I've been thinking about family a lot recently and the word that comes to mind is tension. Not like I feel anxious and nervous around family, but there is a tension that runs a little deeper and in certain circumstances can either cause conflict or growth. Let me explain.
I grew up in the same town as my husband in a suburb of Tulsa. Our parents went to the same church for many years and all of our siblings have trusted in Jesus and by his grace walk with him to this day. A few months before we got married our families began to move to different parts of the southwest. By the time Bear came along only my brother and his family remained in Tulsa, the rest of us spread throughout the Midwest. Fast forward six years and we have all settled in nicely to our new towns. The Dude and I now consider our current town "home" and we have an amazing church family.
We call it a "family" because they do many of the things that a traditional family does, they support, teach, grow, challenge, and encourage us. These are the people who know us best because they experience life with us. Nothing against our biological families, but distance makes a difference, and I'm sure they would agree that the people they see daily know them in a different way than we do. But this is where the tension comes in. Just because we don't do like with our siblings and parents doesn't mean we love them any less. In fact, our hearts are connected with theirs regardless of how infrequently we all get together. So when we do come together we have certain expectations.
We expect our siblings to think about things the same way we do. After all, we were raised in the same house by the same parents. We expect our parents to behave how they did when we were kids, forgetting that they live complex lives apart from us now, with their own influences and stresses. And all of these expectation inevitably leave us feeling a little let down at somewhere in the middle of a reunion. One of two things can happen at this point. We can give in to the let down and begin bickering, or we can see the person behind the words and actions and choose to love. We can choose grumpiness or joy, bring up grievances or show grace.
No matter how much we want a family get-together to be perfect it never will be because no family is perfect. Families are made up of a bunch of sinners. We may be tempted to put on our best attitudes and pretend that we brush our kids' teeth every day and never say anything mean, but is that really better? Why would we want to be fake and let everyone think we don't need grace? In my opinion it would be much better to show our true colors and let the family know who you really are. Share your struggles and foster an environment where they can share theirs. Offer grace to your siblings and parents, recognizing that you really aren't any better than they are, and ask for grace in return. This is how my church family works, so why not my literal family?
Your family may not be made up of believers in Jesus. You may have a sibling or a parent who doesn't show you grace in your sin because they have not been ultimately forgiven of theirs. You may only see this person for one week out of each year and your influence on them is limited. Perhaps instead of complaining about how crazy and hard to deal with they are, instead of bemoaning the fact that they are living in sin, you could remember that you were once lost and now are found, blind and now you see and the same can happen for them. And this is what you should want! For them to know the freedom you have in Christ, for Christ to receive the glory for a family redeemed.
God designed families in a way that brings tension, for the same reason he lets any difficulty enter our lives, for our sanctification and His glory. Let the way he has loved you transform the way you love your family.
**Photo credit: Ashley Efaw, my lovely sister-in-law. Thanks for your grace and excellent photography skills.