The words “marriage” and “family,” especially when paired together, sound boring. That’s not what I have in mind.
Theologian James K.A. Smith argues that the central question Jesus asked of people was, “What do you want?” So I’m going to go with that and write about what I want in a marriage and family. I don’t know whether this is what I should want or what I will want at some time in the future, but for now, it’s what I think I want.
I want my marriage and family to be intentional, welcoming, and realistic. Why intentional? Because every couple and family I respect and admire are intentional about living out beautiful and worthy values. Imperfectly, for sure, and yet they are trying, and they know the what and why of their day-to-day life. This is important to me because no matter how great my supposed beliefs and values, they don’t matter much if they don’t actually change and shape the way I live. I imagine the same will be true for couple and family life.
Two ways I’d like to practice intentionality is by being welcoming and realistic. But I’d like us to be specifically intentional about a few other things, too. For example, I want my family to be intentionally honest about where we are and clear about where we are heading. Honesty usually comes before growth, and I want my family always to be growing (not necessarily in numbers, but that’s not a bad idea altogether). I want my husband and children to know that we will value each other’s attempts to be honest, even if we don’t (and shouldn’t) always approve of what we’ve been honest about. And I desire for this honesty to pave the way to where we’re headed.
Where do I want us to head? I suppose the answer will constantly shift and adjust — along with my family. What I do know, though, is that I want our lives to be lead and kept by Jesus. (Why Jesus — with all the baggage that concept brings for many of us? Ask me sometime and I will bumble around trying to explain it.) I want our understanding of this world and our purpose in it to always be growing towards God’s good purposes and plan. I want my family to strive, yes, but also to rest and trust that the story of this world is not relying on us and our efforts.
Regarding welcome, I have in mind a two-fold kind. First, we will welcome each other and God’s presence into our family life and home. This will come before and along with our welcoming of others – both friends and strangers. Our open invitation to each other and to God (or perhaps better, our accepting of His invitation to us) will not be simply so that we can welcome others, but will be important in and of itself. I long for us to live into the understanding that genuine and true welcome extends to all — to ourselves, to each other, to friends and strangers, to animals, to the physical earth, and to God and His work in this world.
In addition to being welcoming to all, I especially think of those whose own families are unable or unwilling to care for them. I want my home to be a place these people — whether children or adults — are warmly welcomed and shown unconditional compassion. Each family has its limits, and mine won’t be an exception. My hope is that my family – as a unit as well as individuals – will remain both honest about our limits and open to how God will call us to grow, to expand.
Lastly, I want my family to be realistic. For example, “being intentional” could easily become less of a gift and more of a burden, knowing our human tendency to take good ideas and turn them into idols and ultimate goods. Or being “welcoming” could land my family in a state of emotional and spiritual exhaustion if we neglect to remember that we aren’t God, but are instead limited, imperfect human beings. But my idea of being realistic also means living in and acknowledging reality — as it is, not as we wish it were.
Being realistic means my family will be saddened, but not terrified, of the brokenness and ugliness within us and out there “in the world.” It means we will desire and pursue what is good, while knowing we will always remain works in progress in this world. When we fall, there will be grief, yes, and also space to acknowledge that we got off track. When we encounter darkness in others, or we are abused, bullied, or treated disrespectfully, there will be room for sadness, anger, even feelings of despair and lostness. And we will also hold hope and offer healing for each other, trusting that God will provide for us when we can’t care adequately for one another. When we encounter hardship individually or collectively, we will not ask, “Should we ask for help?” Instead, we will ask, “Who can help us through this? Who has gone before us and can show us the way?” So we will strive not just to be of help, but to receive help. Not just to love God and others well, but to hold open hands to receive their love.
Being realistic for me is not a cop-out on dreaming big and it doesn’t show a lack of faith in God or in ourselves. Instead, it’s a path of great hope and confidence because — to the best of our ability — we are living in truth. Sometimes truth is beautiful. Sometimes it’s so ugly we want to look away, to minimize, to shudder and withdraw altogether and play a game of pretend. But acknowledging truth in all its forms allows us to live as fully and truly as we can in this world — not fearing the moment when our charade will crumble, making us out to be a fake. Hope for a Christian family, I think, means trusting that God’s redemption of evil is actually big enough to handle anything, in the long run. That’s what I want my family, and myself, to come to believe and experience, little by little, day by day.
Also, I don’t want my family to take ourselves too terribly seriously. The freedom to laugh and enjoy ourselves isn’t beside the point.