A couple months ago on our quarterly trip to Georgia, I was amazed watching my kids with their cousins. They were running together in a park, so sweetly in line with one another, and I couldn't figure out why they get along so well. Their ages vary widely, their interests and personalities are all over the charts, they live in different states and only see each other a few times a year, and they're not even that closely related; they're second cousins, the children of my cousin. But when they're together, they absolutely love it.
So why do they love each other so much?
That's how the dynamics of cousins usually seem to be for most families, right? You're matched up with people you don't see often and whose upbringings and DNA differ enough that they don't necessarily have much in common with you. There are always quirks about your cousins that you don't appreciate (and vice versa), and almost every family gathering has at least a little bit of drama, but they are your cousins. You love each other and you look forward to those gatherings when you see each other.
So I couldn't help but wonder: why don't I adopt this mentality of "you're my family so I love you and I'm going to spend time with you" when it applies to, say, my church family?
One of the tricky things about being in a large church is that if you encounter someone you don't like, you can just make sure you don't run in the same circles as them. There are plenty of other friend groups you can join so you don't need to interact with the people who rub you the wrong way. I did this for years, mostly without realizing it, and it worked. There were people my age I knew for ten years with whom I never had a conversation.
But then we joined a much smaller church where church membership is a big deal. If someone joins the church, they and the rest of the church make promises to each other. It's not in a weird cultlike way (I've seen some creepy Youtube videos of religious initiation ceremonies), but we do make a covenant with each other and to God, like in marriage. We promise to pray for each other, to love each other, to maintain unity with each other, etc.
If I'm taking this process seriously, I really can't continue in my old ways. I've been a member of our church for five years, and as I said earlier I already had a background of disliking and avoiding people, so there have definitely been some instances in which I had to face the facts: I don't love this person, and that's not okay.
So God has had to humble me. I've had to pray, awkwardly try to initiate friendships (or at least acquaintance-ships), and think a lot about the gospel. Everything that the Bible says about God's love for me also applies to this person that I don't love yet...so it's a really good thing that God isn't as stingy with showing grace to me as I am to others. I can throw myself into the glory of being personally treasured by God, but I'm not the only individual who is treasured by God; those precious scriptures apply to all who believe in Him. If I really believe that my deep-down, defining identity is "called, beloved, and kept" (Jude 1), then I need to believe that about other Christians too. I've done a terrible job at this so far---I'm a very prideful person---but I can't even describe how joyful it was to wake up one morning and realize, "I love this person. I am so grateful this person is in my life!" when that sentiment felt quite opposite only a few months prior.
So I can't do that thing anymore where I say "Yeah, I have to go hang out with this person from church. She talks way too much so hopefully it won't take too long." I can't gossip and snicker about people to my husband as if it doesn't actually hurt anyone. And I can't ignore that nasty place in my heart where I harbor feelings of bitterness towards other people. It's not just going to affect me or the other person, but it will effect the whole church. I don't want to be outwitted by Satan; I need to be aware that one of his primary flailing-against-Jesus strategies is to cause disunity in the church (2 Corinthians 2:11.)
I really appreciate that the Bible tells stories that describe human weakness so honestly and relatably; Peter and Paul had a sharp dispute. Paul and Barnabas split due to disagreement over Mark. There was drama all over the place, and no matter how solid a church is, there will be problems, because churches are comprised 100% of sinful people. But Jesus placed such importance on unity in the church that he prayed: "that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me" (John 17:21.) The reality of our relationships with other Christians---especially those in our local church---certainly feels far-off from the love and unity within the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but Jesus asked for our unity to reflect the trinity nonetheless. So we should take that really seriously.
There's no way I could predict the reward of forming friendships that didn't exist before. I'm free to start really enjoying relationships with other Christians in my church when I acknowledge that chemistry doesn't matter, common interests don't matter, age doesn't matter. They don't need to all be my best friends---that's not even possible---but I I can't maintain beef with someone that I'm going to spend eternity with. I need to love them and desire to spend time with them, as if they were actually my family...because, according to the Bible, they are.
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My name is Hope.
I'm 25, married to a former skater dude, and raising four little people ages 1,3, and 5, and not-yet-born. I like lime green and Coke icees, and I wear my Crocs until they melt. (Florida problems.)
Quick links to some of my posts:
Articles I've Written on Other Sites:
Youth Ministry's Family Blindspot - Christianity Today