Here we are again, deep in the throes of another steroid-induced insomnia night, but this time it’s a good thing. Why? I’m surrounded by my sleeping family, all of them (well, the immediate family as we think of ourselves)! My wife is in the next room; my son and daughter in law are at home next door, and my daughter, her husband and children (dogs included) are happily ensconced in our guest quarters on the lower level for the next couple of weeks.
Christmas is just four days away, and we’ll all be spending it together as a family, and family, as the Hallmark Christmas movies continuously remind us, is the most important thing. Of course tonight I’m pondering, something I seem compelled to do when I can’t sleep, what family is to me and why it is the most important thing. I thought about defining it in terms of love, but I couldn’t do it in that one word. It takes all seven of the Greek words for types of love, and then it gets too complex, I just want the definition of family to be wonderful and simple (if somewhat lengthy) at the same time. So here goes:
Family to me is a group of humans linked by genetics or choice who have said or implied to each other, “I want you in my life, always, for whatever reason there may be. I will always care deeply and unconditionally for you, be truthful and honest with you, pray for you, console you, celebrate you, encourage you, uplift you, support you, trust you, have faith in you, sympathize with you, empathize with you, be there for you, and sacrifice for you.” This definition, I believe, includes all seven of the Greek love types.
The genetic link is obvious. The link by choice could be through marriage, adoption, affiliation, or shared experiences, perhaps through adversity or great risk or even with life or death in the balance (in military experiences the band of brothers and sisters phenomenon). Family doesn’t mean that I will always agree with you, or even always like you. We may have widely differing opinions and perspectives, practice different religions, different cultural traditions, have different political beliefs or world views. But my definition will still apply, you will be part of my family.
How would a definition of friendship differ from family? In my book, not much. Perhaps not all of those characteristics apply yet, but potentially could. Perhaps we have a strong liking or affinity for each other which we do not want to do without, which may encompass many of those family characteristics, and compel us to continue and deepen our relationship over time and distance.
What could break that bond of family or friendship? I guess if I’m going to believe and live out my own definition then nothing could break that bond. But I’m human, I’m flawed, I’m a sinner. I don’t know how I could care for someone unconditionally if the feeling wasn’t reciprocated. How could I want someone in my life for always if they didn’t want me in theirs. Or, extending that further, to the family of God and Christ, i.e., all humans, how could I possibly love my fellow human if their sole goal in life was to murder me because I’m an infidel by their definition? I don’t see how I could follow Christ’s teachings and not defend myself if my fellow human would take my life simply because I exist. What purpose or reason is there in allowing that to happen? Oops, my pondering has gone far afield; time to reign it in so back to the question at hand.
If my definition wasn’t reciprocated or if there were personality or character traits that were inconsistent with part or all of my definition or extremely negative, could those conditions break that bond? I think maybe if it was in the context of a friendship then yes. But in the context of family that bond would be strained but not broken, leading to estrangement rather than severance. I’ve seen evidence of estrangement in many families including my own. Sometimes even when we can find it in our hearts to forgive, we can’t find the strength to continue a flawed relationship, but we’re still family. It breaks my heart to see those situations, but I remind myself that we are human and not perfect, and those situations will happen, and will continue. I have to trust that as we strive to follow Christ and His teachings, we will never achieve a perfect Christian life because we are human, but we will be forgiven and accepted because we sincerely and faithfully tried.
By my own definition, who is my family? Everyone in my blood line and ancestral line by marriage and adoption is family. My siblings and their children and grandchildren, my children and their marriage partners, and my grandchildren are family. My closest friends for my entire lifetime, and my adult lifetime, through thick and thin, are family. And the heart of my family is a chosen link created when I was too immature and stupid to even comprehend the commitment I was making, and the greatest blessing of my entire life. She knows who she is because I try my best to show and tell her every day.
Why is my family the most important thing? Because I love my family, and I am alive and thriving through and surrounded by their love and support. They completely fulfill my own definition by reciprocating it. I ache without them and feel like part of me is missing, and often shed tears of joy when we are together again, sometimes after years or decades of separation. Because of them I am happy and at peace with my life’s passages.
These days I rarely tire of Hallmark Christmas movies and the messages they convey, particularly those of families reuniting, getting past the past, and sharing life’s perfect moments. They warm my heart, remind me to hug my wife, kids, grandkids, siblings, and chosen family members every chance I get, tell them how much I enjoy our time together, and express my love for them through those many characteristics of family whenever I can.
I’m certainly no saint, and I can be a real pain in the you know what sometimes, but I’m trying every day to keep family in my heart and make them the most important thing – Pops