As we come out of the thanksgiving and Christmas season, I've heard several friends swap stories of holiday celebrations with dysfunctional family members. While these stories cause laughter and invoke empathy, I find myself drawing a lot of similarities these dysfunctional family gatherings have to being part of a local church.
Think about what these stereotypical dinners look like around the holidays. There's the weird cousin, the rough-around-the-edges uncle, the one who drinks a little too much, the critical in-law, and the perfectionist aunt. Some focus on doing nothing all day but being served and watching entertainment while others wear themselves out cooking, cleaning, and caring for everyone. A crew like that doesn't get together for any other reason except that they are family. They share a name and have a shared history. This shared history comes from a common bloodline that has woven messy people into one family unit. It is not what it should be because sin and illness wreaks havoc on people’s minds and bodies. Relationships lack the depth each person longs for because selfishness and habits acquired at a young age impede the vulnerability and selflessness necessary for this to happen. But even where there is brokenness, there is laughter. Even where ugly things are present, children laugh and find moments of joy.
Similarly, our local churches can look like this dysfunctional gathering. God did not save us just as autonomous, independent individuals. He saved a people and through the blood of Christ, we are adopted into that people group. This new family attracts people together who would never otherwise gather to celebrate. On a surface level, there is little this family has in common and many are difficult to be around. Some are manipulative and others hide behind their good deeds. Some are recovering from addictions or past abuse while others have been the cause of great pain in the lives of others. Many are critical, only some do most of the work, and others garner our admiration and respect regardless of what their private, hidden demons actually are.
But there is a difference. At the heart of every child who is imbedded in an unhealthy family is a longing to be part of a healthy, safe, kind, & loving family where they are truly accepted for who they are. This longing never goes away and often (apart from miraculous intervention by God) isn’t found fully in their own family of origin. It is chilling to me that you can be in your 30s, 40s, or even your 50s, have a beautiful family of your own, yet still ache over the brokenness in your own biological family.
But for the family of God these dysfunctional, unattractive, abrasive family members do not stay that way. Our dysfunctional family moves toward becoming a beautiful, holy people. It might be difficult to see in the week to week interactions with each other, but God’s spirit is at work through the love of Christ embedded in each believer, weaving together a family unlike any family this earth has ever known.
The bickering couple eventually finds peace and deeper love for one another. The lonely spouse eventually finds fulfillment in pouring into the other regardless of what is given back. The hot tempered begins to learn patience. The white supremacist eventually embraces and even places himself under his black brother. The chronic adulterer learns how to relate to the opposite gender as a brother or a sister. The overlooked and weary find community and rest. The ignorant and foolish grow in wisdom. The prideful and arrogant are humbled.
There will come a day when this is true: “No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, 'Know the LORD,' because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest," declares the LORD.” Jer 31:34
There will be a day when your brother or sister in Christ will not need God’s word, because it will be wholly transcribed on their heart. It will be in every fiber of their body. What will they look like when that happens? What will you look like? Think about how much pleasure will we find fellowshipping with one another when sin no longer corrupts the beauty, goodness, and purity of humanity. God’s image bearers will one day perfectly image. We will delight in one another in unimaginable ways because each one will reflect their creator perfectly
What does it look like to interact with your brothers and sisters in this way now? What does it mean to have these redemptive eyes? What would it look like to see the most annoying, frustrating, even hurtful person through the lens of who God is making them to be and who they will one day be forever?
How do we look past the sin that corrupts, and see the goodness that is being distorted? People who do this well are not optimists or dreamers, but tangible expressions of God’s love that He lavishes on His children (1 John 3:1) as they love others in a way that sees them for who they will one day be, instead of who they currently are.
Our “family dinners” start as a bunch of barbarians elbowing each other, cursing like sailors, and chugging down beer, but from there we become more like Jesus. We shape each other. We rub off on one another. We start to look more and more like one another because God is using us in each others lives to help us look more and more like Jesus. And one day we will dine together in the new creation and all the old will have passed away...we will be made new.