Dec 18, 2016 | by J. Carter
It’s the season for the family Christmas photo. You know the one where everything, and everyone looks “perfect” and smiling for all of, 5 seconds. Usually family photos are a happy occasion. I can remember at least one family photo involving tears. The tears definitely didn’t make it in the photo, though. The photo was still a happy one.
As you head back home for the holidays you may be both excited and bracing yourself a little. Break is an entire month! It’s a great month, full of home cooked meals, raiding the pantry at all hours, and time with the family dog. But, it can also be a long month— outside of a normal routine, away from friends, and even away from some of the spiritual habits you’ve created since you started college.
No matter how many years I go home for Christmas, the holidays are always a “good challenge” in unselfishness. My family loves each other a lot . We also have conflict (usually surrounding games of Settler of Catan). Family life is messy, and not perfect. Loving well does not equal the absence of conflict and disagreements.
Recently, one of my favorite books for thinking about the relationships in my life, is Practicing the Presence of People. One of my favorite chapters talks about people simply wanting to be wanted. Mike Mason defines love by saying “to love is to want others as we ourselves long to be wanted.” God doesn’t need us, but He does want us. God likes people.
Love goes beyond the law (see footnotes).
Love moves relationships from contractual to personal. There are some more obviously contractual relationships in our lives. For example, a teacher lays out the course contract—the syllabus—with the dates, exams, and grading guidelines. As a member of a sorority or fraternity, there are prescribed behaviors.
Even without a written contract, we can treat our friends and family on a contractual level rather than a personal basis. As well, the presence of a contract does not restrict me from loving and fulfilling the contract.
Love is a higher calling.
1 Corinthians 13 is a chapter devoted to love, making the point that even if I did everything perfectly, it would be empty without love. Or, on the flip side, love is not a given when all the boxes in life (even spiritual life) are checked. In the mini book of Philemon he appeals to Philemon to welcome Onesimus as a brother, beyond what the law required. Paul also appealed to his churches to love him back. Noticing that Paul was always appealing to his people to love has helped me to digest this train of thought over time. It’s fairly rare to ask someone to love us. I’m still blown away by that. Jesus also pointed people beyond the spiritual law, when several religious leaders brought a woman who had been caught in adultery.
God doesn’t need us, but he does want us. “Want is a purer and a higher idea than need, or than should, ought, or must.” Mike Mason.
One of Jesus’ most famous “sermons” (the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5-8), gives examples of how rules themselves fall short of true goodness. We can’t live up to the law, and the law even falls short of love. Jesus pointed out how sometimes we would rather hide behind what is considered to be “right” rather than love.
Mike writes later: “Most of us sit on the fence [or the couch?] in regard to people, neither wholeheartedly wanting them nor sullenly retreating to a hermitage. If we get along with others, it tends to be more out of need than want. This is one problem Jesus came into the world to redress. He let us crucify Him to show us how much we push everyone away, even the Son of God. As the dust settled on Calvary, some of us realized what we were missing. We realized how much we wanted love and how much He wanted us. And so we invited Him to come back and live in our hearts.
When He did, something wonderful happened: We began to wake up to how badly we’d been treating people and how much we missed each other. We began to want one another with a deep, pure love.”
So, what might it look like for us to love God and family this break instead of “sitting on the couch”, or at least while sitting on the couch. If everyone in the family was reassured every day they were wanted by God (and us), how might that impact a family portrait?
So, rather than give a long list of “things to do to love your family or to love God”, I’ll leave us with a couple questions, passages, and a prayer.
Questions to consider:
- What might it look like for me to relate to my family on a contractual basis? How would it change for me to communicate “want for” my family, rather than need, should, or ought?
- What might it look like for me to relate to God on a contractual basis? How might I communicate “want for” God, rather than need, should, or ought?
- In the area of conflict resolution with family, am I relating based on contractual expectations alone or with empathy and experience?
Passages to read:
Philemon (the whole book, it’s only 1 chapter).
1 John: A great reminder of God’s want for us.
God, I can’t even live up to my own expectations of what I should do, much less love. Would you make me a person who loves my family, and also You, well?
Law: In daily life, law generally refers to local, state, or federal law. Christians often use this term to talk about God’s laws. The Jewish people had a set of religious laws they were called to live by for their relationship with God. Western American culture measures goodness by a concept of justice, guilt and innocence. We fear the police as the enforcer. In contrast, a shame and honor culture would fear family as primary enforcer. When we talk about law, we are talking about the concept of guilt and innocence.
Mason, Mike (2011-11-09). Practicing the Presence of People: How We Learn to Love (p. 50). The Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
Mason, Mike (2011-11-09). Practicing the Presence of People: How We Learn to Love (p. 50-51). The Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.