Family Ties

It was a hot day and people were shoulder to shoulder; the area was crowded worse than a summer fair ground. It couldn’t have smelled very nice, as most people had been standing there for a long time and many had traveled for days to get there. Imagine the last day of Coachella. People were chatting and gossiping about what they were about to hear from this speaker that continued to draw crowds everywhere that his tour took him.  Would he say something as scandalous as he had before? Whatever he was going to say, no one wanted to hear about it secondhand – they wanted to be there and hear it for themselves. Not only was this a big crowd, it was a crowd filled with tension.

Into this mob scene enters a mother who has come to see her son speak. Even though he is grown, she still wants to support her firstborn, but the crowd is just too thick. She finally makes her way toward the front with help from her other sons who have traveled with her. As she nears the front, one of her son’s staff members sees her. She is hopeful she will get a VIP badge and be able to exit the crowd, I mean she did birth this child. The staff member runs to her son. So how does the son respond to the news that his family has made the trek to see him? He chooses to use it as a teachable moment and address the crowd.

“Who is my Mother and who are my brothers? Those who do the will of God.”

Jesus could be harsh. He seems to be dismissing his actual family. If you don’t know the story according to Matthew, Mark and Luke, there came a time when Jesus was teaching and his family who was wanting to speak to him couldn’t get near him because of the crowds. Jesus’ disciples bring this to his attention, and instead of rushing to speak to his family, he uses the moment to redefine family. I often wonder how his earthly family felt about this scene. Were they hurt? Did Mary want to bring up the whole nativity scene and how she had to ride a donkey while 9-months pregnant to end up giving birth to him in some guy’s livestock manger? I read this passage and wonder: what does it tell us about family and who are we to consider family?

My parents and brother are currently en route to visit me. They are coming to celebrate my parents’ birthdays and my mom being cancer free. She is being honored as a survivor at a special breast cancer fundraiser.

The other day, I was speaking to Mom and Dad on speakerphone as they were making their final travel plans, and my friend could barely control her laughter. She later told me she thought the Heath family should have a podcast. We talk a lot. We laugh even more. We are a quirky family. But I think all the best ones are.

We don’t always agree, and we know exactly what to say to frustrate the other. All my mom has to say to me is that she wishes “I would be more consistent” and I immediately flash back to the little girl who would earnestly take on a hobby and then switch to another one, perhaps forgetting the amounts of money and time invested in the previous life passion. To get me fired up, my brother just has to say that I am the favorite and call me princess. Even though we are in our 30’s, I revert to 12-year old Sarah and immediately defend my independence and ability to take care of myself. There are no other humans who have the ability to goad me, but there are also no other humans who support me the way they do or love me unconditionally like they do.

Through great times and life’s worst times, they have been there for me – to laugh and cry with me. I am grateful for my quirky family and proud that they are mine. I honestly don’t know what I would do without them, and I am well aware that this is a unique situation and a blessing in my life.

You can imagine as I prepared for my sermon this week on the above Jesus scene I was troubled. I wanted to ask Jesus why he wouldn’t honor his family. Family means so much. And then it struck me – I was working from a limited understanding of family. Jesus isn’t dismissing his family, and in no way does his love for those who do the will of God mean he loves his own family any less, it simply expands the concept of family. Love is expansive; there is no end to it. I remember when my brother had his second child, he worried that he wouldn’t have enough love because he loved his first child so much, but he discovered at the birth that your heart just grows. This makes sense to me.

I live very far away from my family, so I have had to make family here. Perhaps that is one of the reasons I love church communities so much. It is an opportunity to add to your family. I have people that I actually consider my second parents, and i know that if I ever need them they are there. This doesn’t lessen my love for my actual family, it instead expands my definition of family. That is the gift of community. Going to church may seem like an outdated practice, but the family it creates is nothing short of miraculous and I for one am glad that I have it.

  1. Emmy says:

    Thank you for writing this. My husband and I have been struggling with being away from all of our friends and family. We know finding a church will help, but we’ve visited a ton and haven’t found the right fit yet. Are we being too picky? I love your blog! So glad I found it

    • sarahheath says:

      I don’t think you are being too picky I really think it can be difficult to find the right “family”- Thanks for reading and praying for you to find the right fit!

  2. Juda Carter says:

    I so appreciate this post, Sarah. I come from a family of five siblings that live great distances from each other from Tokyo, Japan to Manhattan, NY. After the deaths of my father in December and one of my younger sisters in June I have been contemplating this idea of family. I have noticed since these losses that the rest of us are reaching out to each other and communicating more than before. It seems such a blessing to me as we grow in our connection. Does it take a death to understand how important family can be to one another? Did Jesus have to die the way he did for us to understand the concept of love for one another?

  3. Marcia says:

    Gerry came to California from Michigan in the Navy and his family is still there. My family moved to Oregon not long after we married. Our church family has been our family for all these years. In some ways they are even closer to us than our own families. We are very blessed.

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