I don’t know what things are like for you, but some of the greatest blessings I have in my life are because I am part of a family. I have fond memories of gathering around my grandmother’s dining room table to enjoy one of her fantastic holiday feasts. One of the best things that ever happened to me, was when Susan agreed to be my wife, and then stuck by me through thick and thin over all the years since. Many of my special memories are connected with our children, when they were born and the special times we spent with them as they grew up. And even today, I am filled with joy when our adult children come home for a visit. I am amazed at the people that our children have become and I love the people they have chosen to be their life partners.
Yet, being part of a family has also been a great challenge in my life. From the moment you become a parent, you are a parent forever, and that means that you hurt whenever your children hurt. Former President of the American Library Association, Elizabeth Stone, said, “Making the decision to have a child – it is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.”
There are also hurts that come at us from other directions when we are part of a family. Perhaps there has been a conflict between a mother-in-law and daughter-in-law in your family, and the result is that there are grandparents who are cut off from seeing their grandchildren. Or maybe a parent has died leaving an estate to be settled, and your siblings end up not speaking to each other. Perhaps you have an adult child who has rejected you as their parent and broken off all contact, so that you don’t even know where they are or what they are doing. Or maybe it is the other way around and you are an adult child who realizes that some of the problems you struggle with are the result of inadequate parenting when you were a child.
Being part of a family means that we are interconnected. It is like we are on a giant spider web, where a disturbance on one part of the web causes vibrations to travel throughout the entire web. Many of the relationships in our personal family web are close, personal relationships. So when there is brokenness, the pain goes deep. And the deepest and greatest pain happens when one of those relationships is cut off.
So how can we have resilience in our family relationships? How can we overcome the hurts of the past? How can we faithfully respond to the brokenness of the present? How can we prepare now for the possibility of family brokenness in the future? To answer these questions, we are going to begin by looking at the family life of King David.
The Reality of Family Brokenness
Somehow, we can get this idea in our heads, at least I know that it has been in my head, that if we do the right stuff, God will make things go well in our family. But that idea is not true. It’s a lie. Problems can arise in any family.
That certainly was the case in the family of King David in the Old Testament of the Bible. He was described as a man after God’s own heart, which tells us that his heart was aligned with the heart of God. And yet, David had many problems in his family. Keep in mind that David had several different wives and even though these are all his children, some of them had different mothers. His son, Amnon, raped his daughter, Tamar. Another son, Absalom, killed Amnon in revenge for the rape of his sister. Absalom fled to another country for three years. When David finally allowed Absalom to return, David had no contact with his son for another two years. After he was allowed to return to Jerusalem, Absalom began to woo the hearts of the people of Israel to himself and he conspired to overthrow David and make himself king. When Absalom began the revolt, David, his household and those loyal to him had to flee Jerusalem for their lives because they knew that Absalom would kill David if given the chance. When David’s army regrouped and counterattacked Absalom’s forces, Absalom was killed by David’s own general, Joab. David’s army won the civil war and David had to show gratitude for the sacrifice of his soldiers at the same time that he grieved deeply for his son. Can you imagine the heartbreak David must have experienced over his family?
One could say that at least some of the problems in David’s family were due to mistakes that he made, and while a case can be made for saying so, you can be a perfect human being and still have problems in your family. In Mark 3:20-21, we read, Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.” (Mark 3:20-21) The Bible is telling us that you could be God-in-the-flesh sent down from heaven to save all the people of the world and still have a family who doesn’t support your goals and wants to take control of your life, because they think that you are out of your mind.
How Do We Have Resilience in Our Family Relationships?
So how do we have resilience when going through tough times in our family relationships? First, we remember that God is creating a new human family through faith in his Son, Jesus Christ. When our first parents rebelled against God and all of creation was corrupted, and headed for eternal condemnation as a result, God could have walked away from this broken world, but he didn’t. Because he loves you and all people in the world, God the Father chose to send his Son into this world to become one of us. The God-human Jesus lived a perfect human life that counts as goodness for all people everywhere. Because he loves us, Jesus willingly went to the cross to suffer and die to pay the full cost of forgiveness for all our sins so we could have a living relationship with the God who loves us. Not only that, through his resurrection from the dead on the third day that followed, Jesus started a new creation. As we read in 2 Corinthians 5:17, Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (2 Cor. 5:17 ESV) The moment you believed in Jesus as your Savior, he brought to life within you a new person, and that new person is a beloved, forgiven child of God. That new person is who you really are. That new person is who Jesus will raise from the dead at the end of time with your dusty, dead old body made new again so that it will never grow old, never get sick and never die. All of creation will also be restored and made new and you will live with Jesus forever, seeing him face to face, in the new heaven and earth to come.
Second, we remember our place in God’s family. Jesus has given us a relationship with a perfect Father who not only wants what is best for us, but is also able to make it happen. So we can entrust our lives into God’s loving care and not worry about anything in the future. The Lord is carrying us in his loving arms like a Good Shepherd carries an injured sheep to quiet waters and green pastures. In Jesus, we have the perfect brother who personally knows the celebration and joy, the grief and the sadness, we experience in this life. Jesus not only knows what life is like for us, he has compassion on us. The word “compassion” has this sense of suffering with someone else. Jesus not only suffered for us on the cross, he suffers with us now in all our grief and pain. Jesus has promised to always be with us, and that is especially true when we suffer. We are never alone. Jesus is with you.
Third, we remember our purpose in God’s family. Everything God has done and is doing is headed toward the fulfillment of the new creation at the end of time. By virtue of our place in God’s family, we are invited to partner with God in bringing his vision to reality. We are Christ’s ambassadors in this world, empowered by the Holy Spirit to share Jesus’ message of reconciliation with God through him to the whole world.
Of course, we want our family to experience this great and wonderful gift. But there is a key part of that process that is beyond our control. God has given every human being the free will to love him freely or reject him completely. So if a member of our family walks away from us and perhaps also from faith in Jesus Christ, our Father in heaven feels the depth of that pain far more than we do. So our primary focus for sharing God’s love with others will naturally be our family. But that shouldn’t be our exclusive focus. We have no idea of the eternal difference our words and actions are making in the lives of others. And we don’t need to know. We simply scatter God’s love like a sower scatters seed on the ground, and we leave the results up to God.
I am trying to encourage you to have a wider view of things because, though there might be people you love who are not in heaven when you get there, you may be surprised at the people who are in heaven when you get there, and some of them might tell you that they are there because of you. So spread God’s love with a broad sweep, because you don’t know what God will do with what you have done. And remember that the Holy Spirit, who was given to you in your Baptism, lives within you and he will guide you in the words to say and the actions to do.
Dear friends, you are part of God’s new family on earth. You have a perfect Father in heaven, you have a perfect Brother in Jesus and you have a perfect Encourager in the Holy Spirit. You have sisters and brothers in Christ, who are broken, sinful human beings like you, and they also have been made into new creations by Jesus. They can know, love and encourage you as only a fellow child of God is able to do. They are not the source of perfect family love that we need. That love only comes from God. But they can imperfectly reflect God’s perfect family love into our lives.
What does this mean for us?
So what does this all mean with respect to our earthly family? We let go and we let God. First, we let go and let God with respect to the members of our family. We release them into God’s loving care, knowing that he loves them more than we do. God only wants what is best for them and God knows what his best is for your loved ones. The best thing we can do with the people we love is entrust them into God’s loving care each and every day.
Second, we let go and let God in our own soul. Yes, we should feel the sorrow and the grief over the painful things that have happened in our family, but then we let it go. We give that pain over to God. And we let him work in our soul so that we can once again see the place we have in his family, and so we can embrace the new identity he has given us as his beloved forgiven child. With that renewed vision and identity, we are free to love others, even our estranged family members with the love that Jesus has first given us.
Family is not the Most Important Thing
Family is important, and at times it can feel like it is the most important thing in our life, but it is not. The many wonderful things God has given us in this world, including the people who are our parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, children and grandchildren are very precious gifts from God. But they are given to us by God, not to be our greatest treasure in life, but to be signposts that point towards the greater treasure and the greater love that lies behind them. This world, which seems so real to us, is actually, as C. S. Lewis refers to it in The Last Battle, “the Shadowlands.” And that which seems so far beyond the realm of possibility and our imagination that it appears to be more like the fictional world of Narnia, and I am referring here to the Kingdom of God, that is what is actually really real.
So, my friends, do not be afraid to let go and let God have his way in your family and in your soul. Though it might feel like a loss, it really isn’t. When you do this, you will leapfrog from living in the realm of what is temporary into living in the realm of what is eternal. Ask yourself, what are the things that are really going to matter 1,000 years from now, and then live for those things. And when you do these things, do them with great confidence, not in me, or in yourself, but in God. For as we read in Ephesians 3:20-21, Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. (Ephesians 3:20-21)