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Emily’s family descends from European royalty and her relatives talk about it too much in front of our kids.
She says: I am proud of my ancestry
Since Brandon’s roots are much more humble, I think it’s important our kids know they are part of this historically significant past.
The desire to hear and tell family stories arises from our deepest needs to know who we are and where we came from. It is an ancient, universal and good practice. But like so many other good things, under the influence of our wounded human nature, our family ancestries can trick and trap us.
They can make us prideful. Carrying about an entitled “aura of historical significance” because of who we’re related to makes no sense because we have no control over those connections. But even with a rightful sense of pride we can have in our relatives, beware that wearing it on our sleeves can put people off. Antidote: Know with certainty that if any of us were to trace our family tree widely and honestly enough, we’d find just as many scoundrels on it as luminaries. And everybody knowing about those scoundrels wouldn't make us one bit less worthy in the eyes of God.
They can make us unduly ashamed. There can likewise be embarrassing branches in our family trees – such as grinding poverty, cultural crudeness or criminality. Even though none of those has anything to do with our – or, for that matter, our ancestors’ – fundamental human worth, it can still make us cringe and reluctant to talk about our family backgrounds. Antidote: Take some solace knowing that Jesus’ own human family lineage, recounted at the beginning of St. Matthew’s Gospel, is a litany that includes both great saints and horrific sinners. The point is, whatever’s in your own mixed bag of family ancestry, it is no more a measure of your character than it is a predictor of your destiny.
Finally, dwelling excessively on our family ancestries can distract us from what is far more important: our universal, shared Christian family ancestry. Antidote: Yes, tell your children stories about their ancestors, but also tell them stories from the lives of the saints – their family relatives in the bond of faith. Have pictures of these relatives on display in your home alongside your relatives. The saints are there forever to remind each of us – the princes and the paupers – that our most important and everlasting family identity is being a redeemed and beloved child of God the Father.
Steve and Bridget Patton hold master’s degrees in theology and counseling and serve as family life ministers in the Diocese of Sacramento.