I had a couple different topics to write about popping around my head. The theological ones, political ones, and even the fitness ones. For a moment, I almost embarked into the theological, considering a debate which seems to be kicking up on the graffiti-wall of Facebook.
But I chose a different path. A lighter way and one that transcends the debates and winds of doctrine.
The joy of what God has given us continues to be a favorite topic of mine. If you follow this blog at all, you'll probably remember my writings on the many tiny little blessings we get to experience each day. Not every moment is horrible. And if we are absolutely miserable, sad, and devastated 24/7, 365...then it's a heart issue that sorely needs to be checked and fixed.
The joy in particular that I'm thinking of is family. Perhaps you don't have direct family of your own. However, the beauty of relationships is something we cannot avoid, ignore or neglect.
I look out at my family as they play in the yard with the water hose, and am beyond grateful. My oldest son soothes my youngest as the youngest cries because my wife walked away for a moment. My wife grabs the hose and scoops up the youngest, while the oldest plays with a water bucket and his toys. The simple joys of the moment are resounding. They're significant. They may seem tiny and trivial, but it is certainly one of those small moments of peace.
Family is a connection for all of us. Its the framework of those deep relationships that we desire, and truly become miserable when we don't have them. Our families aren't perfect. Many of our families have deep scars and baggage that come along with them. And some of us have absolutely no relationship with our immediate family, or maybe even our extended family. However, the potential of family is not kept to only within the blood boundary.
My wife and I talk often about the family we have at our church. They're not perfect. Plenty of drama and issues spring up between people, and time and time again members fail our expectations. But what is fascinating to me is the level of love people have for each other within that community. It's easy to find the problems and the issues, but when I look around, I can't help but recognize that if there's such issue in that community...then perhaps the lowest common denominator would be me.
When Cari went through cancer, our church community absolutely rallied around her. When we had our second son, our church community was there every step of the way. I've watched this family time and time again support, encourage and help their fellow members.
You may be thinking, “Yeah, well I haven't had that type of community around me.” And perhaps you haven't. But there is joy, family and support available. The question is whether we're truly opening ourselves up for it, or if we've shut ourselves out with our pride, hurt egos, and depressed feelings.
I've dealt with the frustration and feelings of betrayal within family. But if I allow those feelings to control rebuilding relationships, then I've done both my family and myself a disservice. I have family members who have truly healed from miserable positions 5-10 years ago. They've become completely different people. Do I do them justice by my own resistance to rebuilding trust and relationship? No. I harm myself with my pride and distrust. Treating them as though they cannot change is a lack of faith in both them and the Lord. In fact, it's an act of not loving them to not forgive and attempt to rebuild.
Think about it. Love covers over a multitude of sin. Christ tells Peter that it's not just forgiving 7 times, but 70 times 7. God says He is good to forgive us. If we set our face against our family, the community He's given us, or the people who He's put in our life to mentor and raise, then we are spurning the responsibilities He's placed in our lives.
Family can be tough. They annoy and frustrate us beyond belief. They hurt us and divide us. But forgiveness is more important. As we forgive our family members (whether immediate or community) we're releasing our own pain and bitterness, and choosing the commitment of love.
There's only one way to separate ourselves from family, and that's to walk away. I've watched plenty of people do it over the years. They've walked away from blood family. They've walked away from friends. And I think the one that saddens me the most: they've walked away from their faith community/family.
Immediately, some will respond, “You don't know what they've done to me. You can't understand. You just don't get it. Those aren't good people.”
Maybe. Or maybe, we gave up awfully easy, and put the blame and responsibility on everybody else. Maybe we couldn't accept what they were saying, so instead of trying to find a way forward, we gave up and walked out.
Our hearts can grow or decay, and often I see people not guarding their hearts against decay. I've seen them leave family and church because they've decided that they're right, and the rest of the community or family is wrong. They've determined that the one thing they disagree on is too important to let slide. We always think it's the most important thing. What we often times miss is that when we push through, commit to our family or community, and decide to love through thick and thin, our hearts grow. We learn how to love through adversity.
That's the strongest type of love. A love built through adversity, struggle, tension and hardship. When I look at my family, I see how we've all grown closer because of the hardship we face. My son can be hard-headed and extremely difficult at times. I don't leave him. I don't send him away. I struggle through it with him, because my love for him is greater than the problem. My commitment in love is to grow him into a capable, responsible, righteous man. I would be failing my own responsibility if I shut him off, or allowed bitterness to grow in my heart. And that's something we must always be careful not to do. Just because someone frustrates us, or disagrees with us at a fundamental level, does not mean that we can allow bitterness to wrap up our hearts towards them.
My wife and I may go through tough times, but the reward of sticking through it together pays massive dividends. When she and I have a rough patch, I don't have the option of quitting or leaving. It's not in our vocabulary. And I think we as Christians need to start having more of a “never say die” attitude when it comes to our relationships with others. We swear off the body when we've been hurt, as though that will somehow heal us. It won't. It's a protective measure that seals in the bitterness, and grows it. Our pride tells us that separating from the family is the only thing we can do, but it ends up dividing us out of the group, and making us more susceptible to the enemy in the process.
This needs to be addressed, because I want no excuses to be made when I say: it's worth it. The family we've been given or we build is a rich, deep ocean of love available to us. It can be a fresh love that renews and invigorates us. We've been told at our church that the amount of love we have as a community tends to be something special. That may be, but it doesn't mean you can't build it.
Building it is a fascinating process that takes time, sacrifice and stepping outside of ourselves. This isn't easy for me. I'm an introvert, and I'm dedicated to my craft of being alone. There have been plenty of times when I didn't want to push past my boundaries, but I did. Loving people means pushing past your own boundaries and reaching out. It may mean going to that event that you don't have a whole lot of desire to attend. It may mean having lunch with that person whom you've been avoiding.
And why would you do that?
Because you love them.
Love steps outside of itself and reaches out. Love desires reconciliation and connection. Love is willing to tell the truth. Love covers over the sins and wrongs, and love wants to go deeper.
And what do you find in the end?
Joy. Peace. Patience. Kindness. Goodness. Faithfulness. Gentleness and self-control. Each one leads to the next, and love starts it all off. Love is the foundation step. As you build in love with your family and community, you will increasingly feel peace, patience, kindness and so forth towards them.
My family deserves me being full of all the fruits of the Spirit, and so my job is to pursue it with love. These are the fruits of the Spirit, which means my pursuit of the Spirit will produce the fruit of the Spirit. However, if the Lord has asked me to love my neighbor as myself, second only to loving Him with everything that I am, then I must need to put a lot of obedience into the process. And frankly, my standards need to be a lot higher than I want them to be.
If Christ can call Judas “friend,” then perhaps that person at church isn't as big of a problem as I think they are.