No one enters this world alone — we enter into a family.
That family might be wonderfully loving and joy-filled, or it might be highly dysfunctional. No matter what, this is the group of people within which God has commanded us to work out our salvation in fear and trembling.
Contrary to the sentimental song, friends aren’t necessarily “friends forever,” but family is family forever, whether we like it or not. So, we need always to make it a priority to work on the various relationships that make up a family.
But what about when family members do something that is harmful to their soul and have no desire to repent of their actions? Such actions clearly put a strain on the relationship, and can even threaten to irreparably harm it.
It is in times like these that we hope to draw on a deep reservoir of love that preceded such a situation. The time to help our family members in their path to salvation isn’t after they have fallen — it is right NOW. We must work each day to help our family members in the daily struggle for holiness. This might include encouraging them to go to Mass or confession; it might mean comforting them in a time of sorrow; or it might be as simple as writing a letter (yes, a letter on paper!) to tell them that you are thinking about them.
We often take our family relationships for granted, but each one must be grounded in a self-giving love. Then, when something comes between you and your family member, it has been made clear that you love that person and your disagreement with him is based in a love for him.
So, what are some practical things that you can do to create a relationship of love? Here are five simple steps.
1. Keep in touch. Today we are supposedly “connected” — we can keep up with our family members via Facebook and other social media. But staying connected via social media alone doesn’t show love; in fact, it shows that your family member isn’t any more important than that kid you sat next to in third grade. If you want to build a relationship, then relate: Pick up the phone, write a letter, take a road trip to visit, make a pie; these actions show a true relationship.
2. Lead them to the sacraments. As Catholics we believe that the sacraments are the best means of encountering Christ and living as God wants us to live. So, if family members have been away from the Church, encourage them to go to confession and then Mass. You don’t have to brow-beat; simply tell them how much it has helped your own life.
3. Perform acts of charity. Offer to baby-sit the kids, or visit them in the hospital or take care of their lawn when they are away — all of these little actions go a long way toward expressing love.
4. Always be there. Every one of us goes through struggles and suffering in this life, and God has given us each other to help carry those burdens. When a family member is facing the storms of life, be a shelter he can go to for respite and peace. You don’t have to solve his problems; you just need to be there.
5. Pray. It should go without saying that we must pray for our loved ones. But we sometimes do not spend the time in prayer that we should for those around us — prayer for our loved ones must be a daily task that we joyfully embrace. Also, we should be comfortable in telling our loved ones that we are praying for them — this can be a source of consolation in times of stress and suffering.
If we have spent our lives building relationships of love with those around us, then those “awkward moments” that arise won’t be so awkward, because our actions will be placed in the context of a loving, committed relationship.