Family. It confines us, it defines us, it refines us, and it aligns us. Our lives are spent in the context of family—natural or other, whether or not we appreciate it.
Best-selling Canadian author and artist Michael O’Brian, in his book Father at Night, a collection of personal stories and reflections on fatherhood, says this:
“… the family seems at times a hospital, a prison, a boarding house and a mental institution. It is all of these and more, of course. It is a place of ‘fearful beauty’, packed to the full with every emotion imaginable, with moments of brilliant illumination and dark squalor, with limitless opportunities for heroism and for sin. … It is the great school of the soul.”
I don’t think I’ve ever heard a better description. But when a parent, a total stranger, calls me with pathos in their voice, as someone did the other night, to tell me that they’ve moved into a hotel to escape their teenager’s outrageous behaviour, how do you say, “Well, darlin’, family, is, you know, the great school of the soul. What is all this teaching you?”
That would go over well, I’m sure. Yet my experience reminds me that God often uses our children to shape us more than we’re able to shape them. Our grandchildren too, I’ve experienced.
“There are no perfect families in the Bible,” the Preacher said in a recent sermon. His comment yanked me to closer attention. “Not a single example of a family without at least one area of dysfunction,” he continued.
Say WHAT? I scrambled through my Bible trying to prove him wrong. I’m still trying, but I have found this: In the very first family listed in scripture, Cain killed his brother, Abel. Abraham let his wife talk him into taking a concubine. Lot’s daughters raped him. Moses’ brother and sister tried to usurp his authority. Jacob, father of the twelve tribes of Israel, deceived his father, Isaac—with his mother’s blessing. His sons brutalized and sold their brother Joseph, but killed an entire town-full of men for the honour of their only sister. King David’s brothers hated him, and as King, he became both adulterer and murderer. His son, wise Solomon became a womanizer and materialist.
And centuries later, even Jesus Christ was born to an unwed, teenaged mother.
And yet, by God’s design, out of those moments, days, weeks, years of “dark squalor” in those difficult, often broken biblical family situations, emerged world-shapers.
Got an imperfect family? A broken family? Especially at Christmas–the season of family togetherness? Welcome to ‘Home Sweet Home’. Though our brokenness terrifies us, Father God, if we let him, does his best work there. We find his truest reflection there. And in our family chaos, he offers the company of our brother, Christ and others who have walked a broken path. Hand in hand, we make a perfect family. Hand in hand, we find healing and forgiveness. Hand in hand…we do Christmas.
Family. A lifelong classroom. A place of fearful beauty and limitless opportunities–even if it’s not perfect.