Sometimes I think the “nuclear family” is the enemy.
The resistance I feel to the deification of the family in our culture – and I know it isn’t only our culture – is that it can make us tribal and exclusive: focused on the betterment only of ourselves and our children’s lot in life. It’s not that my children, our children, aren’t deserving of every good thing that comes their way, but ultimately, in my opinion, each family is better served when they exist for something outside of themselves.
When I was a child, it was probably all my parents could do to keep the 4 of us clothed, fed, and relatively happy. It wasn’t easy being farmers who could barely “rub two nickels together” living in the middle of nowhere. So really, it was always just us at the dinner table. Us and a lot of bread to fill us up.
As soon as I left home for college, I began bringing people home. I knew it made my mom uncomfortable, and I didn’t exactly know why. I still don’t. Maybe she just wanted focused time with me. By then we had a little more income which translated into more steaks on the grill so I knew it wasn’t a strain on the budget. One year I brought a high school girl from the youth group I was working with home with me. She had a tough home life and I wanted to share my Christmas with her. We had a sweet holiday together riding the 4 wheeler through the snow. I brought a lot of friends home, and a few boys. My folks were always nice, but never seemed comfortable.
With the familiolatry in conservative circles, one could be left with the feeling that the family (as described by a particular group) is not only the center point, but the pinnacle of all work in the world. And while I do think the foundation we receive in our families is the most important experience to carry us into the world, one critical thing we communicate in our families is what it means to care for those beyond our own blood.
I suppose it connects to my belief that more than anything, people matter. This is why I have tried to create a home where people are welcomed. This is why I have worked to nurture a family where people of other cultures and faiths are invited and respected. This is why I was excited to move to a bigger home with the dream that it could be a haven for people who need a place to be. I am not perfect at any of this, but I want my children to “get it” that loving one’s neighbor takes sacrifice and is full of beautiful lessons and soul-deepening rewards.
There is a story about a man who came to Jesus and asked him, “What is the greatest commandment?” Jesus said, “love God with everything your are and love your neighbor as yourself.” Don’t you think he might have said, “honor your mother and father” or “don’t commit adultery” if the point of this whole life thing was about family? The man responded, “I have done all of these things”. His response: “OK, so go sell everything and give it to the poor.”
Does this sound like someone whose thought the primary mode of “doing the right thing” was through an immediate family unit?
We are here with the possibility of really caring for each other. It’s hard work sometimes. But when we take that risk for each other, and embrace others into the circles of love that hold us together, the world family becomes more of a web of mutuality. And this act alone creates a more peace-full, safe world.