Last week I went home to visit my family in Seattle and was vividly reminded of how wonderful and difficult and beautiful my family is. I sat with my grandma, parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, and cousins around a dinner table while we cried from laughing so hard. I giggled with my cousins over old stories or new dramas and grew excited for each of their new adventures. During that same trip though, I sat at tables with my family while people rolled their eyes or snapped with impatience. I rode in a car with my brother while he grew dramatic from car troubles and he sat on the couch with me while I got overdramatic from being hungry.
Family is strange. Somehow, family members get to shatter boundaries or break trust or unnerve you, while still being guaranteed complete love and devotion. They are advocated for when they may not deserve it, championed in their weakest moments, and laughed with even when their jokes aren’t funny. In my family we’ve all done our fair share of lousy things over the course of our lives together. I would still do anything for them... but I know without a shadow of a doubt they would still do just about anything for me, too.
I have been lucky enough to grow up with a family that isn’t just family, but has fought to become one. Family is beautiful and helpful and comforting. Family is also hard. It’s ugly and brutal and challenging. But fighting to become family is the very essence of the Kingdom of God. Being united as family regardless of our past, ethnic group, socioeconomic status, cultural heritage, language, age—whatever—is, in my humble opinion, how Heaven is going to raise a simple, bright banner in the midst of this polluted and stained world we live in. Raising this family banner has been woven into the cause of Christ since the very beginning.
One of the most profound moments in the Bible to me is the conversion of the apostle Paul, but not just because of his encounter with the Holy Spirit. At the end of Acts 7, Saul has just supported a group of people who stoned Stephen for preaching the Gospel. Fast forward to Acts 9 and in the very first verse says, “Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord…” So we know from the get-go that Saul still kinda stinks. But suddenly Saul has this radical spiritual and physical encounter with the glory of God—so radical he can’t see, eat, or drink for three days. Meanwhile, the Lord asks a disciple named Ananias to find Saul and lay hands on him. HA. HAHA. Friends, come on now. If my fellow believer had just been stoned to death for preaching the Gospel because of this guy and I’d been asked to go lay hands on and pray for him… there is just no way. And yet what does Ananias do? He goes. And what is the very first word out of his mouth to Saul? Brother.
Paul, just in 1 & 2 Thessalonians alone uses “brothers” or “brothers & sisters” 22 times. This moment with Ananias clearly had a profound, soul-fracturing effect on Saul. After everything he had done to this disciple and the people he loved, still the first thing he’s called is brother.
What a love. What a stunning, breathtaking, expectation-shattering love. It is such a crazy love because we live in a world that calls for division. We live in a world that is Right vs. Wrong. Democratic vs. Republican. Pro-Life vs. Pro-Choice. Pro-Immigration vs. Anti-Immigration. Raise your hand during the National Anthem vs. Don’t you dare raise your hand during the National Anthem. Public school vs. Private school. Israel vs. Palestine. The list goes on and on and on. We live in a world where to be loved by people you must think like them and vote like them and believe what they do and if you don’t, you’re unfollowed or written off or cast into the “other” category.
And yet, our examples radically shake up this division. We have an example of a God who stepped into Earth to forgive those who tortured and mocked. We have an example of a Jesus who stepped over cultural, social, and economic boundaries and divides to love others and do life with them. We have an example of disciples that chose to love the seemingly despicable and wretched.
My brothers aren’t despicable or wretched. But I find it a lot easier to love them when they disagree with me or do lousy things compared to when other people do. But we aren’t called to love just the siblings we’ve been raised to love. We are called to love our entire flawed, dysfunctional, broken, offensive, irritating family. So... I’m working on both.