I mull ideas because I am often confused. I need to spend time with them before I move either toward or away from them. When invited by Pastor Joel Hunter and Bible study leader Robert Johnson to join a family of families, my first question was Why? Why would I want to join more family? To discover the why, I had to mull other questions and what I know of families.
What is a family? The word family is from an old noun from the 1400s or so with its origin in Latin: Familia meant “servants in a household,” probably not the way anyone thinks of family today. That original meaning, though, fits well with the way it is used at Northland as we think of ourselves as servants to each other and to the Lord.
The Latin use of familia rarely had to do with the idea of parents and their children. The expansion of the word to include a head-of-household and everyone in the household, sometimes even temporary lodgers, too, came about a century later. Again, I can see the application to our church body with God as the Head and His Word as the governing document.
Not until another century had passed, however, did the word family come to mean parents and their children even if they did not dwell in a household together. Once that milestone was reached, the idea of family expanded again to include all the descendants of one progenitor, thus aunts, uncles, cousins, and any blood relation became part of a family. That idea may not quite fit with our idea of God as Creator Father rather than progenitor or biological father. But, as explained by Dr. Dan Lacich in The Provocative God: Radical Things God Has Said and Done, being made in God’s image means:
We are the most tangible expression of God that most people will ever see.
Making us (to my thinking) what others will see and think of God, just as we reflect our blood parents and family to the world.
Thus, by the mid-1600s, family had taken much of the meaning it has today. When I work on genealogy, I am astonished by the size of my biological family. I have found and confirmed almost 8,000 DNA/blood-related family members, and I have hardly begun to discover All My Parents (the name for my genealogical research). Why, then, do I need more family? As a child of God, how much vaster can my family become?
The Why would I want to join more family? question becomes even more relevant when I look at what I know of families. While waiting in line outside 4Rivers recently, Don and I were passed by a couple who looked to be in their prosperous 60s. They were meeting someone ahead in the line. They went to the inside queue only to return seconds later, clearly disappointed, to join us in the long line after discovering that the people they were meeting had already ordered and were near to cashing out.
We soon learned that the couple were grandparents visiting here for a grandson’s high school graduation. They had attended the ceremony at UCF and then wended their way through the usual noon Central Florida traffic all the way to 4Rivers in Winter Park, apparently falling a bit behind their family who knew the way well. I felt my brow furrow.
When I asked what the grandson plans to do next year, Grandmother replied that he will attend a small college up north. When I, an interested retired educator, inquired further at his going so far to such a small school, she said his brother was already there, and “I am the mother-in-law and have no say.” She did not need to say anything more for me to know immediately that the grandson is the son of her son. I, too, am the mother of sons. Enough said for Don and me to realize the family dynamics. More brow furrowing.
At least fifteen minutes later, the couple joined their son’s family who had almost finished eating the graduation celebration meal without them. I saw them all leave shortly, grandparents with carry-out bags in hand. Then, as now, I mulled the situation and asked, Why did the family not be sure to lead the grandparents out of the UCF chaos to the restaurant or even ride with them? Why did the family not wait to get in line until the grandparents were there?
Why did the grandparents bother to come to Central Florida to join that family at all?
The only logical answer to that last question is Family Love. I know how I feel about the rascals (what I call our three Winter-Springs-based grandchildren) even as I have experienced moments when they were (shocking to hear, I am sure) rude or unfeeling or unthinking. I know how I feel about their parents and our other children who also have been, at times, ill-mannered, impolite, discourteous, even dishonorable. Yes, I admit that also in our much-loved extended family, we have had disputes, dissension, discord, perhaps, to tell the truth, most often when something was going on that involved great expectations for agreement, accord, harmony, peace, something like a graduation ceremony. But I know how I feel about them all.
Why do I continue to want life only as it exists with my family when I experience that discord? Why do I continue to count on them when they have failed me in some way? Why do they continue to be with me after ill-mannered times? Why do they continue to count on me when I have failed them in some way? The answer is that family smooth those rough times with a balm of love and care.
Then, the explanation for love’s balm lies in our being made in the image of God. As Pastor Joel has pointed out from the Scriptures, God’s attributes include love and forgiveness. We count on Him to grant us grace, love, forgiveness when we have failed Him. In our families, whether biological or servant, as Christians we who were made in His image must follow the ways of the Father. To be like God means rejoicing in joining with others of God’s family in love, fellowship, support, encouragement, help, validation, and reminders of grace, forgiveness, and salvation through Jesus Christ. That’s why I want to accept the invitation to be in the Abel House family.