My Messy Family
Although I have not had the privilege of meeting you, I feel a deep love for all of you because we are family. This love is an imperfect, in-progress love that I pray may also grow in you as we journey towards the Kingdom.
I am a single sister in a large ecclesia. I see this ecclesia as my “immediate” spiritual family. Some members of my earthly family are baptized into Christ’s saving name, a few have drifted away and chosen a different anchor for their lives, and others have yet to accept God’s glorious calling. As a single sister, I feel I can see the whole body as my family more easily than those who are part of an established family unit. With this unique perspective, I’ve come to appreciate how God’s gift of a spiritual family is an immense blessing.
The Need for One Body
Have you ever thought about what “part” of the body you are? Eyes? Hands? Heart? The diversity within the human body is fascinating. God uses the parable of the body (through the words of Paul) in 1 Corinthians 12 to illustrate how our uniqueness is essential! Anyone who has stubbed a toe (arguably most of us) can appreciate that when one part suffers, so does the rest of our body. Our backs bend so our hands can grab at our injured toe. Our hearts may start racing as pain signals shriek through myriads of nerves in our brains. Look at Romans 12:5, which takes the allegory one step further. “Each member belongs to all the others.”1 This is a language we don’t find ourselves using too often today! How often do we feel this sense of belonging to others in our ecclesia or wider spiritual body? Do we really treat our brothers and sisters like family?
We all come from natural families. Sometimes they are flawed, always human, occasionally broken and dysfunctional. God could have made the world and organized its inhabitants any way He wanted. Yet He chose the hierarchy and organization of the family unit to teach us about belonging, authority, love, and refining, to name just a few. How do we know this? Christ teaches us to call God “our Father.”
We are told that we are “all children of God through faith,” (Gal 3:26) and we are “brothers, sisters and mothers” of the Lord Jesus if we do the will of his Father (Matt 12:50). Doing the will of the Father goes against our natural inclinations, and so His authority must be supreme in our lives. It is a blessing to call the Creator of the universe “our Father,” and so we are bound together as a family.
The Trials of Family
No family is perfect. Think about the first human family. It only went downhill from there. My natural family has gone through many trials; I’m sure yours has too. As we have worked through challenges and tried to keep God at the center, our relationships with each other and our Heavenly Father have deepened.
There is no better training ground for discipleship than the interactions of our natural families. No greater magnifying glass exists to highlight the imperfections we’d probably rather keep hidden. When I moved out of home for the first time, I remember thinking: “I’m so grateful I no longer need to have my patience tried again and again.”
How wrong I was. Patience is something on which I am still working. And so, God uses other people and situations to remind me constantly. Sometimes I wonder if my current struggle with impatience would be quite as challenging if I had leaned into that learning process while in my natural family.
Our families should be places of love, belonging and security, but I know there can be extreme and sometimes unsafe situations with the people closest to us. At the risk of sounding glib, it is the difficult reality of life on this side of the Kingdom. I have seen it many times during my work in the community, and it emphasizes the need for God’s family to be different.
The Imperfect and Hurting Spiritual Family
We know from many verses throughout the Psalms that God is “our refuge.” (Psa 46:1). He alone will be our strong tower. Yet our ecclesias should also be a haven where His love and mercy rule. However, as imperfect beings, we all fall short of this ideal. And so when a problem arises, or one member feels pain, how do you respond? How do I respond? It’s easy to “mote and beam” issues, but the key here is to look inside ourselves at how we treat our brothers and sisters. We would not ignore a dislocated shoulder or the loss of sight in an eye, so why do we sometimes turn a blind eye toward a hurting member of the body of Christ?
When one member is hurting, the whole ecclesia should feel that pain, to reach out in love to help comfort the individual and heal the pain if possible. We need to gladly spend, and be spent for each other, in taking care of God’s family (2 Cor 12:15). This is the iron sharpening process from Proverbs 27:17 on a much bigger scale, yet it still comes down to individual efforts from you and me.
The process of comforting, healing, and working through disagreements and misunderstandings can be unpleasant or even agonizing to the point of wanting to “jump ship.” Working through trials and difficulties together is the only way God can refine us into gold, jewels, and vessels for His Kingdom (1 Pet 1:7; Mal 3:16-17, Eph 2:10). Ignoring a health problem in our bodies can lead to decline and possibly death! Grim indeed. So how do we prevent this from happening to our family?
My Selfish Perspective
At one point, I became disenchanted with my ecclesia. My fleshly brain took the driver’s seat. Events seemed to cater to families, teens, kids, and moms-to-be, with baby showers, Sunday School activities, youth circle weekends, etc. Wedding showers were and still are sometimes hard. After some reflection, I realized I’d allowed my attitude to circle around to one of entitlement with thoughts such as: “Why is the ecclesia only helping newly marrieds start their new lives? They have two incomes, but a single person starting out has nothing, and there is no shower for them!”
This simple observation (among others) became a dangerous way of thinking, as it led to bitterness and began to separate me from my spiritual family. In the misquoted and modified words of JFK, the light came on when I heard in a talk, “Ask not what your ecclesia can do for you, but what you can do for your ecclesia.” I had become aware of a gap in the way our ecclesial body supported one another.
Now it was my responsibility to be like Caleb’s daughters and the daughters of Zelophehad (Num 27) and appeal to my family respectfully (Judg 1, Num 27). This was well received. The gap existed merely because no one else had seen it! Whether single or getting married, our family members will be supported when starting out in their new homes. The process made me realize the love that existed all along.
How do we become a closer-knit spiritual family?
I’d felt somewhat separated from my ecclesia and even the love of God by allowing my own perspectives and attitudes to rule versus talking to my family about my concerns clearly and patiently. It made me read Romans 8:38-39 in a different light. I’m the only one who can separate myself from the love of God by my thoughts and actions.
Mending the Body
How do we become a closer-knit spiritual family? How do we, with all our imperfections, come together and bear each other up? God gives us the answers, and it feels counter-intuitive! Because it’s not about anyone else in our ecclesia. Not the arranging brothers, committees, or the sister who is well known for her thoughtful cards and meals. It’s about you and me.
Paul outlined this principle when he spoke of bringing “every thought captive” to Christ.” (2 Cor 10:5). The writer to the Hebrews expands on the cleansing of heart and conscience by exhorting us to “consider one another to provoke to love and good works: not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together.” (Heb 10:24). By transforming our natural attitudes of selfishness into a focus on Christ and the body, we can become the change to the whole body we wish to see in our ecclesias.
And God’s word is also clear about the Spirit with which we should be reaching out and giving:
Jesus reminds us that when we care for the “least of these,” so we have done to him. (Matt 25:40).
How do we treat our spiritual family? Do we invest time to get to know them intimately? Do we take time to listen to and understand their trials? The day will come when they are in need and may even feel unable to ask for help. But have we taken enough notice of them to “bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” Gal 6:2). Do we liberally apply the fruit of the Spirit in our interactions (especially if someone has hurt us or we’ve offended a member)? Are we ruthless in our commitment to the body? This is the very body that Jesus lived and died for.
Although self-examination is an active part of our discipleship, it doesn’t have to be limited to Sunday mornings. Check your thoughts and your actions. Are they in line with God’s wishes for His family?
Finally, My Family
The relationships we create now in our ecclesial families are the only things beyond ourselves and our faith that we’ll be taking to the Kingdom. Not only that, but they’re vital to helping us all be there. And there is no shortcut to good relationships. Time, effort, communication, and sometimes a lot of hard work are required.
Additionally, if we are the ones struggling, we must learn to ask for what we need from our ecclesial family and sometimes keep asking (Luke 18:1-8). Allow others to come alongside and share your burdens. Work to build trust with those around you so that in times of struggle, the relationships we all need are there to lift us up. Build these relationships and extend interactions beyond the formal ecclesial gatherings.
Do you see something missing within your ecclesia? Be the change you want to see, or work with your own family and friends to help bring about that change in lovingkindness.
If we all do our best to fulfill the greatest commandment, how blessed our family will be. Starting with our own thoughts, feelings of entitlement and selfish inclinations, and moving into outward, generous action. As members of the same house, we have to work together to keep it standing and firm on the cornerstone. It’s time to come together as a “living sacrifice” (Rom 12:1) in caring for and loving each other as our Heavenly Father intended. The words of John summarize this perfectly:
God knows our frame. He gave us one another so we can learn to “get it right” with those standing alongside us, so we can better learn to love Him and accept His love. We belong to each other. I love you, my family. And I can’t wait to spend eternity serving alongside you.
Cambridge Ecclesia, ON