Relationships are messy.

What has led to this “insight”? you may wonder. I had a phone conversation with a relative yesterday after I had written her a note. I decided to write her a note as part of my daily writing practice, rather than e-mailing her or phoning her as I often do. Usually she is the one to initiate contact with me.

I have decided this relative has some issues, because I didn’t say anything I thought was offensive in my note. It was basically a cheery note telling her that I was thinking of her, hoping her eyes were better (she’s had cataract surgery recently and a longstanding problem with her eyes) and that life had settled down somewhat.

The response I got was basically a notice that she is no longer going to have contact with me or my family. She won’t send any more birthday cards or Christmas cards. I am not to give her another subscription to The Upper Room, the daily devotional guide that my workplace produces. It only complicates her life. I am not to e-mail her or call her. She then said, “Well, have a nice life.”

Well, damn. I try as much as possible to live out my Christianity, following the scriptural admonition “As much as possible, live at peace with everyone.” But sometimes I just want to throw in the towel when it comes to family relationships.

This is not the only relative in our extended family with whom we have little to no contact.

One of my relatives lost his wife several years ago and has since made himself unavailable to talk. He comes to family occasions such as weddings, but he doesn’t stay in one place very long, so it’s hard to have any conversation with him. He sends us a Christmas gift of oranges and grapefruit every year (supporting a teenager, I suppose, by buying the citrus fruit). I like citrus fruit, but every year we wind up throwing some away because we can’t eat it all. I’ve taken some to the office to share with others. Anyway, it kind of irritates me that he gives this gift when he won’t talk to me. At a family wedding about 3 years ago, I walked over to his table, and he kept moving away from me. I finally grabbed hold of his arm and said, “I would like to talk to you. Quit running away from me!” Of course the conversation was awkward, and it didn’t last long. I guess I should take solace in the fact that he deigns to answer my occasional e-mails to him, though briefly. I have started communicating with him briefly too. After all, I have made many efforts over the years to stay in touch. I recognize that he is grieving, and we all handle grief as best we can and in different ways. I respect that. I’m trying to give him the space he seems to need. I don’t like that the relationship is all on his terms, but I have come to accept that that’s just the way things are.

And another relationship is completely estranged. This has been going on for probably 7 years. We are dead to this family, and I’m pissed off about it, but again, there’s not much I can do. Except pray.

There. I’ve aired my dirty laundry. I am my mother’s daughter–she was always the peacemaker in the family. And as far as I know, she got along with everyone, except for her oldest half brother, who had no contact with the entire family of 11 children. I have tried to follow her example. Sometimes there’s nothing you can do about a relationship. I’ve done what I could to make things right, and I just need to trust that God will work out the details.

But every time I read Matthew 5:23-24, I feel guilty. “If you are offering your gift and the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.” And when I pray the Lord’s Prayer and get to the part “and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us,” I get a catch in my throat.

God, you know my heart. You know I want to live peacefully with others, especially those in my own family. How can I reconcile with those who won’t talk to me? Please show me how to be at peace with myself and help me do the right thing. Thank you for working in my life in ways that I can’t see to make things right…eventually. In the meantime, I pray for these persons with whom I have difficult relationships. Watch over them, soften their hearts, and help me to be patient. Amen.