There’s always been room for one more chair at the table. For several years, we held at fifteen around the tables stretching out of my grandparents’ dining room. Then boyfriends came, who turned into husbands, and added one, then two chairs. Now the arrival of the next generation brings new lives to the table. There’s never been a question of how we’ll fit everyone—we just nestle in a little tighter and slide another chair into place.
What fond memories I have of this scene—the cheerful bustling of the holidays, the laughter. We always seem to forget which way to pass the food, sending the bowls of corn and mashed potatoes into a jumbled cross-armed handover. Four or five conversations simmer at once, with some able to dip into all of them.
Over the years this family has pulled others into its fold, like some sort of very friendly amoeba. It’s a family with open arms, willing—and eager—to pull another person into warmth of being known, being loved. And the thing that’s so beautiful about it is that I don’t think it’s even a conscious or “intentional” decision.
I know I am running the risk of putting my family on some sort of pedestal—which is hardly my intention. But in an age in which so many of my generation face strings of divorces, family factions who will not speak to each other, aunts, uncles, and cousins strung across the country, and grandparents they see at best on Christmas or Thanksgiving, I feel so blessed to have a family that is functional, intact, and likes each other the majority of the time. I know that it’s a rarity.
It’s not completely idyllic—we all have our quirks and foibles, and we aren’t immune from the occasional familial spats, disagreements, and frustrations. But we know that the next holiday will find us squeezed around that same table again, engaged in the same antics as we have year after year. We’re family.
And what of the family of God—Christ’s beloved church? It all too often resembles a voluntary association. We think we can disassociate from each other because of differences of opinion or personality. We are content to dip-in and slip-out week after week, refusing to be bound or obligated or “burdened” with responsibilities unless we care to. We say, “Church X isn’t meeting my needs,” pick up and move to another, often without even a goodbye.
Perhaps the disintegration of so many of the families of our birth clouds our ability to see that this isn’t how a healthy family functions. A family is bound by love and commitment bigger than the individual members. A family willingly accepts the responsibilities and obligations that come with being a part of being bound to other people. A family steps into help the sick ones, bears with the grumpy ones, and celebrates with the joyous ones. A family looks over annoyances and quirks of the brother he loves. A family supports in grief, restores and forgives in sin, and defends those others would attack. A family will fight for peace and reconciliation rather than see a relationship severed or slowly dissolve.
We say, “You can’t choose your family,” and we can’t choose this family either, this family of spiritual brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers. Like any other family, it doesn’t mean we’ll always get along or see eye to eye. It also doesn’t mean that we have to be friends with everyone or that there won’t be some we’re closer to than others. Isn’t this the case in any family?
It would do us well, I think, to start thinking of the church, of our fellow Christians, as our family. We should see that we are bound by the strong kinship ties of our faith in Jesus and the presence of the Holy Spirit. Our love for each other should be contagious. Those peering through our windows should be jealous of the relationships and communion we enjoy, and we should be a family eager and excited to welcome others into our fold. For, the end of redemption history is not “just me and Jesus”—it’s the cohesive whole of the family of God, the bride of Christ, all squeezed around the heavenly banquet table.