The definition of “family” has changed for me over the years. Growing up I used to think my family was shattering because my parents were getting a divorce. It’s amazing how God created the mind and heart to adapt to the onslaught of life’s trials, and how He uses trials for His glory.
Now I look around, more than twenty years after my parents separated, and see that the original framework did, indeed, fall apart. But rather than stay in pieces on the ground, God provided more people to build it into a sort of Jerry-rigged family system. It looks really funny but it works!
I think one of the most difficult parts about growing up in a family where divorce and separation is the norm, is that you have to learn to make your own family. The cool thing about it is you don't care what color they are - just that they love you. We need each other. A family. People I adopted into my little family, what others might call a support system, came and went like leaves carried on a current, and I learned to love and let go as they did. Some people stay for years, others only a few months. I have one Momma. I have had many mother’s. I have one Sister, but I have had many sisters.
Over the last twenty years God has brought strangers into my life who became family. I have step-parents I think of as another mom and dad. I have half-brothers but they’ve always been simply brothers. I can’t imagine my life without them. Then there are the people God brought to me who aren’t married or born into my family. Each has taught me something and helped me to be the woman God intended for me to be. Whether white, brown, black, pink or a blend of all of the above... their character shaped me. Not their skin.
Ever since I became a believer in Jesus as my Lord and Savior I’ve been blessed to meet many men and women the Bible call my brothers and sisters in the faith. While all of us are part of a larger kingdom family, there are some who forever hold a place in my heart as my family.
When Jesus was teaching in the synagogue his mother and brothers were outside wanting to talk to him. When someone told Jesus this, he said something that - in eastern culture in particular - would have been painful for one’s blood relatives to hear.
“But he replied to the man who told him, ‘Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?’ And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother’” (Matthew 12:48-51, ESV).
His disciples, while not related to him by blood or marriage, had become His family. One of Jesus’ last words on the cross was to tell one of his disciples to take care of Jesus’ mother. No one cared for biological family the way Jesus did. Yet he made it clear that the family we’re born into is not meant to be our highest priority.
“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26).
Jesus wasn’t telling us to hate our family, but that in comparison to our love for Him it should look like hate. Our love for Jesus should shine so brightly that our love for other people and things should look like a shadow.
The love we receive from Jesus when he becomes the most important person in our lives, in turn, pours out onto others. What’s most amazing to me about this, is that when we receive Jesus’ love and love him more deeply, we end up loving others better!
This concept was easy for me to grasp when I first became a disciple. I’d already spent years developing a skill of calling friends my family. My closest friend growing up, ironically also named Sam, was my sister. Just try to tell me different. If I was laid up in the hospital I would have lied to the doctor’s face and called her my sister because, to me, she was.
Just as I can look at my siblings and say, “I can’t stand you right now but you’re my brother so I love you anyway,” I can look at another disciple in Christ and say, “I can’t stand you right now but you’re my brother in Christ so I love you anyway.” Family is family.
God is very clear about his stance on divorce. From the Old Testament into the New, His position never changes. He hates divorce. Thankfully, His grace abounds and his love covers a multitude of sins. He uses what we defile for our good and His glory.
Could I have understood the concept of a kingdom family without my parents getting a divorce? Certainly. Could I have grasped it as easily? Probably. Would the kingdom family mean as much to me if my family had never been broken in the first place? Not likely. When your core unit dissolves before your eyes as a child, powerless to stop it, you learn very quickly that nothing can be counted on. Nothing lasts. This presents a very unstable beginning for a child.
When I met Jesus and grasped how eternal is his love, his sacrifice on the cross, and his grace, I discovered something that could actually endure. It meant anyone who believe in and followed Him would be my eternal family. In Christ, no brokenness, separation, or death ever lasts.
I don’t believe for an instant God wanted my parents to divorce. I do believe, however, that in His infinite wisdom and goodness, He used it to help me accept, sooner rather than later, and grow in gratitude for the incredible gift He’s given: Him.
And an eternal, blended, family through Him.