As the day fades, the thoughts in my head swirl like water going down a drain. I’m not sure I can make much sense of them before they disappear. Since Sunday is getting closer by the minute, I’ve been turning the idea of family as metaphor for church over and over in my mind. Here are a few random, yet tangentially connected thoughts that I will remember better if I write them down.
I was late getting to my adolescent rebellion, so my twenties were hard on me and my parents. One of my seminary colleagues called me one day and said, “I heard your dad preach today and he talked about you.”
“What did he say?” I asked.
“He said, ‘We face two kinds of difficulties in life: problems and predicaments. A problem is something you can do something about; a predicament is something you have to learn to live with. I used to think of my eldest son as a problem; now I understand he is a predicament.’”
Since I was carrying a chip on my shoulder the size of Cleveland at the time, I failed to see the humor and the grace in his words. Since then, we’ve both learned to live with each other rather than trying to solve or fix one another. I’m glad.
Here’s a great quote from Erma Bombeck: “The family. We were a strange little band of characters trudging through life sharing diseases and toothpaste, coveting one another’s desserts, hiding shampoo, borrowing money, locking each other out of our rooms, inflicting pain and kissing to heal it in the same instant, loving, laughing, defending, and trying to figure out the common thread that bound us all together.”
In my search for quotes, one of the things I noticed was a majority of them focused on children. Neither Ginger nor I have ever felt called to have children of our own. We have amazing godchildren and have been foster parents, and we have spent a great deal of our lives helping raise other people’s children in one way or another. Family begs for a wider definition that we often give it.
I learned a new name tonight in my search for quotes: Mignon McLaughlin. Here were her thoughts on family: “Family quarrels have a total bitterness unmatched by others. Yet it sometimes happens that they also have a kind of tang, a pleasantness beneath the unpleasantness, based on the tacit understanding that this is not for keeps; that any limb you climb out on will still be there later for you to climb back” (The Neurotic’s Notebook). Both her words and the book title make me want to know more about her.
After my folks and I worked through The Hard Years, we had a conversation about how we had experienced those days. My mother said, “There were times we thought when we hung up the phone that we would never hear from you again.”
I can remember feeling surprised by her words. The thought that I could just walk away had never crossed my mind. I figured family stayed family whether I walked away or stayed. The challenge was not to find a way to escape, but a way to live with it. Dad was right: it was a predicament.
The church is a family. What then shall we say?