All my life my family has used the phrase: "You don't have to like them, but you have to love them. You're family".
The idea of loving your family no matter what has always been a difficult one for me to grasp. What is love? Isn't that reserved for your forever spouse? How do you define family, and how come people tell me I'm automatically supposed to love them?
These are hard questions, and I won't tell you I know how to answer them. I can tell you that love and family are key components to living for Christ, and that's a big theme in my life as I enter a new chapter.
On the surface I think most of us agree that families will argue, disagree and even fight, but at the end of the day, the choice to love and be committed to this group of people trumps the conflicts there are in the relationships. I think that's what love is: offering grace when hearts are hardened,and showing compassion when hearts are weak. Not the romantic, swept off your feet kind of love, but the functional love of every day life, the necessity of warm Christian hearts, the choice to be a constant when the world tells you to move on.
True, you don't have much control over the people you share DNA with, the families you're born into or who marries into the families your bloodline. But there's a deeper dimension to the meaning of family that I'm convinced we neglect because of this idea of a genetic relationship or marriage as a determining factor in who deserves your love. Jesus tells us, "Love your neighbor as yourself". Love and neighbor prompt a lot of uncertainty when we look to determine who is our neighbor and what it means to show someone love...especially if they're not "family"?
A mentor of mine once told me that loving someone is an every day choice. Meaning, you don't suddenly or simply fall in and out of love. You choose to love the people you're surrounded by, or you surround yourself with different people. I'm convinced that's why we say family members love each other.
So, what if the definition of love and family are supposed to be synonymous?
A close friend of mine, someone I consider to be family said this, "Miranda, I learned that I don't need the people who tell me I'm hard to love". -- ouch. My friend's pain hurts my heart, but I think this is an example of how we get into the rut of letting our actions fall short of our words. We say "I love you" but what does that even mean if we don't act on it? And if you think it's "too hard" to love someone, do you even love them?
Nobody ever told me what it's supposed to feel like when you love someone, and honestly I make a habit of holding it back from the people in my life that deserve it most. For the longest time, I was under the impression that love was something to guard, as if I wasn't allowed to share it with whomever I wanted, whenever I wanted. I've since learned, God looks at our hearts. And while I'm aware there can often be a disconnect between what's in my heart, what my mind says, and what I end up doing, being a Christian is kind of like love in training. I'm realizing that's why loving God can be really hard some days...but more on that later.
When I was in high school there was this strange notion going around with people in my school saying "everyone love everyone". People would write ELE on the whiteboards between, before and after classes. I'm still not sure if this is from a social movement of some sort, or just a movie quote (I more or less lived under a rock in high school). Regardless, this seemed silly at the time. How can everyone possibly love everyone?!
You can't love someone you don't know, you can't love everyone you know, and what if someone doesn't deserve to be loved?
My 16 year-old-sophomore-in-highschool list continued on and on with misguided questions chalk full of ill-faith...I reflect on that social trend now, and its has a strange resonance to what I've been reading in The Bible.
1. Love isn't something you give out because someone deserves it. You love because someone does NOT deserve it, and probably doesn't even know they need or want it.
2. Love comes in different forms.
3. Share it!
4. Family = Love, and Love = Family
5. Loving someone is usually difficult.
Our modern culture attaches love to material items like chocolates, flowers, and expensive dates as well as physical acts of hugs, kisses, and sex. It's no wonder I was better at telling my high school boyfriends I loved them than I was at telling my own sisters! At least these boys bought me chocolates...right?
I've met a lot of different people in the last few years. Mostly because of things I'm involved in and times I've forced myself to be uncomfortable. But I've also let a lot of relationships fall away, even people that are my genetic family, and others I've considered to be family. I've learned that genetic family is generally easier for me to love, even if we don't call it love. Friends are the hardest because it's easier to let the phone go to voicemail and text messages go unanswered. It also helps that they don't show up to Christmas dinner. Strangers are somewhere in the middle because they have a clean slate, they haven't hurt me or let me down yet.
But I'm still learning...learning what it means to love and how to love. Love Does is a GREAT book by a man named Bob Goff, and if you haven't read it, I strongly encourage you to. It will change your life. It did mine. I bring that up because love isn't a "thing" its a living, breathing, action that demands our attention. And if we let it fall to the wayside, like an unwatered lily in the desert, it shrivels ups and becomes unrecognizable.
Love is an action. Love calls us to be family. Family calls us to love.
As you think deeper about who you love and who you consider family, I hope you find, as I have that they're one in the same. And aren't we all little guilty of not loving family as fully as we ought to?
I challenge you to love a little harder, and expand your circle of family. This life isn't meant for you to live on your own.