I spent the weekend at a family reunion at Okoboji where the activity of choice for the teens and preteens was riding as many rides as possible at Arnold’s Park. I had NO interest in this particular activity but watching the anticipation and joy in their faces did remind me that I once had those same emotions each year when the carnival would come to town for Fun Days. The favorite ride seemed to be the roller coaster. Now I am no thrill seeker and roller coasters don’t interest me at all, but I began to think just a similar our faith in God really is like riding a roller coaster. Yes, we’ve all probably used this analogy, but I think there’s more truth to it than we tend to realize.
I recall the pit in my stomach as the roller coaster slowly climbed the hill, the pause at the very top that allows the anticipation to build, and then the exhilerating free fall as the coaster raced down the track. There was the sigh of relief when it was all over quickly followed by a strange desire to do it all again. There was no real fear. There was faith of an innocent and naive child. As an adult, my experience is completely different. I see all of the ways the ride could quite literally go off the tracks. I rarely allow the anticipation to build on the way up the hill and I hang on for dear life on the way down instead of throwing my hands up in reckless abandon. There’s no real faith and there’s no real enjoyment.
So which way would God have me approach life?
Following Christ and the leading of the Holy Spirit really does feel so similar to that roller coaster ride. There are challenges and obstacles making the trek up the hill challenging and leaving us often feeling like we’re just barely inching or lurching our way up to the top. And then just when we think we’re able to maybe catch our breath from the climb, it feels as though we are hurtling down the other side barely able to hold on. Both aspects can feel exhilarating or exhausting, depending on our attitude and our perspective. Will I embrace faith like a child, which allows me to enjoy the view and long to go on the ride again? Or will I constantly assess the risk and the danger, close my eyes, and hang on for dear life essentially squashing any chance of experiencing any joy?
I want to throw my hands up, open my eyes wide, and experience life in its fullness. I want to trust the rollercoaster designer and engineer – the author and perfector of my life’s adventure. In what ways has life felt like a roller coaster for you? What feels like you’re creeping up? What has made you feel like you’re racing towards the bottom?
So it’s great to say that you and I are children of God, that we are adopted into His family. But what does that really mean? Our earthly families are so broken that it is sometimes difficult to know what it really means to act like family. Here are the top 10 things it means to be part of a family:
1. Family defends one another. My sister and I didn’t always get along growing up, which I’m sure is fairly typical of many sisters. However, no matter how mad we were at one another, we always stood up for one another. No one picked on her without dealing with me too and no one messed with me without messing with her too. We had each other’s back. We too need to have God’s back by standing up for the things that matter to him. We need to stand up and defend the poor, the widow, and the orphan. We need to love mercy, do justice, and walk humbly (Micah 6:8). We need to love everyone and judge no one.
2. Family encourages one another. In all of my endeavors, my family has always been my number one cheerleader. Whenever I doubted myself, they would believe in me all the more. In the Bible, Paul seemed to be constantly encouraging the churches and communities he visited. He modeled encouragement and he repeatedly urged Christ followers to follow his example and encourage one another in their faith. We too need to spur one another on in love (Hebrews 10:24).
3. Family accepts one another. Every family has a variety of personalities. The crazy uncle (I have many of those). The nerd (I am one of those). The jock. The fill in the blank. In my family, I was usually too serious for my own good. My sister was known as the chatterbox. And my brother kept us all laughing. My dad is always late. My mom is always trying to get us out the door. We all have our quirks and roles. And we are all accepted in spite of them. God’s family is no different. We are loved and accepted just as we are. Romans 10:12 says, “For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile – the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him.”
4. Family grows together. Although we are all accepted, we also long to grow into better people. People that look more and more like we were meant to be, more like Jesus. My parents walked along side me as life taught me tough lessons that formed my character. And when life didn’t do a sufficient job, my parents and other mentors would come along and gently encourage me in the way I should go. Proverbs 22:6 states, “Start children off in the way they should go, and even when they are old, they will not turn from it.” And as our Heavenly Father, God promises to discipline us and mold our character to look more and more like Christ. In Psalms God says, “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you (32:8).” And though discipline and character formation is not always easy and does not always feel good, when it is housed in the security of God’s love, it leads to great blessings!
5. Family delights in one another. Many of my favorite memories growing up include shopping with my family, especially my mom and sister. We wouldn’t always purchase, but even just walking around the mall provided plenty of entertainment for the three of us. On one particular trip, we ended up laughing so hard that my mom began to cry and couldn’t see and almost put the car in the ditch. My family truly loves being together. My cousins are my best friends and we laugh until our sides hurt when we are together. My aunts and uncles have invested in my life. Family delights and celebrates with one another. Family laughs together. Family enjoys being together. The Psalms repeatedly urge us to delight in the Lord and to shout for joy. The New Testament is full of examples of Jesus followers celebrating and rejoicing with one another. One of my favorite examples is when Jesus shares the parable of the lost sheep in Luke 15. When the shepherd finds the little lamb, “he joyfully puts it on his shoulders” and returns to the rest of the flock (Luke 15:5). And Scripture tells us that angels throw a party whenever someone chooses to follow Jesus. As His children, God delights and celebrates us!
6. Family also mourns together. When tragedy strikes, family comes together to cry with one another. Ecclesiastes 3 states that there is a time and season for everything, including mourning and weeping. When Jesus receives word that Lazarus has died, he stops and he weeps (John 11:35). And after Jesus’ death on the cross, the disciples gathered together to weep and mourn all that had taken place. Family supports one another and grieves with one another in the dark times.
7. Family works together. Admittedly this isn’t always the fun aspect of family, although my dad did try to make picking up walnuts in our backyard more exciting by seeing who could get the most in the bucket. 1 Corinthians 3:9 says, “For we are co-workers in God’s service…” and in 1 Corinthians 12 Paul reminds us that just like every part of the body is needed for the whole body to work well and be healthy, we all need to work together for God’s kingdom.
8. Family forgives one another. This truth is probably one of the main reasons we tend to treat strangers we don’t know with more kindness than our own family. We know there is always grace and forgiveness from family.
9. Family represents one another. Your last name represents your entire family. Good or bad, how you conduct yourself reflects on your family members. Proverbs 22:1 says, “A good name is more desirable than great riches” and Ecclesiastes 7:1 compares a good name to fine perfume. When we decide to follow Jesus and become part of God’s family, we bear HIs name and represent Him.
10. Finally, family loves one another! What does it mean to love someone? It is difficult to define! I know that it is more than a warm, fuzzy feeling towards another person. Loving someone means a willingness to care for them and meet their needs at the expense of your own. 1 John is full of commands to love each other. 1 John 4:7 says, “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” So if we claim to be part of God’s family, we must love others the way God loves us!
Family is an interesting thing. We don’t always get along with them but we love them all the same. Some of us have wonderful, loving families. Some of us have distant, hurtful families. But even the most broken earthly family should not deter us from understanding what family is supposed to be. If we are truly children of God, that makes us family. In fact, the blood of Jesus should be stronger than any earthly DNA. Unfortunately, even though we are family, so often we do not treat one another like family is supposed to treat one another.
The one thing being family is not? EASY!! Being family is hard!
However, as part of God’s family, as His beloved, we are entrusted with representing the family name. We must act like a family towards one another and we must share God’s love with those who have not yet received His offer of grace and forgiveness because that’s what our heavenly father wants us to do.
This is obviously not an exhaustive list! What does family mean to you?