I recently returned from a beautiful pilgrimage to France, but unexpectedly brought home a stomach bug to my beloved family. Talk about a bumpy reentry to ordinary life: from Lourdes to laundry heaps and Lysol wipes within 24 hours.
As I scrubbed toilets, I found myself musing about resentment, readjustment and reunions.
Over the years, I’ve learned that reentry can be rocky when my husband or I travel for work. Like an airplane bumping through clouds upon descent, we end up with a day or two upon arrival when everything feels off and everyone has to readjust to being together again.
Thinking about jet lag has helped me: If it takes our bodies one day per time zone crossed to acclimate, little wonder our hearts and minds need time to readjust upon reentry too.
Reuniting can be hard, like returning to reconciliation after years away from the sacrament or getting honest about our hardest hurts. But even happy reunions can bring ordinary obstacles as we struggle with the shifting dynamics within families and the stress brought by homecomings.
What can we do to prepare for our family holidays this year? We could pray for gentler hearts turned toward compassion, or try to set aside picture-perfect ideals to make more space for the real flesh-and-blood humans around us.
But we can also borrow a page from Scripture and remember the parable of the prodigal son. The younger child chose selfishness and greed over family, treating his father as dead by demanding his inheritance before his time.
Yet Jesus tells of a father willing to look foolish for forgiveness, running down the road for everyone to see, arms flung wide to embrace his estranged son “while he was still a long way off” (Lk 15:20).
If a rejected father could cast aside every care and rush to forgive his beloved child, couldn’t I do much less for the ones around me? Couldn’t I forgive their ordinary sins and shortcomings as I pray they will forgive mine?
Too often I have been the older brother in Jesus’ parable, bitter that I stayed home, did the right thing and kept it all together during disruption or absence. I have missed out on the joy when I let resentment rule reentry.
Better to soften my knees like standing in a jostling subway car and brace for the bumps I know are coming rather than risk further rupture by souring the reunion.
As we turn toward Thanksgiving and Christmas, perhaps we could pack extra empathy and forgiveness for our holiday reunions this year. Expecting a bit of turbulence doesn’t mean ruining the whole ride.
Instead, preparing for the probable makes more space to receive the grace God is waiting to pour out, just like the forgiving father sprinting down the road to meet us while we were still a long way off.
Our God taught us everything about returning, a God of resurrection who came back to his friends transformed. How hard it was for those closest to him to recognize him; how challenging to set aside their expectations.
But how incredible their epiphanies too: over a meal in Emmaus, behind locked doors in Jerusalem or in a garden with an empty tomb.
After Easter, Jesus sat with Peter on the lakeshore and offered him the chance to reconcile. He does the same for us: drawing us away from the crowd to reconnect, giving us the grace to accept and offer forgiveness, and feeding us with a feast of grateful celebration.
With every reunion we ask the same question Jesus posed to Peter: “Do you love me?” Every time we embrace each other, even within a rocky reentry, we are saying yes.