I love my family. My parents. My siblings. My grandparents. My aunts and uncles and cousins. We’ve always been a close family. Tight knit. On the phone to each other often. In each other’s houses frequently. Celebrating most occasions together. Our lives are intimately interconnected. I recognise what a blessing that is and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’m so thankful to God for placing me within a loving, caring and supportive family.
And so, when death came knocking on our doorstep it was no surprise to me that we answered him arm in arm. We held each other. We cried with each other. We consoled each other. We loved each other. And yet, in that moment, and in the days and weeks and months that were to follow, I had never felt so lonely, so separate—so unmoored from the people I had loved, and been loved by, my entire life.
We consoled each other. We loved each other. And yet, in that moment, I had never felt so lonely—so unmoored from the people I had loved, and been loved by, my entire life.
I am the only Christian in my family. As tragedy stuck, I was the only one of us who was able to call out to my heavenly father in the midst of despair. As grief overwhelmed, I was the only one of us who did not grieve as those without hope. As tears flowed, I was the only one of us who clutched hold of the assurance of the gospel. As a dismal future loomed, I was the only one of us who sought to lift my eyes to the eternal horizon in which pain, tears and death would, finally, be vanquished. Though surrounded by the ones I loved, I was gut-wrenchingly, overwhelmingly alone.
Until, suddenly, I wasn’t.
As the sad news slowly began to trickle out to my Christian friends I began to find myself overwhelmed in a different, and very good, sense. I began to receive messages and calls and emails and visits, assuring me that innumerable prayers were being made on my behalf, reminding me of Christ’s sure victory over death, comforting me with the certainty of God’s presence in my despair, offering to stand alongside me to shoulder the weight of my heavy burdens, joning with me in crying out Maranatha. When I looked up from my grief, I found that I was not alone. Indeed, I was surrounded on all sides by a great cloud of witnesses … by my family.
I’ve long been taught that the Christian’s ultimate family is God’s family; that the church is our primary place of belonging; that our brothers and sisters in Christ are the ones with whom we are truly at home. And I’ve always believed that to be true. And yet I now know this truth in much more than just a pleasant, but theoretical, sense
I love the family that I was born into by blood. Deeply. Intensely. Richly. Unwaveringly. I am so, so thankful for them. And yet I’ve come to realise that the people of my spiritual family are able to understand, love, encourage, uphold, know me in a way that my closest relatives simply can’t … at least not until they themselves have been reborn into that same adopted family. It’s an unsettling, uncomfortable, awkward, even hurtful truth. And yet, truth it is.
We have been united with others in Christ. We share the same Father, the same Saviour, the same Spirit. Together we have been saved from our sin, by unmerited grace through our common faith. We bear each other’s burdens, shoulder each other’s loads, lift each other up in prayer, sacrificially love each other. Side by side we walk the same spiritual journey towards the grave, and then to our shared eternal life in the Kingdom. That we are each other’s primary family is much more than just a comforting theological sentiment. It is the confronting, and yet wonderous, truth of our reality as those who have, together in Christ, been adopted into his family.
And so, as far as it is in your power to do so, love the family God has placed you into by virtue of your blood. Rejoice and laugh, cry and mourn with them. Build up those precious memories. Exercise patience and forgiveness. Seek reconciliation where possible. Be thankful for them if you can. Endeavour not to take them for granted. And if they don’t yet know Christ themselves, earnestly pray for their salvation.
But in doing all of this, don’t overlook the magnificent truth. Those of us who are in Christ have been given the wondrous gift of a new, primary and eternal family of brothers and sisters with whom we have been united. You may indeed be related by blood to some of these siblings (indeed, I pray you are). But please, please remember—the Spirit is thicker than blood. Tragedy brought that truth into sharp relief for me. My prayer is that God might continue to teach others that same truth without the tears.