Taken from Belonging and Becoming by Mark and Lisa Scandrette.
For many of us, the word family stirs up a complex mix of emotions. You might think of cherished memories from your childhood or of the abuse, betrayal or neglect you experienced through the people you trusted to care for you. Those of us who are parents may think of precious times of closeness with a child or sadness and regret over mistakes we’ve made. All of these reactions point to the power family has to impact our lives in both positive and negative ways.
The way family is often talked about in religious circles, you may get the impression that the Bible presents a romantic or idealized view of family life. But by comparison, the families portrayed in Scripture would probably make your family look like the cheery family of a 1970s sitcom. In the earliest family story, Cain murders his brother, Abel. Abraham the patriarch tries to pass off his wife as his sister, and this habit of deception transfers from one generation to the next. Tamar, the daughter of King David, is raped by her brother; David’s son, Absalom, marshals an army against his father. Polygamy was common, and women were often treated like property. Even Jesus had family problems. At one point his mother and brothers thought he was crazy and tried to take charge of him. When we feel the struggle and challenge of family life, we’re in good company.
Scripture is realistic about the pain but also hopeful about the possibilities for family life. The prophet Malachi predicted that the work of the Messiah would “turn the hearts of [parents] to their children, and the hearts of the children to their [parents].” The revelation of Jesus opened up new horizons for what it means to be human and, consequently, new possibilities for families. Jesus described this as the reality of the kingdom of God, or a life of shalom, wholeness and harmony under God’s care. It’s the kind of life we were created for.
Whatever your family experience has been, it’s not the end of the story. Families can grow and change, and we have a lifetime to seek healing and embrace wholeness in our family relationships. Derek, a fifty-five- year-old father with three adult sons, was raised by a cold, strict and demanding father. “But whenever I see my dad now, ” Derek says, “he hugs and kisses me and tells me he loves me. I can’t believe it’s the same man!” Growing up, Rosella’s father was so abusive that she and her siblings were removed from the home and placed in foster care. Eventually her dad got into recovery. Now she’s in her thirties, raising kids of her own, and they have reconnected. Rosella says, “My father has become one of my greatest allies and a source of spiritual support. He’s becoming the father I never had.”
As we open our lives to God’s light and love, we can expect newness to come to our family relationships. The Creator has a way of life for us that works, that connects us to divine presence, to ourselves and to one another. And it awakens us to the wonder, aches and needs of our world.
When our kids were small, our refrigerator was constantly decorated with crayon drawings they proudly presented to us. Amid the pictures of butterflies, monsters, fire trucks and princesses, there would inevitably be a stick figure drawing of our family holding hands, lined up from shortest to tallest, usually in front of our house, with a bright yellow sun and birds flapping their wings in the sky above. The pictures were often narrated: “Mommy, that’s you and Papa, and me and Noah and Isaiah.” Like many children, our kids drew and told stories to name and understand their world. Sometimes we’d ask a question about the drawing to take the conversation further. “What do you like about our family?” or “How do we care for each other?” or “What is a family for?”
How would you answer the question “What is a family for?” We’d like to offer this vision:
A thriving family is a place of belonging and becoming, where each person feels safe, cared for and loved, and is supported to develop who they are for the good of the world.
Families come in all shapes and sizes. Some families have two parents, others have one, and still others have three or more. There are families with and without children, and children come into families by birth, by adoption and sometimes simply through love. Whatever the makeup of your household, your family can be a space of belonging, where each person feels safe, loved, cherished and cared for, and a place of becoming, where you help one another discover and develop how you participate in the greater good.
So much of our formation as people happens and is lived out in the context of family. That’s where we develop our identity, where we learn what to value and how to relate to others and navigate the challenges and stresses of life. Family is an important context of formation, not only for children, but for parents as well. We are all in the process of becoming who we were made to be for the good of the world. This is why being intentional about family culture is so important. A household is a living system that can encourage and support belonging and becoming for all its members through every age and stage of life.
Loyalty to family and tribe can sometimes mask a fearful and myopic focus on “me and mine.” A “family first” philosophy has been used over millennia to rationalize aggression against immigrants, neighboring villages and nations. Family can easily become an idol. Jesus knew this and often pushed his listeners to think beyond the boundaries of their biological families and tribal allegiances. We’re invited to love and care for our immediate families, while also appreciating that we’re part of the larger human family. The trajectory of a thriving family is outward toward an ever-expanding embrace of the shalom that God desires for all people and all of creation. We seek to care for, connect and belong to one another so we can be prepared to seek the greater good of all—so that all families on earth can thrive.
Copyright (c) 2016 by Mark and Lisa Scandrette. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, P.O. Box 1400, Downers Grove, IL 60515-1426. www.ivpress.com
Mark and Lisa Scandrette are cofounders of ReIMAGINE: A Center for Integral Christian Practice. They lead an annual series of retreats, workshops, and projects designed to help participants apply spiritual wisdom to everyday life. They live in the Mission District of San Francisco and have three young adult children. This article is adapted from their new book, Belonging and Becoming: Creating A Thriving Family Culture. For more information visit www.reimagine.org.