But I'm still realizing that's not just me--that's everybody. Family is difficult. Family can hurt. Family is confusing and clumsy and crazy. That's part of the beauty of it all. I have yet to hear about a family relationship which does not come with its own complex set of considerations and allowances. Even with the best of upbringings, nothing exposes one's heart issues like being around one's parents, siblings, spouse, or children.
How about being around one's church folk? Author Edward T. Welch asks, "Have you ever noticed that for many people, church as family doesn't exist? More often I overhear people who talk as if the church were their enemy." (When People are Big and God is Small)
Ouch. No one among us is getting this thing all right all the time. Sometimes, that's the greatest comfort we can give or receive. We are broken pieces, gloriously imperfect, and together, we form a perfect picture of redemption and grace. Community can be bittersweet.
The timing of this "Family Matters" series kick-off was a little eerie. I just returned last night from a weekend training I signed up for more than two months ago, focused on biblical marriage and biblical parenting. I heard a lot this weekend. I still have plenty of sifting to do in days (years?) to come, but there were a few takeaways that spoke especially loudly to me.
For instance... one of the speakers, Tim Keeter, spoke about a mentoring model for premarital counseling at his church. With this approach, a younger couple is assigned to an older couple, ideally for a period of five months. What happens for those five months? The way the model plays out when he and his wife are mentoring, Tim explained, is that "You two come over to our place on Friday evening after work, and whatever we're doing that night, that's what you're doing that night." Whether it's going to a softball game, going grocery shopping, getting dinner ready, or getting kids to bed, the premarital couple becomes a part of the family for the night, seeing real Christianity lived out in real life.
Sure, there are times and places in life when formal mentoring can be enormously beneficial, even critical. Lord knows I wouldn't be here today if not for a structured sponsorship model, back when I was feeling my way around the idea of faith, not so many years ago. But in discipleship, in community, when we stop there, we're hardly scratching the surface. Inviting people beyond the by-appointment-only relationship goes well past the terms and extensions of any formal mentoring arrangement. The "becoming a part of the family" aspect brings far greater kingdom value in the long run of life.
That speaker this weekend illustrated this truth with a brief glimpse into his own situation. He shared about a cancer diagnosis a couple of years ago. He shared about the blessed assurance of being a member of a church family that extends beyond the church walls. He shared about the heart-rending comfort of being a part of a community who tells him, "We love you, and if you don't make it, we'll take care of your family."
Dang. Just stop and think about that for a minute. Imagine the vulnerability... trust... hope... commitment. It's a beautiful portrait of church, isn't it? And it demands some hard questions, if we're invested in building mentoring, discipleship, and adult education frameworks at the local church and surrounding community levels. At the end of the day, are we inviting people to become a part of the family? Are we bringing each other into our homes and doing life together? Who will take care of my husband if I drop dead on the way home from work tomorrow? If I look around and ask that question, am I comforted? How about you?
This weekend, I asked God to bring me opportunities to love. And ohh, my heart. A coworker is wrestling with Mere Christianity, a friend is dealing with multiple health issues all at once, another friend spent the morning in tears over a phone call from a parent, a pastor and his wife are dealing with infertility, my supervisor's husband has spent the weekend in the emergency room, a roomful of fellow sufferers got together this evening for an hour to face our weaknesses together, and here I am, married to a faithful man who stands by me and for me, who led his son to serve our community with our church family this weekend while I was gone... and my heart is broken for all the sweets and bitters. God hears these things, folks. The opportunities to love are all the time, everywhere.
Jesus said, "Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples" (John 13:35). I'm asking God to help me prove it. That's a scary prayer. It surfaces a whole bunch of personal deficiencies. But it also puts me very near and dear to the heart of my Lord, as He loves me through this confusing, clumsy, crazy crowd gathered together in God's household (Ephesians 2:19). I spent a lot of lonely, wandering years before He brought me home, but here I am—a child of God. And I have so very much to learn from His family, just by being a part of it.