Imagine it’s Thanksgiving. It’s your favorite holiday because of all the wonderful memories of large family gatherings, great food, and fun times with your parents, cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents. This year is no exception. Everyone in the area comes over to the largest house, and even several loved ones from further away make the drive in. The table is a decorated marvelously, the food smells divine, and the company can’t be beat. You pray together, eat together, drink together. And after the meal, you gather around the fire for laughter and catching-up, sharing the love and joy in the shared experience.
Imagine you are moving across the country with spouse and child in tow. You are stressed about where you’ll live and how your life will change. Your sister and her husband already live in your new town, and they invite you to stay with them until you can find a place to live and settle into your new life. Several weeks pass and you are still staying with them, looking for your new abode. You start feeling guilty for staying so long. You start to feel like a burden. But they won’t let you feel those things. While at their house, you experience love and acceptance.
Imagine you are taking your first vacation in years. Somehow it worked out that you are vacationing with your sister and her family. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but as you are driving to your destination, you wonder if it will somehow ruin this time you have scrimped and saved for. During the trip, there are a few times that you have feelings of regret for doing this thing all together. But those feelings are fleeting. You experience fun like you haven’t in years. You see the beauty of sharing those moments with others. You and your sister grow closer, but so do your husbands and your children, too. On the drive home, you realize you wouldn’t trade this time together for anything.
Imagine you are pregnant and one night your water breaks weeks early. As you rush to the hospital, you realize that you have not made plans for what to do with your older children, still toddlers. Once you are admitted to the hospital, not yet in active labor, your husband calls his brother, who comes to be with your kids in the wee hours of the morning, eventually taking them back to your house to stay with them. But you know that he has to work eventually. You come to learn that your sister-in-law will be coming to watch the kids, staying overnight with them while your husband stays with you in case you go into active labor. You also learn that your cousins are coming to stay with them while your sister-in-law has to work. They trade off taking care of your kids for five days so you can focus on staying healthy and bringing this new baby into the world and not feel anxiety about your other kids.
Now imagine there is a twist to these scenarios. Imagine that you are not related to anyone in these stories. Imagine that there is not shared biological blood amongst any of you. Imagine that these sisters and brothers and in-laws and parents and cousins are all your spiritual brothers and sisters.
Now imagine these things really happened to me (with slight modifications for the sake of the story). Imagine that I have witnessed and heard of many more expressions of love and community and family among non-relatives than these. Caring for sick ones, helping each other financially, sharing meals, being part of big decision-making, being part of each others daily lives.
I’m not saying we live like this because it is always fulfilling and joyous and glorious, because there are also hurts and annoyances with each other just like with biological family. And there are also levels of vulnerability and openness that can be scary. No, the reason we live like this is because it is part of how we were made to function as a new creation in Christ Jesus.
So from now on we regard no one according to the flesh. Although we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away. Behold, the new has come!
2 Corinthians 5:16-17
What does that mean for the definition of “family”? What does that mean for how we function with those who are in Christ, whether or not they are our relatives?
To give an answer, I’ll share something a dear sister shared with me that she once overheard: Spirit is thicker than blood. (It may have been Thomas Fortson that was overheard saying that after reading his latest post.) When it comes to God, Family is something much bigger than most of us have known. It is something much deeper. It is much bigger and deeper than what I have lived, even living in intentional community.
And his mother and his brothers came, and standing outside they sent to him and called him. And a crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers are outside, seeking you.” And he answered them, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.”
We know that when Christ returns, we will experience being a part of God’s Family in its fullness. But the good news is the Family of God can be experienced in a real way in this lifetime. All it takes is asking the Lord to renew our minds to His definition of Family, to what He sees when He sees us, His Family (hint: it’s not nuclear family units or biological relatives). And then continue to look at Him, seek Him first in all things, and yield to what He shows us in how to live it out, to reflect His intentions, to manifest His Life and ways today and everyday.
Imagine that our unity in Christ becomes more than words. Imagine displaying it as part of our real reality today. Imagine seeing each other as real brothers and sisters, loved ones, family. We were created to live this way.
Can you imagine?