Sunday, October 18, 2009


People from all different cultures and traditions have strong feelings about family. Many of us feel special ties and obligations toward our family members. We would go out on a limb to help a family member, and we care deeply about family loyalty. Most of us expect family members to be with us when we celebrate—on holidays, at graduations, at weddings, and at our children's baptisms and educational milestones. We also expect them to be there when someone dies, when we are in the hospital, or when we're dealing with difficult issues. Our family is a support system built of blood and genes and heritage, and many of us really depend on it.

This strong expectation of family support can carry some heavy risks. Squabbles that might seem minor in another relationship can turn into major rifts within a family because the relationship is so emotionally charged. Family relationships can feel like a contract signed in blood, and when we feel that contract has been violated, we can get very upset. What's more, when family relationships become broken, it's harder to just walk away. I can always say that so-and-so used to be my friend, but I can't say that someone used to be my relative. We'll still be related by blood even if we aren't speaking, so I can never entirely erase that person from my life. That is part of the reason why I feel so motivated to maintain healthy family relationships and to put in the extra effort to deal with the emotional problems that may crop up. The fact that my family is always going to be there is actually a really positive thing. If I put in the work to keep those relationships strong, I'll know I have someone who will feel motivated to help me in my times of need. Even though maintaining good family ties may take more work than some of my other relationships because of all those emotional issues and heightened expectations, it's still worth it to me.

When I was in college, I had a tightly-knit group of friends. Some of those friends used to call me 'sister'. That seemed a bit odd to me at first. Some of them had strained relationships with their nuclear families and I could understand why they were looking for family elsewhere, but I didn't feel like I had that kind of void to fill. Still, I loved these friends very much, and eventually it didn't seem so strange to call them 'sister' in return. I started relying on these friends more and more, and in some very important ways they became like family members to me. A few years into our relationship, we had a clash of opinions on a very personal subject, and everything fell apart. I had betrayed their expectations of loyalty without meaning to, and the intense trust we had built up evaporated. We were having a family rift. It was more painful than any friendship problem I had ever experienced. I spent years trying to figure out how to erase them from my life, but they were always there in the back of my mind. I valued these relationships too much to leave them broken. Eventually I realized that I was not the only one who felt this way. Even though it had been years, we finally came back together to heal the wounds and restore our bond. And now here we are, family once more.

Jesus said that the entire fellowship of believers were members of his family, and the early apostles referred to each other as beloved brothers and sisters. I have read these things in the Bible many times, but it took these dear friends to teach me what it meant to expand my family beyond blood. I'm not replacing my relatives, I'm just growing a larger family and therefore building myself a stronger foundation. Jesus' family encompasses the whole world, so I don't think there's any such thing as too much family or too many loved ones. It's a wonderful feeling to have so many people to rely on and so many people to invest in. It's true that these relationships carry expectations that will place demands on my time and energy, but they're worth the extra effort. I am even willing to risk more painful family rifts, because I know that all of these altercations can ultimately be healed if there is enough love in the relationship. I can think of no better investment that I can make than sustaining a growing and loving family and providing them the same support that they give me.

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