Andy Hawes is Warden of Edenham Regional Retreat House
Christmas is drawing near and with its approach family issues will be coming to the fore. Some of these will be the source of much joyful expectation, some of them will not. As the saying goes, ‘you choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family!’
At Christmas – cooped up as we can be – old resentments and hurts can build beneath the tinsel-clad surface and suddenly erupt with a new and unexpected violence.
Families have a vital role in our spiritual life and development. This is the case even in the most irreligious households. For even if there is no support or fellowship in our family for the Christian journey, they always (if unwittingly) provide ‘a school for the Lord’s service’.
All the essential Christian virtues, all the gifts of the Holy Spirit are the necessary tools for the creation of a happy and flourishing family home. Patience, loving-kindness, sympathy, steadfastness and, binding them all, love. We must always remind ourselves that love does not equal liking or understanding. In family life there is a need for humble service and humble listening, the need to be forgiving and forgiven. Families are where we are most tested in the quality of our character and our personal integrity.
It is also the case that the most pressing and complex ethical issues of our society are family issues. Abortion, marriage and divorce, the whole range of questions in sexual ethics, the testing issue of care for the elderly and family responsibility; all these can come home at Christmas.
In family life our ability to control the agenda and pace of our life is taken away and the difficult complexities of secular life crash in on us – whether we like it or not. We find it is not sufficient to take principled positions that can be reduced to slogans.
It is not unusual to find the complexities of family life somehow sidelined in our spiritual lives. Because of our intimate involvement in personalities and relationships we tend to wrestle with them on a personal level, attempting to work our way through them drawing on our own resources or perhaps looking to other members of the family for guidance and help. In family life we are accustomed to dealing with matters by looking in and we can sometimes forget to look outwards and upwards. The people closest to us are often the last to become part of our prayer.
It has to be a matter of self-discipline to bring the Lord into the family circle; to share with him the pains and pleasure of our family and seek his help and blessing.
It is a good practice to develop a set pattern of prayer for our family members – a certain individual on each day, a special intention for a person on their birthday and so on.
There are few readers who would doubt that the gift of bringing our family into communion with the Christ Child at Christmas through our prayer for them would be the most precious of gifts.