We have just finished eight days of good times with two of our children (and their spouses) and their children (five in total) — the previous weekend with all nine of them, and then the last five days with four! What a great time of playing, exploring, and treating the grand-kids to new experiences like some new toys, Huble Farm, the Ancient Forest, and a rail-way museum! And what a good time of eating together and sharing with our children and their spouses! We missed the two families that couldn’t be with us this time, but at least we had a pretty good taste of what it is like to be the parents of wonderful adult children and grand-parents to such beautiful grand-children at this stage of their lives!
And it’s not over. This week sometime we will welcome our three oldest grand-children for a week or so, and then later we hope to visit with their parents in Calgary, and still later another daughter and her husband who are settling into their new home in the lower Mainland of BC. But wait; there’s more! Also this summer, in early August, Carolyn and I will be joining my three brothers and their spouses for a family reunion on my father’s side in the place of my birth and early child-hood — Ashern, Manitoba. (That will be exciting since I haven’t been back there since I left more than 55 years ago!)
The Bible says that “God sets the lonely in families” (Psalm 68:6). It is one of the blessings of common grace that people are born, not to live solitarily, but in relationship with others who love them and care for them at different levels all through their lives. The biblical record makes it clear that families are important to God, evident for example in the attention that is given to particular families, to long lists of ancestry, and to exhortation about the conduct of relationship within those families. In social relationship families are unique because of the sense of familiarity and common history that their members share, not to mention genetic make-up and shared values. It is also clear from the Bible that God shares His blessings (and sometimes His curses) along family lines. One has only to recall God’s dealings with the family of Seth or Cain in Genesis or the family of David and Jeroboam among the kings of Israel. Some of this is a mystery, but there is no doubt about how any particular family can experience the blessing of God. (See Psalm 112.)
I love our family because of the unique gifts that each of them bring to the whole family and to the world in which they live. Though we are all related through marriage and our genetic make-up (and thus share many things in common) it is amazing to see how different the members of our families are from one another. Some are quiet and reserved; others (even among the grand-children) are more assertive and out-going. Some are more creative through quiet reflection while others express themselves more vigorously and colourfully. Observation and participation in all of this is an awesome experience of something both divine and human.
But it’s no secret also that family living can be a challenge. Differences can easily be blown out of proportion that form occasions for conflict and the erection of barriers. Conflict, it seems, is easily heightened in the context of familiarity because family members take each other’s commitment for granted or because of struggles for control within the family structure. So, though relating to family members appears to come naturally and easily, each has to constantly guard against selfish ambition in one way or another. Over time, small differences can easily be amplified and, left unchecked, readily become wedges for major division.
That is why my attention was especially piqued today when I read Psalm 133 in the Contemporary English Version of the Bible. It says, It is truly wonderful when relatives live together in peace. It is as beautiful as olive oil poured on Aaron’s head and running down his beard and the collar of his robe. It is like the dew from Mount Hermon, falling on Zion’s mountains, where the Lord has promised to bless his people with life forevermore. I had never thought of this passage in reference to family relationships before; only in the context of the family of God. But it is certainly true with regard to the experience of one’s nuclear and extended family.
But that latter reference brings to mind the significance of nuclear family relationships as a symbol of what God’s intention is for the ultimate family — the family of God. No wonder there are so many exhortations in the Bible for members of God’s family to love each other and to care for one another. I have often said that there is no better test of our sanctification or true holiness than how we live out our relationship in marriage and our families. And of course this also extends to how we do in our relationships within the church.
Though much of our lives are lived outside of our family relationship, family remains one of the most important aspects of our lives. Because it is in them that we find our native culture and signs of individual identity. It is also the place where we first learn the meaning of relationships. In this moment, I thank God more than ever for my family, and for the special privilege of what it means to be part of the family of God.