The Hardest Truth I Ever Faced


For a long time I had been harboring feelings of resentment toward some of my relatives, without understanding why. Then one morning as I lay quietly in bed, the answer came. I wanted to reject it, but I knew the still, small voice had truly spoken, and I have now begun to examine my attitudes in a new perspective. This enlightenment is changing my life!

The dilemma began five years ago when I attended a family gathering at wealthy cousin Angela’s home. Our Aunt Maud—the one who never married but who had been a blessing to everyone—had died, and this was an occasion to honor her and to be with other family members.

We grew up next door to Angela’s family, but we were always the poor relations. It seemed that their house and yard and children were better kept, more artistic, more cultured than ours. Angela’s mother—Aunt Angie—was a manager, and her children were “cleaned up” every evening for their father’s homecoming. I always crossed their threshold with fascination, but with fear, for I was seldom “cleaned up” and I never felt beautiful. Uncle Gregory was a reader, an artist, and a horticulturist; he was like the lord of the manor. His children had the finest music teachers, ponies, and a tennis court. My father, Uncle Gregory’s younger brother, was a cattleman, and a very resourceful one, but he died before his dreams could be realized.

As I tried to primp, wanting to look my best for the special family gathering, I remembered a day years earlier when Aunt Maud, noticing that I had no social life outside the home and that I needed to make friends, had paid me a special visit. I was about to leave for school and she gave me two choice bits of advice to take with me: first, lie down and rest a little every day, and second, remember that everyone in the world is lonely. That advice, coming from one who had known great loneliness, tugged at my heartstrings; I believe it was Aunt Maud who awakened me to the fact that other people might like to get acquainted with me.

Now, at thirty-nine, I had been married many years and had had several children. I needed time to restore my figure, and I needed money for a manicure and a hairdo. I had neither, but I had a dress that wasn’t bad, and this was one event even I wouldn’t miss for anything. As I reflected on Aunt Maud, I realized she had had the very personality trait I needed most—the ability to feel at ease in any company.

As I was graciously welcomed into Angela’s elegant home that evening, I knew that after going to school, earning a living, and being a wife and mother, I should now feel comfortable in this adult group. Instead, the old self-consciousness, misgivings, and fear returned. I was awed by the white-bannistered staircase, the enormous living room with velvet drapes and deep carpets, the chandeliers, and the grand piano; I wondered if anyone noticed how awkward and self-conscious I felt. I told myself I didn’t need to make conversation, yet I tried once or twice, and afterward felt foolish. When it was time to leave, and I should have thanked Angela for the opportunity she had given us all to meet in her beautiful home, the only words that came to my lips were, “What a pity you never had children of your own.”

Why should I have reminded her of that, the great disappointment of her life? Was I priding myself on the only thing I had that she didn’t have? I cursed my lowly tongue.

Cousin Nan and her husband drove me home, and I hoped that in the dark they wouldn’t notice how shabby our house was. As I stepped from the car, I slipped in a mud puddle and wrenched my ankle. They showed great concern, but I told them it was nothing and hurried painfully away.

I tiptoed through the house, thankful my family was sleeping, and paused in the bathroom to look at my straggly hair, shiny nose, and pained expression. Suddenly the whole situation seemed hopeless, and I sobbed uncontrollably. I didn’t know why, but it seemed so good to cry. Perhaps the concern and sympathy of relatives made me feel pitied. But I also knew it went deeper than that.

For the next five years I tried to understand that experience. Perhaps I was moving closer and closer to genuine self-knowledge all the time. Finally, as I lay in bed that morning, the Spirit spoke and I heard words I didn’t want to hear: “You’re jealous.”

At first I resisted the thought. How could I be jealous of the people I had criticized? How could one who thought jealousy was wrong be jealous? But even as I protested, I knew it was true. And perhaps the truth would at last free me of my bad feelings.

I now realized it was I who had to make amends. Realizing that I really wouldn’t change places with anyone has done much to free me from my uncomfortable feelings about my status. I have been able to relinquish my desires to outdo my cousins and can see some justification for their reactions to their shabby, ill-at-ease relatives. They were brought up with certain values and as the scripture says, “Every way of a man is right in his own eyes: but the Lord pondereth the heart.” (Prov. 21:2)

I look forward to meeting them again. This time I will not worry about myself. There is much I can praise or thank them for—their kindness and graciousness, the beauty and refinement they create around them. Now that my jealousy is slinking away, I can begin to love them.

[illustration] Illustrated by Paul Mann