United Press International recently reported that in Bloemfontein, South Africa, a man built a wall through the middle of the house and told his wife to stay on the other side. This is the kind of wall which one cannot break through physically. But many people have built walls which cannot be seen, but which prevent people from communicating emotionally and spiritually.
The statement of the Apostle Paul in Galatians 6:2, which states: "Bear you one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ", must certainly include the family relationships, but only when we are in an authentic dialogue will we know the burdens that others bear. Only when we are willing to reveal our burdens, only when we are truly sensitive to the burdens of others, only in a relationship of genuine openness can we "Fulfill the law of Christ". It is a truism that you cannot really love another person unless you know that person's needs and help fill those needs. Yet, too often people fail to reveal their needs to members of their own family. Too often, others are not listening with sufficient attention to notice the needs of others.
It is not always wise to "smooth things over". There are worse situations than conflict: hidden resentments are worse; silent bitterness is worse; hypocrisy is worse. When the Apostle Paul had a grievance against Peter, he "withstood him to the face" (Galatians 2:11-14). More face-to-face frankness in the right spirit would help many a parent-child relationship and many a marriage.
In Matthew 18:15-17, Jesus said that a person who has been wronged should go to the one who offended him and discuss the matter directly. Surely, this must apply to the family as well as to other human relationships. When your child, your parent, or your marriage partner does bring a grievance, try to be "quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger" (James 1:19). Allow the other person to express fully whatever he feels. Too often, we cut each other off and give hasty advice. Too often, we resent hearing about grievances. When we are "slow to hear and quick to speak", we reverse the Biblical teaching and we disobey God. Have we thought, instead, of listening lovingly as part of our Christian way of life?
When James wrote "confess your faults one to another" (James 5:16), there is little doubt that he included all Christian relationships. Fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, should be able to express their weaknesses to each other. A life of pretense can be an unbearable burden. Besides, those closest to us usually know our strengths and weaknesses anyway. It helps when we ourselves are frank about them.
Honesty and courage about acknowledging your faults will encourage others in the family both to understand you better and to talk freely about their shortcomings. In this sharing, we learn to love and help each other more beautifully than in a "closed circuit" situation. In Ephesians 4, we are exhorted to "be kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you Part of forgiveness, and part of genuine dialogue involves acceptance. The Father of the prodigal son accepted his boy completely, compassionately, joyfully. He expressed unconditional love. In true family dialogue, we do not expect perfection in the other, even as we know we are not perfect. Rather, we receive the other with sympathy and unconditional love. When a person finds that he is accepted, he is able to grow into an increasingly meaningful and strengthening dialogue.
So do not allow a wall to be built inside your house. Share your real feelings. Share your burdens. Share your needs. And share the emotions and burdens of everyone in your family. In doing so, you will build a family circle which cannot be broken.