When my mid-twenties brought the kind of failure that no one really plans for or considers is even possible for their own life (sure, maybe other people, *those people* over there, but never yourself), I found myself right smack in the middle of my own real-life churchy cliche…the prodigal son. Or, in my case, the prodigal daughter with tattoos and pink hair and a stubborn streak.
I came of age within the walls of the Christian Church, first of the traditional Baptist kind, and then of the “non-denominational” kind. I distinctly remember the day that I was baptized (at the tender age of 8) by my pastor in the creek behind his farmhouse, my family and a handful of friends looking on. After I victoriously emerged from the water, alongside my friend Maria, we stood on the bank wrapped in towels and dripping, and someone asked what song I wanted to sing. I suggested Petra’s “The Battle Belongs to the Lord.” If you are familiar with Christian culture from the 80’s then this should explain…a bit about me.
Fast forward through my teens with experiences so wonderful and other-worldly that you might not believe them and then real, hard life happened somewhere between my wedding day and a divorce seven years later.
The thing is, I was “in church” all of those years. Yes, we moved around quite a bit and there were times of being less involved, but mostly I was there. With people, seeking intentional community, all of us broken (but broken together.) So why wasn’t this Christian thing working? Why had my closest relationship imploded? Why was I no longer welcome in those tight-knit circles? Well, that would take a lifetime to unpack.
The thing I want to say here is this: during that time especially (and always, really) it was my family, the ones who birthed me and raised me and sent me off into the world, who ministered the gospel of Jesus to me. Of course it wasn’t perfect (we will leave that adjective alone) but it was consistent and it was real. Others were helpers along the way, casual bystanders with a word of encouragement or a friendly smile, but it was the ones most invested that brought me back to the Lord.
During those years, the truth of the gospel was lived out through my family via burdened prayers and phone calls and Sunday lunches more so than the institution of church; it had to be administered in the rest of my life because I wasn’t at Sunday service. If the idea of “church” remains bound inside the four walls of a building then it will have a real challenge meeting the runaways and lost ones. I had fled to the arms of the whole wide world and yet, the ones who took responsibility for me, they persisted. They embodied Christ for me; they became the Bride who was inviting me to the feast. They left the comfort of their bible studies and awesome worship nights and they came after me. The Spirit of God was pursuing me and my family became the midwife for an encounter with Christ.
The consistent and unwavering love of family preaches the gospel powerfully. Family has the ability to speak the truth in love and do it with arms ready for the holding. Family never gives up. They are kept up late worrying, they are opening their homes, they are welcoming with genuine happiness that you are there, they are loving you through food and warm beds and laughter. Not compromising the standard of the Way but pouring out grace like water.
Family is the Father of the prodigal child throwing all inhibitions to the wayside and running towards his lost son. Family is embracing, naming, giving generously. Family is modeled to us by Jesus and his disciples and we also are united with him in our obedience. Family is the original design, the clarion call from beyond time and space. I was called into this family. You are chosen for this family, too. You have a people waiting for you (and no, we don’t have it together, but our heavenly Father does!)
If you come from a home-family that continues to lead you to the presence of God, then join me in complete and utter humility and say a loud and sincere Thank You! to a good and faithful God. If you were led to a spiritual-family by way of life and journey then echo that same gratitude! If you are in the trenches, as we are, of cultivating a family that seeks after the Lord and waits on his kind leading, then let us encourage one another along the road! This is how we become the body of Christ, the people of God. We become his family.
And the homecoming, both on this earth and in the one to come, will truly be something worth celebrating.