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Suffering at the Hands of Family: A Personal Invitation and a Gift {Part 1}

I’m reading through threads on social media today and am thinking that if I had a nickel for every thread I read about the hurt family inflicts…. *sigh* well, I wouldn’t have to worry so much about my fuel budget to haul my ducks around town.

I’m sure we’ve all been there. For myself, every time we have family visits, my anxiety shoots through the roof because I know I can’t change my beloved extended family’s habits of inconsideration, rudeness, pettiness, and the usual contrived jabs. This occurs on both sides of the family.

After 14 years of this in married life (and x years before), all I can do is steel myself before these visits. Then I pray, wait, and try to prepare as much pre-damage control as possible (if that’s possible).

It has struck me more than once how I never thought that my Catholic family would be the cause of hard feelings because of envy, jealousy, lack of charity, unwillingness to forgive, and grudges that lead to further separation in the family. It is this separation that causes us to drift so far apart that we lose touch. Finally when we tearfully meet 5, 10, 15 years later at mutual loved one’s funeral, we wondered whatever it was that caused us to part so.

Here’s my situation…

My extended family members are faithful Catholics, but to this day, still struggle to get along, to show basic manners when it comes to planned events, asking us to leave so they can have dinner with friends who are coming by, not offering support in any way, and trying to control our children and how we parent them, etc.

I can’t change them, however, and have to be comforted in the fact that they are Catholic and that as Catholics they are called to love. They have the Sacraments to help them to reflect, to try to bear wrongs, to be charitable. It’s not in my hands if they do so but I pray for them for God to lead them as I ask that He lead me. We may not be friends during our time here, but I beg that we meet in Heaven someday.

I’m a wimp and am incredibly flawed (ask my husband), but I grit my teeth to ask for suffering to bear on their behalf for the wrongs—the grievous, almost unforgivable wrongs they have hurt me with and still hurt me with if I give them the chance—so that they don’t spend a single day in Purgatory.

Now it’s a little harder in a way with my non-Catholic family who are openly hostile toward my Lord and His Church—and anyone who loves Him and is in His Church. But at the same time the betrayal isn’t as deep or hurtful as it is from my Catholic family. I mean, one expects better from faithful Catholics, right?

Yet, with my secular family, it’s hard to not be affected when my precious 5 year-old, in her innocence wants to color and draw pictures for Jesus with a same-aged cousin who is every bit as precious and just as innocent, and the family’s response is anger and hostility, albeit in the passive aggressive form because she dared express her love for Jesus and had her cousin doing the same. For this side of the family, this is all too common. While we try to lay low, not give too many opinions, to be helpful and accommodating, we can tell that our mere presence is offensive somehow and they can’t wait for us to leave.

Given both sides of our families, my husband and I wouldn’t care so much if it was just us. We could stay away and not make an effort. But we have children who are like all children; they love with all of their hearts, and that includes people who are family who have been a big part in our suffering.

It’s hard to explain to people who haven’t lived it. The first thought someone who may or may not know you and yours is, “Well, what’s wrong with you that your family hates you so much?” They might think that I’m not telling both sides. If I detail our defense I’m torn between the fear of looking like a petty, oversensitive, drama queen or of them looking like monsters. I don’t feel like going on trial at the hands of even well-meaning friends who cannot understand and unknowingly cause more hurt when they defend the undefendable. I don’t blame them, they don’t know the history. How can a survivor of child abuse really explain to people who haven’t live it? I don’t want to burden them and I doubt they want to be burdened. Who does? It’s between my husband, myself, and God for our Sanctification and for our children’s souls and the souls of our family and friends, and enemies. As much as my family still hurts me, mainly through my children, I love them and don’t want anyone thinking badly about them. I want the best for them in this life and the next.

When I used to talk about it and be more open about difficult visits, perhaps it was because I sought understanding and empathy; perhaps because I wanted to know if anyone else was in this situation and how they coped and healed–if there was healing. I’m learning how to bear it more quietly. I said “more”, not “entirely.” I am writing this because I see similar situations and want to reach out to those suffering at the hands of family to tell them, “You’re not alone. You are loved. I don’t know you, but I love you because I am called to love you and I feel for you! You are in my prayers.”

So I pray. Sometimes I cry. And I feel alone. It’s here I can identify with my Lord’s Passion when He was falsely accused- by friends! He was maligned and betrayed- by people He loved and who were closest to Him! I think of Our Lady who suffered His Passion in her heart. It’s how I am drawn closer to Him through Her. I am at the foot of the cross as I gaze at their hearts: her Immaculate Heart and His Sacred Heart on fire with love us, pierced by our wrongs toward one another and God. Mary feels the pain from the blows of our sin to her Son simply because she’s His mother! With love of God and us (in spite of the pain we cause), she gives her suffering to Him, Who makes all things new and turns this suffering into something beautiful to heal and bring souls to Heaven. Her love is so pure. She does all of this because she loves us, only like a mother could. He bears it—bore it for love of us. It’s mind boggling.

I grew up Catholic and used to study pictures of the Immaculate and Sacred Hearts in wonder. Why did they draw it like that? It took all of this time, suffering through a wounded childhood and the continued rejection of the people whom I love most to help me understand. This is only a taste of what my Lord suffered on my account, because He knows every hair on my head and my own heart better than I.

When I have the gift of suffering at the hands of those closest to me, I am being invited to partake in my own little passion made Holy by a God who can always bring a greater good. My heart will look like theirs: pierced, purified, and on fire with love of God and love of my neighbor—even my enemies—for the sake of loving God. To His Heart through hers. To Him through her. To God, the Father through His Son by the Holy Spirit! I rejoice because I am blessed indeed.


Monica is married and has a Masters Degree in Engineering. She “gave it all up” when her first was born to stay home with her growing family. She homeschools their five children, some of which are special needs. She is currently living her “happily ever after” deep in the heart of Texas.