while the other can lead to distance and division.
Lest you think me some saint, let me disabuse that notion swiftly. Sometimes their stories begin and I think “mercy, here we go again.” I don’t like to admit that, but it’s the truth. Sometimes I’m tired or cranky or worse and the lesser angels of my nature pressure me hard to just run away. And I’ve done that on more than one occasion. No, I didn’t literally run out of the room but I definitely tuned that loved one out. Ugh, what a horrible, horrible phrase. But it’s the truth.
In those times I’ve had to say “I’m sorry. Please tell me again. I do want to listen.” Sometimes forgiveness is quick and we’re back on track in a flash. I love those times. Other times, yes, it takes a little longer to mend the fence. I learn in those times, learn the other side of that wise old coin: Sometimes family botches listening. In those times, family always seeks forgiveness, or at least sure tries.
And here’s something. The other day I was telling my children a story and they said “Dad, we’ve heard that one before.” I know, can you believe it? But you want to know what those children did? They showed the aging man in the middle a little grace, and they listened. Their listening was coupled with grins and after a few minutes I could tell they were getting a little weary. That’s okay. But I have to give them credit—they listened, or at least they sure tried. My children will have to grow into that truth just as I have, and I pray God’s grace will allow them that time.
Some believe the word “family” has long been in an identity crisis and that we desperately need to figure out just what it means. In some ways I agree. And in some ways I disagree. Maybe that’s because I’m a little older now, still not wise, but older. I’ve seen there are many variations of family, but at its heart I believe beats a theme: Family are the people who will always listen to your story, or at least sure try. And sometimes family botches listening. In those times, family always seeks forgiveness, or at least sure tries.
If we were on our own in this life, then that sure try piece would feel quite lonely and heavy. But we’re not. We have a Father who always listens and always forgives. And by His grace we try and fail and love and learn and grow into that word we’ve known since we were young—family.