Family is Messy, and That’s OK. Here’s why:
I remember very clearly the day my illusions about my family were shattered forever. I had stayed the night at a friend’s house and came down the next morning for breakfast. My friend grabbed a box of Lucky Charms, without a second thought. Like it was nothing. I was shocked by his brazenness, certain that at any moment his mother or father would catch him in the act. Instead, once his mother appeared she asked me if I wanted some too! I now understood that I was being tested, that I had unwittingly entered a den of vice disguised as a typical suburban household.
My own family certainly ACKNOWLEDGED the existence of sugary cereals but they had their place – as a treat, not the meal entire. I had no idea that there were families out there who were so ready to risk… well, 9 year-old me wasn’t entirely sure what the risks of eating Lucky Charms for breakfast were, but darn it he knew they were real! I confess that I gave into temptation that morning. It was delicious.
Well. I may be overstating things a bit. But the truth is I really was surprised! I didn’t realize that other families did things differently than my own. My guess is that you had a similar moment when you were a kid. The moment you discover the way your family does things isn’t necessarily the default. It’s a moment when the world becomes a little bit bigger and that’s a good thing.
Viewing our own family in the context of other families and relationships helps us see more clearly. We learn to appreciate the good and healthy things we took for granted. We also gain the ability to honestly evaluate the aspects of our families that maybe weren’t (and still aren’t) healthy. Our families are all a bit messier than we realize. They are CERTAINLY messier than we let other people realize!
Here’s the thing, though: being a part of God’s family reminds us that messy is ok. We don’t have to get our lives together before God accepts us. In the same way, we don’t have to fix our families for God to welcome us into his. The Church is messy, full of dysfunction. It’s also beautiful, full of more kindness and love than we could ask for.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his short book Life Together, wrote that the family of God “is not an ideal which we must realize; it is rather a reality created by God in Christ in which we may participate.” We all have things in our families that we’d fix if we could. But Bonhoeffer’s point is that while we should strive to be better, the real privilege is being a part of the family (ours and God’s) as it is, right now, messiness and all.
The Gospel reminds us that God didn’t send Jesus to clean up the world, but to go and find his lost brothers and sisters. The family Jesus started wasn’t neat and tidy. In fact, it was downright disreputable. But people were drawn to this new family. It had something they longed for. In time, this messy, messed up family called the Church would change the world forever. It still is. And whether you’ve been a Christian for thirty minutes or thirty years, you are a part of us. And we are grateful for you, just as you are.