My Family? Your Family?

This past week my mother who lives in Sioux Falls, SD (you may remember her…she has come to visit us here in Woodinville twice now) fell and broke her arm right below her shoulder.  The good news is that it’s her left arm, and she’s right handed, so she can still write letters…an essential part of my mother’s existence.  The bad news is that she can’t be alone for up to 2 months!  The good news is that she has two daughters who live within a couple of hours of her!  The bad news is that her son, who used to live 10 minutes from her, moved to Woodinville, Washington two years ago!  The good news is that she has plenty of money for her care.  The bad news is that she is very frugal in how she spends it.  In other words, she doesn’t ever spend it on herself! The good news is that for her age she is very active and strong (she walked 4 miles on day with us here in Woodinville).   The bad news is that she is still 88 and a break like this is serious for her.

As I ponder my mother’s situation, I am struck by the family dynamics involved, and I find my heart breaking for folks in her situation as they try to navigate the myriad of dynamics that comes with having a family large or small.  One of the key dynamics in our family involves distance.  Those siblings living close to mom often resent the fact that they must deal much more intently with crisis than those who live at a distance.  I think there is also a sense of resentment that happens when those who are at a distance try to share their thoughts when they really don’t have the total picture.  Those far away, I think, often feel guilty for not being there and often overcompensate by trying too hard.   I also believe there can be a little bit of “snobbery” by those who live far away, as they ponder the “small-mindedness” of the world they left behind when the moved.

As I was visiting with my brother about the struggles of being at a distance, he shared with me that it almost seemed like he was looking through a telescope the wrong way when trying to understand what was going on back home.  It’s like he only gets a very narrow picture of what’s going on and he just yearns for a wider view of the dynamics, so he can be helpful!

Another dynamic that plays keenly in our family is the dynamic of birth order.  I remember Cyndy, my amazing spouse, one time going back to her family reunion in Avon, SD.  She was 40 at the time, but she felt like she was still treated as the “baby of the family.”  (She is number 8 of 8 children in her family.)   I feel her pain.  As number 7 of 8, I often feel like I’m just in the back of the VW along for the ride.  And then there are other times when I think as one of the youngest I often don’t understand the responsibility my elder siblings carry.    

One more dynamic that plays out in our family is the traditional role of female and male.  Like it or not, my mother grew up in a patriarchal society, and because of it she tends to favor her three sons in as much as it comes to key decisions.   This understandably infuriates my sisters…and sometimes the sons as well.  I find this leaning of my mother’s even more pronounced in times of crisis.

As I start ticking off all these dynamics I think I understand why Paul often referred to the church as a family.   The church, too, has similar dynamics! One of the things that has helped our family function is family reunions.  It’s at those times that we gather together and learn to trust each other before a crisis.  It’s at those times that we learn to embrace each other in joy and fellowship, and that “sinew” helps us stay together when there is times of tension and discord.

A second thing that helps our family stay on course is our immense love for my mother.  We all want what is best for her and so we are willing to put aside our complicated sibling dynamics for the greater good of Mom’s health and well-being.

A third aspect of our family that helps us through difficult times is a shared Christian value system.   We know what it means to be one body with many gifts.  We know what it means to “bear with one another in love.”   We know what it means to really pray about this so that our personal will isn’t primary, but the will of someone greater…the God we have come to know in and through the love of Jesus Christ.

Believe it or not, it does make a difference!   Believe it or not, our sharing of the same faith, does hold us together in Christian harmony.   Maybe not in some singular moments, but over the stretch of time and events…it most certainly is an incredibly gift for my family and for our church.

As we prepare for a wonderful Fall here at Bear Creek, may we learn the incredible gift of being a church family and learn to navigate the distinct family dynamics of our unique community for the greater good of our God.

Your friend and pastor, still learning how to be “family”, Brook

Tim Schaaf