What would it be like if your parents and extended family never, or rarely, initiated contact with you? Treated you differently than your siblings? Even slammed a door in your face?
How would you react? Could you keep trying to pursue relationship with your family, or would you just walk away from the relationship? These are real life scenarios many ex-Amish people face when they choose to leave the Amish.
Leaving the Amish is more than just leaving a religion. It is to walk away from family. The former Amish reject the rules and the system, not their families, by walking away. But for those who are left behind, a bond has been severed that can only be retied by a return to the Amish church.
I remember our first visit to my in-laws’ home. Driving in the lane, I saw the white house, with its unadorned yard and plain features. The sound of our car’s engine thrummed in the still air. We parked near the hitching post for horses and buggies. I felt the irony.
My legs were trembling as we walked up the porch steps and to the front door. My husband, Mose, doesn’t show his feelings easily, but I knew he was nervous, too. His parents answered the door, quietly greeting us as they invited us inside the house. They were very polite, very kind. They shook our hands and made small talk. But I could feel the awkwardness under the surface, the tension between us.
I had learned a large part of the tension is the fear of what other Amish people will think. It isn’t socially acceptable to warmly welcome errant children home. Officially, the policy is to turn a cold shoulder, even to those who aren’t excommunicated. In that light, I am thankful my in-laws welcomed us into their home, fed us and visited with us. They extended a hand in welcome as best as they were able.
But I know many people who have faced the pain of outright rejection. To have a door shut in your face, to be told to not come again. My husband’s parents always welcomed Mose into their home from the time he left. However, we do have family members that have asked we not show up on their doorstep. They desire absolutely no communication with us.
I was frustrated for a while, as I couldn’t see the relationship from his family’s perspective. It’s natural to be frustrated and wounded by family’s rejection and aloofness, whether they are Amish or not. No matter your family’s background, it hurts.
But I saw my husband’s unconditional love for his Amish family. He saw their hearts- saw their fears, their weaknesses, and understood their mindset. I marveled at his acceptance of the rejection. But when I looked at them through his eyes, I could accept them for who they are, where they are.
My husband isn’t the only one. I know many ex-Amish who continue to love their families, even though they can’t be close to them. It is truly a beautiful thing to see the unconditional love and forgiveness they hold in their hearts.
Accepting rejection is difficult. It took time for us to come to terms with it, but we have chosen to respect their wishes. Let them live their life apart from ours. They may not see it in this light, but the separation is a love offering from us to them. We let go of the relationship, and keep loving them from a distance.
Love builds bridges, covering hurts and disappointments. It is human to hurt, to ache, to experience sorrow over broken relationships. But it is something greater to keep on loving anyway. Love is so much greater than bitterness. Love heals while bitterness destroys. Love builds while bitterness tears down.
It really is very simple, but it can be so hard. Loving that family member right where they are. Loving them in spite of their flaws, in spite of their failings, in spite of the hurt. My husband may have left the Amish, but he, and his love, never left his family.
Have you had to deal with difficult family relationships? How did you heal?
Please share in the comments below.