March 1, 2023 // Perspective
Family Life as Seen in a Rock Tumbler
Most Lenten reflections center on fasting or abstinence along with prayer and almsgiving. However, the word “repent” in our English bibles translates the Greek word “Metanoiate” which most literally summons us “to change (meta) the way we think (noiate).” With this in mind, I would like to post some articles this Lent that help us to think of and see things differently, and in a more helpful way.
Family life is so central to our experience and moral life that I begin by offering a humble picture of it that emphasizes its somewhat tumultuous quality. As we well know, family life can be wonderful, but it can also be challenging and even terrible at times. We can choose our friends, but seldom can we choose our family. Family is assigned by God and thus, we do well to understand that what we want is not always the same as what we need.
Family members have a way of keeping us humble. Siblings, especially, are ever present to remind us that we are “not all that” and that life isn’t just about us. Sadly today, many people have few, if any, siblings and this factor tends to produce a lot more narcissism and idiosyncrasy. But oh, for a few siblings to keep you humble! Parents too can humble us and also encourage us. They can edify us and also cause deep pain. Add to the mix cousins and in-laws of every sort and the mix becomes quite a show. Our families can have all the glory, and all the gory. Among us, there are saints and there are aint’s; there are the mighty oaks of legendary renown and more than a few nuts falling from the same family tree. Ah family, can’t live with it, can’t live without it.
This Lent we do well to ponder however that even the difficult and trying aspects of family life have a way of helping us. Somehow it all reminds me of a rock tumbler.
Indeed, when I was a kid there was a school geology kit that included a “rock-tumbler” which was meant to teach us how stones can go from being jagged and drab to being smooth, polished, and even colorful. It was a round drum that looked a bit link a cement mixer. Throw in some rocks and various sorts of sand and run it for a few weeks and, shazam, the rocks came out looking beautiful, almost like gems or marble.
And this is all a paradigm or image for family life. We are the rocks and the tumbler represents life with all its twists and turns. The sand is the tuff grit that comes from living in a world that has its fair weather but overall, is a kind of sandstorm of trials and tumult, tensions and disagreements. And so, the world turns and we, especially in our families, bump up against each other and face the often-abrasive sands of life. But through it all, our rough edges are chipped away, the sands cause a polish to emerge on each of us. The process is harsh and gory, but at the end, someone beautiful emerges: the very man or woman God has created us to be. We begin as diamonds in the rough or coarse stones and come forth as beautiful jewels, polished and lightsome.
Hence, even the less desirable aspects of life can ultimately be a blessing for us. Scripture says that “All things work together for good to those who trust the Lord and are called according to His purposes.” (Rom 8:28) So, in marriages, families, and parishes, the rough and tumble of human interactions is often permitted by God to smooth us, polish us, and beautify us.
This is not to sanctify every problem in family life. There is some abuse that is simply evil and should in no way be considered part of the rough and tumble that helps perfect us.
But in Lent, we do well to see beyond the annoyances of life and the tensions of family, to the greater purposes of God who permits such things for our good. A little less resentment and a lot more acceptance is a good Lenten theme.
Metanoiate! Think differently this Lent about the ups and downs of Family life. Thank God even for those gifts in strange packages.
Monsignor Charles Pope is the Pastor of Holy Comforter – St. Cyprian Catholic Church, Washington, D.C.
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