Family, Faith And An Atypical Answer

We often understandably conflate the terms “family” and “faith.”  And the two obviously share so much.  Family very often becomes the loving, caring seedbed as it were where faith takes root. For me that was true.  Parents who showed us not only active faith but a great deal of curiosity as well. That faith somehow mattered in the arc of life.

They did that through quieter commitments – an hour long ride to church in Pittsburgh several times a month, prayers over dinner, questions.  Quiet rhythms. That simple.  And that profound.

And Christ warns several times in the New Testament warns of identifying too closely with family.  Not the typical answer we might think.

A powerful scene.  Talking to a group, someone enters to tell Jesus his mother and brothers are waiting for him outside.  Christ responds ….

He replied to him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” Pointing to his disciples, he 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.” (Matt. 12:48-50)

In today’s world those words shock.  And only imagine how much more they would have shocked the listeners in a culture where family ties were not only a matter of affection but a matter of deep, unwavering obligation, beyond what maybe we can grasp today.

What was the point?

The point Christ calls to here is this – first things first.  And that first things must at appropriate times trump family loyalties.

Imagine it this way.  We have all witnessed and/ or participated in family systems where co-dependency reigns.  Where the family unit, as one author phrased it, becomes “an undifferentiated ego mass.”  Where loyalty simply to one another becomes the one and only over-riding virtue. Those systems, as we all well know, are suffocatingly unhealthy.

And yet to take it one level further, the conversation here is not binary.  It is easy to say if family then is no longer #1 so to speak, then God is, cleaving a very satisfactory but false split between the two.  That “splitting” is how the ego works – “If it isn’t this, it must only be that.”  ”Family” OR “faith.”

The reality is that loyalty to the higher virtues Christ spoke of do not in any way pull away from family.  Those re-prioritized values actually meaningfully and tenderly return us to our families.  But this time grounded.  This time anchored deeply into the transcendent values that bring life and promote care.  A wider, transformational loyalty.

I hope so very deeply that our five wonderful children will always take care of each other.  The best way I imagine to pass that on to them is by passing on a legacy of connection, a connection to God through loving service into the world that started at home.  A first things first that maybe holds all things.  That started some place.  But thankfully doesn’t end there.

 

 

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