In Which I Decide to Drop My Disdain


I have just enough choleric in my personality (some might call it Type A—I can never get all those personality things straight—which proves I have a lot of sanguine in me, too) that when I started working with Navajo students the whole concept of family relationships really bothered me. I decided that their names for familial relationship was as messed up as their word for shorts (they call them ‘short cuts’—which makes sense in a weird way, but doesn’t precisely describe the nature of shorts).

The kids use the word ‘brother’ and ‘sister’ very loosely. A brother could actually be a cousin-brother or an uncle-brother. They often leave off the first part, so I’m left wondering how someone with a different last name and a completely different set of parents can actually be the ‘brother’ of the student I’m talking to.

I confess, the more I got to know my students, the more I resisted their use of these unfamiliar terms. I don’t like the off-balance feeling of thinking I know my students only to discover after five months that he or she has a plethora of ‘brothers’ and ‘sisters’ at school that I didn’t know about. I’m weird that way. I like things neatly catalogued and categorized so that I have the proper response on the tip of my tongue (which proves that I have a strong dose of melancholy in my personality as well).

As happens all to often, a student received word early this week that a relative had passed away. On Wednesday, I discovered that the young lady I mentor is related to the deceased as well. This morning, whilst walking laps around commons supervising students after breakfast, I noticed a different young lady walking with her head down. I realized that she too is part of the family of the deceased.

I started to shake my head with my usual disbelief that someone could be so distraught over the death of someone they didn’t know very well that wasn’t technically a close blood relative. And then the Holy Spirit convicted me. It didn’t matter how close the relationship might have been. What matters is that one of the family members was hurting.

Who cares about the true nature of the relationship (I think he was the cousin-brother of a cousin-brother)? Grief is grief and I don’t need to know the relational details in order to offer a word of condolence and a prayer.

Grief is grief and we're all part of the family. When someone in the family hurts, we should all hurt with them. Click To Tweet

So I decided to drop my disdain for a concept I don’t understand and cling to what I know. Family is family—and we’re all part of God’s family. When any one of us hurts, it hurts all of us and that pain gives us an opportunity to come alongside a family member and minister to them.

What about you?  Have you ever struggled to understand a different culture?

Anita currently teaches English to 7th-12th graders. She describes herself as a ‘recovering cancer caregiver’ who gives thanks daily that her husband has been cancer-free for ten years.

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  • Beautiful post, Anita.

    Try to understand a different culture? Sure. I’m Mongolian, and the ways of the West are just weird. Lenient where I would expect harshness, and unmerciful where compassion seems to be required. I’m a man out of place, and, I think, out of time.

    But one does one’s best.
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  • Great post, you always make me smile…:)
    I can relate very well since I grew up in Africa. The concept of family is similar, everyone is brother and sister. This can be annoying at times, but I really like how you ended your piece and learned something from it.
    And I definitely agree with your comment above: the more we learn about Jesus, the more we struggle with our own culture. It makes me wonder if there’s a heavenly culture (well, in heaven obviously) and how much we might be able to live out here on earth.

  • I often reflect that my friends nearby are closer to me relationally than my blood relatives that live far away. Guess Proverbs 27:10 is true after all. We in the West would be wise to learn the importance of family that so many other cultures have captured. Just thinking we might grieve more for a sports hero or a celebrity we follow than our own family. You’ve touched on a great idea in your writing. I really enjoyed it!

  • I have too have been like you where I think other cultures are weird but then I think those people probably think I am weird too, which I am but it’s okay. I find it neat so Navajos are so caring about each other.

  • Melancholy or control-freak??? 😉 Just remember always: it takes one to know one. #28
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  • Yes, I have found in this life of ministry and walking many different roads with many different people that everyone travels differently. I have found that my view can sometimes be very small so I’m thankful for His grace and patience as we walk this journey together.

    Thanks for these words and Happy Friday to you!
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  • Every culture has differences, but I’m glad to see that family is family. I am glad you took such an important lesson from your experience. We are all part of the Family of God. Thanks for blessing me with this simple message.
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    • Thanks for stopping by, Mary! All too often I think my way is the best way and don’t leave any room for variety. God always manages to bring the lesson to me just when I need it most!
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  • Tara

    THIS: “Family is family—and we’re all part of God’s family. When any one of us hurts, it hurts all of us and that pain gives us an opportunity to come alongside a family member and minister to them.” I’m in the #7 spot this week

  • With a lump in my throat, sister. Dropping disdain is something I need to do on a daily basis. Thank you for the self-effacing and humble reminder. (Stopping by from Five Minute Friday…)