What Feels Like Family?

When I wrote The Isolating Power of Family-Centered Language for Sojourners, I identified a hurtful trend in Christian circles that assumes everyone has the support of a nuclear family, thus excluding those who do not.  I pointed out that Christ’s definition of family defies social and biological constraints, instead defining us all to be one family in the body of Christ.  As I reflected on the piece and discussed it with others, the question arose, “What does being family to one another look like?”
I don’t have a universal answer to what being family looks like exactly, but I know what feels like family in my own life.  Thinking about those situations is helping me develop my own idea of what being family means and how I can be family to others.  My reflections below are entirely subjective (my own experience based on my own limited understanding of what family means), but I hope they encourage you to reflect on times when you have felt–or helped someone else feel–like family.

My running group. When my doctor and his coworker decided to start their own independent practice, they also started a running group.  They invited people to come walk and run with them on Saturdays, whether that meant walking a few miles or following a training plan for our local marathon.  I started running with the group about a year and a half ago, but with the depth of relationships that have been developed, it feels like I must have been meeting with them longer than that.  Regardless of ability or goal, everyone is welcome, and welcomed enthusiastically whether they come once a year or once a week.  I have been touched by the way others have supported me (and literally run alongside me) and the opportunities I have had to do the same.  The way we encourage, commiserate, and celebrate together is truly special.

My coworkers. My coworkers feel like family in a daily sort of way.  We know when someone has something exciting going on or when someone is sick or having a bad day.  We know each others’ strengths, weaknesses, and quirks.  We’re there to back each other up or to push through together when we’re all exhausted and nothing seems to be going well.  I always know where the hugs are when I need them… even if it means quite literally pulling a friend into a hug without saying anything else at all.

My community group (Bible study). When I go to my community group, it feels like home: the familiar faces, tea, and antique chairs.  It’s made up of people who have heard and prayed me through some of my darkest struggles, and who have shared some of their darkest and most taxing struggles with me.  We know the back story when someone shares the next “phase” of a prayer request.  It’s a safe place, not only because of the room for honesty, but also the room for questions, doubts, and disagreements, all with low risk of judgment.

There are several common themes in these three examples, but there are three I want to pull out:

  • different ages, experiences, and perspectives: each of the groups I mentioned above are made up of people of all different ages, backgrounds, and phases of life
  • regularity: for each group, there’s a consistent, defined time and reason to connect
  • openness: while I may not have made this clear above, in thinking about these groups, I have realized that each is completely open to welcoming new people and eager to authentically engage them
Considering each of these themes, it strikes me that rarely do any of these three group characteristics happen on their own.  Most of us flock to people who are similar to us, and it takes effort to step out and connect with those who are different.  It also takes effort to define and commit to a regular time.  For a group to be open, there has to be a willingness to reach out and connect beyond those with whom you’ve already connected.  
Simply put: in our culture, connecting with one another as family takes effort.  Not only do I believe this effort is entirely worth it because of the relationships it can encourage, I also believe putting in the effort is part of the way Christ has called us to live.

Related posts: Can’t Relate? Use Your Imagination.The Surprising Gift of Connection

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Thankfulness piece (Sojourners)
A Twist on the Thankfulness Trend

One Response to What Feels Like Family?

  1. Normale says:

    I am a lurker to your blog … I define “lurker” as someone who reads often and does not comment. I must comment on this post. You have brought into words a profound truth for my life. The clarity of this writing arrived at just the right time in my life when I was open to and really needed to hear the wisdom it contained. I have a folder on my computer that contains my “truths”… insights that have especially influenced my life in a positive way. I have just added the “truth” in this writing to that folder. Now that I realize how important is it to have “witnesses to my life”, I can set about figuring out how to make sure that continues to happen for me. I never before brought this truth about the importance of “life witnesses” into words even though my life experience and my brain agrees strongly that life witnesses are essential to being healthy spiritually and mentally (and maybe even physically). Because of you I have a better intellectual understanding of the value of small groups in Christian community. One way I have satisfied my need for a “life witness” is through email. I have two people in my life who are witnesses to each other’s lives. We email each other the mundane (and sometimes profound) details of our lives daily. I am giving the “sharing” (aka sermon) at my church Sunday and I am going to use some of your wisdom in speaking about the mystery of God’s presence in our lives. Thank you for bringing part of God’s mystery into words for me!

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