On Being Family
Being human that we are, we are made for community. we are created to spend life together with others. one of those communities is the family. these familial relationships have an enduring love. and we enter it viscerally and choicelessly. no one chooses our parents or siblings. and yet, we simply love one another. the love impulse is in our blood. but we love one another in our own way. it is more uneven than mutual. there is my marriage. it is simply amazing how my wife and i share a home, a bed, a financial account, a family and a pastoral work, but not a compatibility in seeing, perceiving and understanding the world. some time ago, in a moment of profound transparency, and weakness, i confessed to a group of strangers that after forty* years of marriage, i realized that our marriage is predicated by an irreversible misunderstanding.
In this pervasive misunderstanding, we differ in the ways we listen, acquire knowledge, integrate information, understand words. we differ in the methods we express thoughts, articulate convictions, practice values and apply beliefs. at sunset, i have accepted that no amount of efforts on our part can dissipate this fog of misunderstanding. there are many moments when we simply do not like each other. and yet we are irrevocably in love with each other. in our separate ways, we have decided to stick to whom we are stuck with. just as when we stood before God, and in the presence of the congregation on our wedding day, through the years we just knew thoughtlessly that we are mutually committed and would grow old together.
Then there is my immediate and extended families. if there are people in this global village whom i love with both mind and heart, it would be this family that includes my children and their children, my sister and my wife’s siblings. whenever we gather as family, it is a wonder-full feeling. tacitly i embrace that irresistible assurance that my family has a future with God because we share a common faith in Christ. in God’s grace, our family’s legacy of faith will endure from this generation into the next. as fathers and mothers, as aunts and uncles, as brothers and sisters, we communally look to God to nurture an amorous space where we all call home.
But love cannot be impervious to all that is going on imperfectly. every time we gather as family, there is another feeling, a haunting feeling of ineptitude. i take a private sigh with reassurance that God will complete what He has begun. i also know that there is little i can do to make God love my family any more or any less. whether self-imposed or by default, the task of family building falls on me. being its elder, my priestly and pastoral tasks are always before me. at every gathering, i have the awesome, and awful, task of providing a theistic content and context for my family. be it in celebration or in mourning, my pastoral work is to interpret the presence of God into the contemplation of my family.
None of this is easy nor should be taken lightly. at all times, i do not feel up to the task. my soul whines bitterly in private for what is expected of me. waiting upon God to do his work of grace and waiting upon my family to pay attention require enormous amount of long suffering. it is plainly nerve wrecking each time i enter that family work. too much is required and too much is taken out of me. after they leave, my anxious devotion for their well being lingers with me into the wee hours of darkness.
Then there is a remote corner in our familial space, where a few extended family members loiter. they keep to themselves; they don’t sit with the rest. even when they sit at the dinner table, it is an obdurate presence. whether they are unpleasant or uncomfortable, they neither give nor receive from what we do and say. as we seek to build family, they remain innocuously distant. it is hard work to love them; it is harder work to like them. i often wonder where they would be and what they be doing to find themselves when they are not with the family. It is not that i have surrendered my meager pastoral work with them. it is rather a kind of benign neglect. they are who they are, regardless of what i do or want to do. not that i can do anything. and yet when we gather as family, they are part of who we are.
*in ancient Hebrew culture, the numerical 40 represents a longevity. similar to the Chinese 10,000 that means an immeasurably high number.