At 31, the meaning of family has drastically shifted from what it once meant to me at 10, when family meant to me then what Jesus does now.
Everyone has a story about family. Many are positive, sentimental, and fulfilling—while others are damaged, regretful, and poignant. Not everyone has the same kind of family, so not everyone carries the same sentimental fondness. Family was what I most looked forward to growing up. Some of my favorite memories included playing ball outside with my dad and brother after dinner, and the smell of my dad’s homemade chocolate chip cookies with milk during TV marathons on Friday nights—lasting until bedtime. There were the occasional ice cream trips on week nights, donuts after church on Sunday mornings, and movie nights on Fridays or Saturdays. Family was my reason to endure school to return home and play with my Superman toys in the comfort of my room before smelling steak and mashed potatoes cooking for dinner downstairs. It was getting kissed on my cheek by my oldest sister when I wasn’t feeling well; family meant quality time, feeling safe, and having special moments to anticipate with my favorite people.
Looking back among such fond, intimate memories today brings bittersweet feelings, because, after the trauma I experienced when my parents divorced, everything changed. My purpose in writing this article is to explain how, in hindsight as a Christ-follower today, I believe faith could have made a profound difference in the aftermath of such a heavy division in the strength of our family.
SOUL-SEARCHING FOR THE MERGE OF OUR INNER CHILD AND OUR AUTHENTIC ADULT
Needless to say, I am thankful for family. Without those we hold dearest, and our God to mold us into fruition with ourselves in the most brilliantly authentic way imaginable—we are lost in the world, soul-searching in attempt to discover ourselves without anyone to be ourselves with. A crucial part of this journey involves the renascence and acceptance of our inner child in a fallen world, choosing vulnerability and authenticity while simultaneously protecting ourselves as adults from the damaging blasts of ricochet from both the seen and unseen world around us (I.e. sin, corruption, depravity, pain, death, sickness, etc.).
Concordantly, holding true to our endearing inner-child while developing into adults requires safe people with whom we feel allowed to grow with, so we are not hindered by the drowning, suffocating feelings of being unaccepted, unloved, and unrealized. We might slow down for a moment and think, “If family doesn’t provide emotional safety for me, where else do I find it?”
DESIGNED FOR RELATIONSHIP
What I’ve learned thus far from my worldly experience is that life is about becoming more of ourselves by the love of God through Jesus Christ, encouraged by and through the support of others in the aspiration of becoming more complete, while savoring the journey of relationship with God and people, as it were, through the conduit of being human (we were, after all, designed for relationship). This article is about how our relationship with Jesus plays the most vital role; what the journey of that role has looked like for someone like me, and how it has shaped my perspective of family. My hope is that in some way these words will relate to you, and help you see how Jesus can play a significant role in your life as well. Most importantly, I hope this article reveals the blessing in how merging into a life of following Jesus directly leads us to the truest meaning of family.
PURITANICAL RELIGIOSITY: SPIRITUAL FALLOUT
With my faith where it is today, I feel it would be inauthentic for me to ignore how deeply impacting my religious upbringing was, to learn nothing from the manner in which Jesus wasn’t integrated into my roots as a child—leading into my darkest days and years. Because of this, I’d like to include some context.
If you are a consistent reader of this blog, you might recall how I was raised among an ordinary family of six who attended an old-fashioned, local Catholic church (complete with the decor of stained-glass windows, wooden pews, and organ music) in a suburban town in Michigan. However, outside the church building, my only memories of spirituality were saying grace before meals. Otherwise, we did not pray together at any other time. The name of Jesus was never spoken, a Bible was never opened, and a real relationship with our eternal Creator was never encouraged. This was our biggest spiritual fallout: You cannot develop a family in Christ if you never turn to Him together (which should be instigated by the head of the family) in prayer, surrender, and obedience. A child should not be limited in learning to understand, or comprehend the significance of Christ through church attendance alone.
Without the practice of faith in the home, there is limited space in the undeveloped spirit of a child to experience gratitude. Without mature guidance and learning how to practice discernment, the child is unable to witness and receive God’s blessings in their life.
CRIPPLED BY TRAUMA IN THE ABSENCE OF FAITH
Reminiscing for the sake of personal growth, I realized later in my twenties how the combination of our ritualistic, inculcated church life, and the compromise in the absence of Jesus-talk, spiritual direction, or influence—further became entangled with the trauma of my parents’ divorce when I was 11. Their divorce caused such a rift in my reality—a notion which presupposed a trusted sense of normalcy—that I experienced life in a way I would now describe as emotionally brittle: I was existentially careening towards suicide as an adolescent without faith or hope in a loving, unconditional, grace-filled Jesus.
What happens for a child who is required to memorize the 10 commandments, some scripture and the sacraments, but who is not guided in understanding the importance of relationship with Jesus, is, the child learns more about religion than faith. The result of that combination is that the child will not have learned to turn to Jesus, but will instead turn inwards, once trauma is experienced. The child will then gravitate towards internal strength, which he will inevitably find he is in limited supply of. He will fail to hold himself up long enough to comprehend how to withstand such excruciating deprivation—such as the loss of anything that defines and shapes his reality—and may, end up doubting there is any point in enduring, as I did.
I can’t emphasize enough, for Christ-following parents, how important it is to share the name and Good News of Jesus in the home. We could be more diligent in bringing our children to know who Jesus is, that He is for us, and that we can and should count on Him. Otherwise, we risk treating faith more like a powerless secret than an indestructible weapon against the darkness and principalities of the unseen world around us (Ephesians 6:10-12). Furthermore, without knowing who Jesus is and what He wants with us (relationship), we may miss out on learning how life-changing He is, in order to trust in Him and lean on Him during our worst moments. Our responsibility as parents is to ensure our children have the tools necessary to enter through the dangerous gates of life without falling face first into the shock of how the world can be at its worst.
HOW THE BROKEN PIECES FIT TOGETHER
As an adult having moved far from where I was born in order to start a life I could more fully embrace, I found Jesus where I wasn’t even trying to look. In turn, my life has been blessed beyond measure.
To me, family means the people who want what is best for you just because it is best for you, who encourage you towards your best, who accept you for your authentic self, and who love you for you, not for who you “ought to be.” I don’t feel like I had this growing up, and when I found Jesus, what became clear to me was that Jesus had never played a significant role in my family life, which extirpated our family’s foundation when my parents divorced. In hindsight, I believe if Jesus had played a more involved role, the devastation may have been mitigated to something more tolerable. But without Him, learning of my parents’ divorce shattered for me all that I knew to be real and normal in life. Family was my ‘Jesus’ during childhood. When family broke, so too did my life, my sense of ‘self,’ my identity, and everything in me that wanted to live. This is why bringing Jesus into our children’s lives is so pivotal: Children can’t handle the emotional weight of severe, worldly pain without first having a foundation stronger than that of other people just as broken as they are.
FINDING FAMILY… FAR, FAR AWAY
Family doesn’t have to mean “blood-relatives.” That’s a truth I struggled with during my college years in my early twenties, when I had officially moved to Florida to start my adult life on a different fork in the road. At that time, I was experiencing new friendships in a new environment with new rules, replete with physical separation from biological family.
Upon experiencing these shifts in lifestyle, I came to slowly understand that the people I was starting to connect with felt much like family— possibly even more so than my actual family. This scared me at first because I felt like I was betraying my biological family. But the process eventually started to help me feel more at ease, because the people I was connecting with were Christ-like: safe, trustworthy people with a heart for a God expressed in their attitude, their money-spending (tithes), and their ostensible compassion towards strangers.
LEARNING OF THE CONDUIT OF THE HOLY SPIRIT
My heart was moved by the way my friends would treat bystanders, not polluting the atmosphere of others with the toxicity of judgment, but allowing those brave and bold enough to sincerely ask for what was needed. I appreciated the authenticity in my friends’ responses, when at times, they could give nothing more than just time. I learned from them how to slow down and leave room for discernment to intuit whether the spirit was asking me to help in some way, or simply to walk away, respectfully, with boundaries.
Later on down the road, I would look back and realize these displays of kindness were basic to the Christian faith, but were something that felt so refreshingly new to me. Witnessing those moments was life-changing, in that they helped me to understand the in-betweens of when and how we can make a difference in this world by redirecting the motive of our actions back to Jesus as our primary incentive to slow down and authentically show others we care.
BRINGING JESUS INTO OUR DARKNESS
Every child experiences something emotionally challenging growing up. It’s just about impossible not to in our society with sky-high divorce rates, school shootings, suicides, and other heart-wrenching tragedies. In our world, I find it so important to be encouraging in the outpouring of the Good News of Jesus into the hearts of our children so that what happened to me doesn’t continue happening to other children.
Where so many young adults were never raised to view Jesus as more than merely a man with wisdom, their life tragedies have in turn left them drudging through life in fear of intimacy, or of being loved by others due to shame, fear of abandonment, self-worth issues, and so much more. All of this could be turned inside out—over time—with the inclusion of Jesus in our suffering.
Learning of the personal Jesus (and not just the religious, “only-in-a-church-building” Jesus) so much later in my life left my teenage years unbearable, and I don’t want that for other teenagers and children. I want kids to understand there is hope in Christ before they experience trauma, so that they know they are not alone, even when it feels like people can’t understand them. Jesus is our healer, preparing us to re-enter the world to find safe, trustworthy individuals who can help us further in our healing journey. This is what I want for all generations to come, and I hope by reading this, you will be inspired to bring Jesus into your family as well.
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