Saturday, October 31, 2020

No room at the inn – Jesus finds no place in Botswana’s family portrait

Among the many images of Jesus Christ that Christians are uncomfortable with is that his relationship with family is out of place in their mental “happy family” portrait.

In Matthew 12:46-50, Jesus appears to disown His own family. His mother Mary and His brothers wait outside while He is inside, teaching a group of people. Jesus’ family sends word inside that they want to speak with Him, to which He replies: “Who is My mother and who are My brothers?’ And He stretched out His hand toward His disciples and said, ‘Here are My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother.”

Again, in Matthew 8:21-22, Jesus appears to rebuke a disciple for not agreeing to follow Him at the moment because he wanted to stay behind to bury his father. “But Jesus said to him, ‘Follow Me, and let the dead bury their own dead.”

More than 2000 years later, Batswana still cannot understand a phenomenon which is being defined as “family estrangement.”

According to Wikipedia, “family estrangement is the loss of a previously existing relationship between family members, through physical and/or emotional distancing, often to the extent that there is negligible or no communication between the individuals involved for a prolonged period.”

Family estrangement as a concept or mental image is a product of social condition and has inbuilt negative assumptions.

Kgomotso Jongman of Jo’Speaks in Gaborone says, “Estrangement is widely misunderstood, but more and more people share their experiences publicly. Assuming that every relationship between a parent and child will last a lifetime is as simplistic as assuming every couple will never split up. Estrangement is defined as one or more relatives intentionally choosing to end contact because of an ongoing negative relationship. After years of discontent, some adults choose to stop talking to their parents or returning home for family gatherings and parents may disapprove of a child so intensely that he or she is no longer welcome home. A parent and child’s relationship erodes over time, not overnight. The reasons for the rupture may be because in some cases, the son or daughter chose between the parent and someone or something else, such as a partner. In others, the adult child was punishing the parent for “perceived wrongdoing” or a difference in values. Adults report being estranged from parents for three main reasons: abuse (everything from belittling to physical or sexual abuse), betrayal (keeping secrets or sabotaging them) and poor parenting (being overly critical, shaming children or making them scapegoats).

Although Jongman admits that estrangement is “misunderstood”, the explanation fits the negative frame of reference that this it is a result of betrayal and poor parenting.

Jongman’s explanation however fails to capture estrangement as an act of love and devotion to God as exemplified in the Bible by  Abraham and the Sacrifice of Isaac and the decision by countless prophets to abandon their families and live out the rest of their lives in the mountain away from everything and everyone.

Even University of Botswana Social Work lecturer Poloko Ntshwarang locates the concepts of estrangement in the realm of disfunction. He told Sunday Standard that, “today, people decide whether to remain close or distanced based on how immediately fulfilling a relationship is. We like to think that with enough work, all parent-child relationships can be healthy because on some level all parents are good parents. Unfortunately, that isn’t always the case.  Some grown up kids do it because they are resentful. This may be because they grew up with something painful having happened during their childhood and when they grow up, they respond by detaching from their parents. Other grown up kids have a problem establishing their identities not appreciating who they are and their identities. Maybe one comes from a poor family but they choose to live lavishly and associated themselves with only lavish things thus not acknowledging their parents. Sometimes limiting or eliminating contact with a parent is much less damaging than having them in your life.”

Ntshwarang’s explanation fits in with our social conditioning. For most Batswana, it’s unimaginable for a grown man or woman to choose to stop all contact with their parents. The people, who provided food, clothes, and shelter, taught them to ride a bike and even attended their school meetings. Family estrangement has been associated with loss of affection that occurs over years or even decades within a family.

To most people sometimes estrangement happens when people feel anxious, tired of conflict or pressure, or too much of the sticky family ‘togetherness’, their response is to distance themselves, be it emotionally, physically or both. When a person distances from others, they feel a sense of relief because the distance seemingly brings the conflict to an end. In all reality, nothing is actually resolved; instead, more stress comes from it all.

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