This week, I joined three friends from my 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 because 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.
Wearing full dress uniform, the senior chaplain addressed everyone gathered in the hall. He explained that this boy’s dad was also a naval chaplain 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 he explained 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. To the boy’s utter surprise, the senior chaplain presented him with a certificate and a medallion in recognition of his brave perseverance while his dad was 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!
What an honour it was to represent our Bible study group! And how blessed we were 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 them and prayed, 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. About 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 to you.
Maybe your birth family is so complex and fraught that you avoid thinking about it—it’s too painful. Or perhaps it’s so conventional and comfortable that it seems almost boring.
Whatever ‘family’ means to you and whichever way your family rolls, it seems that all families have the potential to afflict us or bless us. They might bring disappointment, anxiety and distress, or in contrast, security, significance and love.
Whichever way they roll, I think we all know how messy family life can be. It’s messy because we all act selfishly even as we also care for one another.
But no matter where our families fit between the two extremes, the dynamics of our relationships play out in the context of our wider family’s unique story.
I like to think in pictures when things start to get abstract. So imagine with me a weaver at work on a tapestry, weaving one family’s continuing story.
It’s been woven, formed and shaped on history’s loom for decades or even centuries. Many individual threads that vary in colour, texture, strength and thickness come together, gradually over time. Each added thread forms distinctive patterns and variations. Even flaws. And all is revealed, slowly.
The tapestry could be thin in places. It could be rough and uneven, or smooth and repetitious, but it’s always 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 obscured.
And 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, so now my metaphor is tangled and tied in knots! With my editor’s red pencil out, ready to consign my weaving metaphor to oblivion, I hesitate.
What if it still works, but for a different kind of family? What about the family of believers, stretching across the ages and around the world? Could that work?
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, anyone who trusts in Christ Jesus as Saviour and Lord is 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.
God is our Father, but he’s the weaver too. And believers are his carefully selected and refined threads. Each individual strand is 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. Each one is woven across the enduring and everlasting warp threads held tight within the frame of his purpose and plan.
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 practise bringing glory to him now, trusting in him and learning to be like Jesus, in our earthly families.
Best of all, we look forward to the full revelation of God’s completed family of sons. And of 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