When I think about family, one of the first things that comes to mind is dinner around the table. Kids grow up there. Couples grow old there. It’s where the day is reviewed and the world’s problems are solved. What’s amazing is even if there isn’t much to eat, you still do it together. There is something about it.
A mentor of mine (father figure is more accurate) lives in a beautiful large home. In that home he has a dining room table. Interestingly the table is round, not long, so there is no head of the table so to speak.
Let me describe what happens when you go to dinner there. When you pull up in the driveway you set off the driveway bell. They have that bell so that by the time you get the door they are already there to greet you – usually with a hug, not a handshake. Then you go inside. Typically there are some drinks and often even some sort of good snack. This is followed by the choicest of meals. You eat this while seated around the round table. My mentor will then have some sort of question that he wants each person to answer. (By the way, this is the furthest thing from fast food possible – you could be there for three hours – but it won’t seem like it). He genuinely wants to know about the people around his table.
All sorts of people have sat around that table. Politicians, dignitaries, business partners, business competitors, refugees from third world countries, people from a bunch of different walks of life, and even me. And every one of them is welcomed and listened to. “Now wait, we haven’t heard your story yet. Tell me about. . . . ”
It’s a picture of family – God’s family. It’s a picture of The Kingdom.
We live in a time where it seems like the nuclear family as we’ve known it is being blown apart. There’s the divorce rate. There’s the fact that more women in America have their first kid out of wedlock than in it. More and more people are choosing to not actually get married or if they do it’s much later than ever before.
This actually hurts our society in several ways (shrinking middle class anyone?). And the Church has seen it and often has become focused on changing it. But the problem is, focusing on the nuclear family won’t turn the tide.
First, it leaves out and alienates too many people. Families go to church. Single people don’t. 50% of Americans are unmarried. And guess what, most of them aren’t going to church. Part of the reason? Focus on the nuclear family.
Secondly, Jesus wasn’t focussed on it. Jesus said things like, “unless you hate your mother and father, or brother and sister, you are not worthy of me.” He said, “I have not come to bring peace but a sword. For I have come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, . . . a man’s enemies will be members of his own household”. Once when he was teaching, his mother and brothers came and he says, “Who is my mother and who are my brothers?” He points to his disciples and says, “Here are my mother and brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” Try preaching that one on Mother’s day.
None of this is to say that family is bad or that the church shouldn’t speak to what marriage and family should look like. It should. People who are married need to know it and people who aren’t need to know what it would mean if they did get married. Not only that, but marriage and family are set up by God. Marriage happened pre-sin in the garden. It’s not a concession, it’s a gift. But the problem with focusing there or calling the family “the foundational institution of human society” is that God never said that. God’s Family is the foundational institution of humanity – not my family – thank goodness!
The point of marriage, family, or for that matter celibacy, is to point to God, how he loves us, and the Kingdom, not the other way around. When we lift one up over the other, we limit the picture of the Kingdom and we leave people out – the exact opposite of God’s picture.
You know what the safest, most welcoming place in the world for the single person should be? The Church. It should be the place that calls them family, not the place that makes them feel like they dont’ have one. You see the Church should be a place where you can find fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters. Maybe if we could figure out how to do that, we’d have less to worry about on the back end. What we need is for the Church to focus on the Kingdom Family.
Which family is your church focused on? Who are your brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, sons and daughters?
I believe this: There is a family dinner table – and you are invited. When you show up the Master meets you at the door – with a hug, not a handshake. He serves the choicest of meals. It doesn’t matter what your story is, how “important” your earthly role is/was. Married, never married – whatever. It won’t matter except as part of your story. Everyone has a seat. He wants to hear everyone’s story – your story – even though He’s knows it. There’s no hurry. You’ve got an eternity – and after all, this is family.