cactus with flowers and thorns

You know, I’ve got an unruly family tree.  Actually, it’s probably more like a gangly family cactus, which produces both massive thorns and massively beautiful flowers. I can’t help but love the gorgeous flowers, but the thorns can cause such wounding and pain that I’m regularly tempted to avoid contact with entire columnar branches. A recent conversation with one family member, however, convicted me of the need to remain engaged. 

Trying to put to right a hurtful string of events between us, this family member had called me on the phone and alleged, “You know, back then it was easier for me to hang out with all those friends of mine who - I know, I know, so, you don’t need to remind me - weren’t good for me, than it was to hang out with you.   

“They didn’t care if I missed Mass on Sunday.  They didn’t care if I drank too much.  They didn’t care what language I used.  They didn’t expect me to be “better than that” or try to get me to see the glass as half full.  They accepted me as I was, but with you, it is always this need for more of God’s grace or trying harder next time or something.  I’m not perfect, you know, and neither are you!” 

Of course those accusations were like a thorn pressed into my heart and my whole body began to tremble. My fight-flight-or-freeze instinct kicked in big time! It screamed for me to immediately jump to my own defense, to hang up the phone, or to change the subject and coolly not acknowledge what had just been said.

Mentally submarining my biology, I forced my mind to recall the contents of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, number 2447, which lists ‘bearing wrongs patiently’ as one of the spiritual works of mercy.  As soon as I did this, it became clear to me that our conflict wasn’t about acceptance, but about the nature of love.  If this person truly didn’t feel accepted by me, they would not have called me to try to reconcile and to get help with this new, difficult situation.

“Look,” I replied in voice that I hoped wasn’t as shaky as my feelings, “I am sorry.  I did not and never do intend to make you feel badly. Neither of us is perfect, and I did not enjoy that time in our relationship any more than you did, but you, yourself, just identified the essential difference between those old friends and me. 

“You said your friends didn’t care and that you liked that they didn’t.  It made life away from the Faith easier for you.  So, where are those all-accepting, easy-to-be-with friends now?  They are all out there somewhere, still not caring about what you did or now do or how it affects what you are going through today.  But where am I?  I am here. I am here, taking your phone call and getting stuck in this tangled and hurtful conversation.  Why?  Because I do care.  Because I do love you.  And, I know you don’t want to hear this, but it’s because I do care, that I still want what’s best for you, not just what’s easiest.” 

I hated being in that prickly conversation. Hated it.  Name the worse punishment you can think of and I would have chosen it over being in that conversation. But if I had fought, fled, or froze, from where else was this person ever going to hear even the tiniest bit of truth spoken in love? Certainly not from the friends who never did and never would care.

Love doesn’t turn a blind eye.  Love cares.  Love bears wrongs patiently. Love waits for the right moment and prays for the right words to speak the full truth in love.  For Catholic moms this means not taking the easy way out when interacting with family members, if that way out is not, also, the loving way.  Love wants not only what is easy or good for now, but what is better and best for now and always. 

In order to enjoy the flowers on my family cactus and for the privilege of influencing their growth positively, I am learning to embrace and patiently endure the unavoidable piercings from the thorns. In this choice to remain engaged, I cling to the ultimate example of “him who was pierced for our transgressions,” and I hang onto the promise that “it is by his wounds that we [all] are healed” (Isaiah 53:3).  After all, truth be told, I am also a sometimes thorny and sometimes beautiful member of my unruly family cactus, and I too, need others to bear my wrongs patently.

Copyright 2014, Heidi Bratton