We sometimes have a narrative of others in our head.* Sometimes these narratives are kind, loving, encouraging and so on. But other times we judge, condemn, hold in contempt others by brewing up ugly stories about them and their intentions. Ultimately, this can ruin a good relationship or prolong the separation of an already maligned one. This reflection reminds me of my sister, Kate.
Some 20 years ago, my wife and I courted, engaged and married. We met each other at Kate’s high school graduation party. We were older siblings tagging along with “the kids,” and our eyes met. That was it. Like George and Mary in It’s a Wonderful Life, we hit it off, married, and had a bunch of kids.
However, some pretty cruel things were said between my sister and me during the time I was falling in love with Wendy. I don’t really want to hash out what was said, but let’s just say it created a tense brother-sister relationship that was irritating — never quite the same, but tolerable.
A couple years after our marriage, Kate got married. That marriage eventually fell apart and Kate remarried. By then, our relationship had moved from irritating to not even speaking to each other. I’m ashamed to say, Wendy and I weren’t even invited to the second wedding.
This wasn’t good. Family get-togethers were tense. Kate and I avoided each other at all costs, afraid that talking about anything would lead to one of us blowing our top. We both resolved to just “not go there” and totally ignore each other.
It was then that Wendy and I came up with an idea. We very deliberately and intentionally started to tell ourselves a good story about Kate. Before, I had the most contemptuous story in my head of Kate. I would drudge up all the reasons in the world to be justified in my judgment, but it was a spiral down into depths of judgment that put a gridlock on our relationship. It took some time, but what began to form in my mind was an image of Kate that was quite pleasant.
I began seeing Kate for the wonderful person I remembered her to be before the nasty things said years ago. Kate’s always happy and jubulant. She is probably the funniest person in the family, with a laugh and joy that is admirable. I started to roll with a positive story about her, and I began to think fondly of my sister like I used to.
It wasn’t a dilusional thing, mind you. I could have very easily ranted and raved about her stubbornness, crassness, etc. But those were bad stories, and I refused to go there when I thought of her. What I did was formulate a narrative about my sister Kate that overlooked her faults and saw the beauty about her. I guess you can say I started loving her once again.
Do you get what I’m saying? I believe this can work for any estranged relationship. We usually have it backwards: the person we’re upset with has to do something first (apologize, make amends) before we will entertain a positive narrative. With my relationship with Kate, the opposite ended up healing our wounds and today things are great.
I’ll share with you what happened with Kate tomorrow. For now, ask yourself: What estranged relationship do you have that is culminated from a bad story of another? Healing of that relationship may start with you telling yourself a better story.
* I was reminded of this story after listening to Michael Hyatt’s podcast Change Our Story, Change Our Lives. It is the same idea, but it is about ourselves instead of others. It’s excellent, and I encourage you to listen to it.