Family practice
Lee August 10, 2018

This week, I joined three friends from my women’s Bible study group to be honorary aunties to the young son of another friend from our group. She had invited us to her son’s school assembly where he was to receive a special presentation from a senior chaplain in the Royal Australian Navy. We all knew what was going to happen, but her son didn’t, so that just added to our anticipation.

In full dress uniform, the senior chaplain explained to everyone gathered in the hall that this boy’s dad was a naval chaplain too and he’d been away at sea for almost five months. As he showed us photos of ships and helicopters, he described the kind of work the chaplains do on board the naval vessels and how they help the crew members to cope with the long and lonely separation from their families.

Then the senior chaplain asked our honorary nephew to come up the front, where he presented him with a certificate and a medallion in recognition of how hard it has been for him to persevere, with his dad away. It’s not the first long separation they have experienced and it won’t be the last. But all of the ‘aunties’ beamed with pride and delight as we enthusiastically joined the applause. We were even allowed to give him hugs afterwards!

Together—What an honour it was to represent our Bible study group and to share in such a significant moment for this family, even though we were only one part of a large support network. But over the last 4½ months, it’s been our privilege to care for them; we’ve been blessed as we’ve walked alongside and prayed for them, depending on God together. That’s the joy of being brothers and sisters in the Lord. We get to be family and care for one another.

All of this got me thinking, about families: what families do, what families are for and what kinds of families we each belong to.

What does the word ‘family’ mean to you? I know what it means to me, but it could mean something quite different, even wildly different, to you. Maybe your birth family is so complex and fraught that you avoid thinking about it because it’s too painful. Or maybe it’s so straightforward and comfortable that it seems almost boring.

Whatever ‘family’ means to you and whichever way your family rolls, it seems that all families have as much potential to afflict us with disappointment, anxiety and distress as they do to bless us with security, significance and love. It’s messy: we all act selfishly, and yet, we also care. But no matter where our families fit between these two extremes, the dynamics of our relationships play out in the context of our extended family’s unique history.

Imagine—I like to think in pictures when things start to get abstract. Imagine a weaver at work on a tapestry. Imagine it’s one family’s continuous story that’s been woven, formed and shaped on history’s loom for decades or even centuries. It’s woven from many individual threads that vary in colour, texture, strength and thickness, gradually added over time creating distinctive patterns, variations and even flaws.

Each tapestry operates on the slow-reveal principle. It might be a bit thin in places, it could be rough, uneven, smooth or repetitious, but it’s still a woven narrative and a work in progress. As the weaver’s loom holds the warp threads of history vertically, under tension, the weaver’s shuttle moves horizontally, carrying every individual weft strand of a life lived. Each life builds on what has come before and brings something new to the work. Even then, the design is still obscured.

Woman in traditional garb weaving carpet on loom
Photo by Mario Mattei | Lightstock.com

While history’s threads are indefinite in length, each individual life strand stretched firmly across them is finite. One might be long, while another is all too short. One strand could be slender, elegant and turquoise; another a homespun hard-working brown. But because the narrative remains incomplete and inconclusive, there’s no telling what it will eventually become.

And sadly, this is where my weaving metaphor begins to unravel. In the real world, people from different families join together and begin new families—new narrative tapestries. A single thread from one family leaves and joins with a single thread from another to begin a new weaving project. But they’re still related, still connected to their original families, and my metaphor is now tangled and tied in knots.

Metaphor—With my editor’s red pencil out, ready to consign my weaving metaphor to oblivion, I hesitate. What if it still works, for a different kind of family? What about the family of believers, stretching across the ages and around the world? Could that work?

In Ephesians 1:3-8, 18-19, the apostle Paul reveals that before the creation of the world every believer was chosen by God, in Christ Jesus, to be holy and blameless in his sight. Chosen, selected. And in his mercy and grace through Jesus, God also determined and ensured that he would adopt us into his family. Adopted, incorporated.

So, even though we still belong to birth families on earth, we who trust in Christ Jesus as Saviour and Lord are enfolded immediately into a new family tapestry with God as our Father. We are his beloved sons, with all the rights and privileges and inheritance that this entails. It’s a real family. It’s just not yet fully realised.

Tapestry—God is our Father, but he’s the weaver too. And believers are his carefully selected and refined threads, each individual strand being a life that is woven into God’s holy and perfect family narrative—a tapestry that will outlast and outshine all others. Each life, each individual weft strand, is saved by God’s grace to be imperishable, woven across the enduring and everlasting warp threads held tight within the frame of his purpose and plan. As he follows his flawless and incomparable design, God “works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will” (Eph 1:11). He accomplishes it, and we are his handiwork.

No crossed threads, no tricky knots, no messy connections with other family tapestries. And on the last Day, God’s family tapestry will finally be unveiled in all its breathtaking beauty, and it will surpass everything. The shape and detail and design of his craftsmanship, the lives transformed by the work of his Spirit, will bring him glory and praise. And every knee will bow.

But in the meantime, as we wait for Jesus’ return and the big reveal of God’s masterpiece, we get to practise being family together. It’s practice, because we’re far from perfect yet. So, whether it’s in our birth family or church family, we get to experience how our heavenly Father works in us, among us and through us, as we practise being his sons. We get to practise bringing glory to him now, as we trust in him and learn to be like Jesus in our earthly families.

Best of all, we get to look forward to the full revelation of God’s completed family of sons, and to being together with him forever. No more striving. No more separations. No more heartache. Just unimaginable joy.

Featured image: Photo by Mario Mattei | Lightstock.com

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