Family Mails Tic Tacs
Last month, my youngest daughter and I put together twelve envelopes addressed to her bigger sister. We filled them with random things normal people do not seal into an envelope and mail. Jolly Ranchers. Coloring notepads. Swedish Fish. Sparkly pens. I spent four dollars to mail a box of Tic Tacs. The plan was for big sis to receive one every day for two weeks. We sealed, numbered, and stamped them. Mischief managed.
Normal people may not do this, but we do, because one family member was hurting badly, and two far away from her tried to make her hurt a little less. Because that’s what a family does.
Over a fifth of people who switch churches say they did so because they did not feel “connected.” One of the top five reasons young people leave the church entirely is that they have not found the “authentic community” they seek.
They haven’t found a family.
Yet the main metaphor used in the Bible for church is family.
It has been estimated that in the New Testament, sibling terms for believers are used 161 times. Parent/child terms beat that at 193. The Pauline epistles are filled with references to believers as all equal heirs of their Father, struggling to create a family out of the disparate, crazy-quilt conglomeration of people that was the early church.
So where is the disconnect between what God means us to be, what we innately desire, and what is? Why does the church appear to be failing at one of the main metaphors it’s supposed to live out?
Maybe, it’s not entirely the church’s fault.
We want church to be family.
We want church to be community.
We want church to be sanctuary.
We want church to be home.
We want church to be the place where we are a part of one another’s lives.
Here’s the problem. In the US at least, we think being in one another’s lives is weird.
We really do. We may talk about community, but in the depths of our hearts and our convictions about other people, we believe it’s weird to want to be a serious, consistent part of another person’s life who is not related to us.
Best girl friends notwithstanding.
It’s very difficult to be family when everything in the culture around us, everything we’ve been trained in since we could say the word “playdate,” tells us that there is a line between private and public that must not be crossed, even by friends. “Friends” is a flexible term, and it rarely denotes more than meet-for-breakfast-catch-up-on-life intimacy.
People who intimately know our crazy and will drop everything on their agenda to respond to it? Rare as a dandelion in January.
Yet that is precisely the image Paul and Jesus both call us to as a discipling community (aka, a church). The church—that crazy, dysfunctional, upside-down place we call home—is supposed to be a community. And while all the buzzwords in all the places tell us the next generation, particularly, craves genuine community, I wonder if we really do? Because true community gets weird.
Are we ready for church to get weird?
Family Asks Weird Questions
It’s uncomfortable to ask someone questions beyond the breezy, “How are you, how are the kids, how’s work?”
How is your prayer life?
How is that anger issue you mentioned in small group?
What was your takeaway from that sermon?
These do not get asked in the same manner. They seldom get asked at all. They are registered in the realm of uncomfortable and, therefore, “unaskable.” When was the last time someone said, “Tell me about your toughest struggle right now?” and genuinely wanted to know?
Who does that? Family does.
Family Does Weird Stuff
It’s challenging to show up and clean someone’s house or take care of her kids because you know she needs it. She won’t ask—because that also is not done. And we don’t have the courage to just do it. It’s weird. But what if we did?
Who does that? Family does.
Family Makes Weird Commitments
It’s difficult to ask someone if she can hang out spontaneously. We know the playdate, the Starbucks catch-up, the dinner party planned three months in advance. But the random text to just be together?
Who does that? Family does.
Somehow, we in the church have convinced ourselves that being together once a week (if that) and talking about little beyond the weather will make us a family. If we conducted our own family like that, CPS would be called in. Yet we believe that miraculously God is going to take that in a church and turn it into a healthy organism.
This is not a call for more church programs.
This is not asking for more mid-week services or potlucks or classes.
It’s a plea for us to treat our Jesus family members as we would our blood family members. Even when it’s awkward.
Ask about the hard things.
Go and do the needed things.
Admit we are in need.
Stop in with dinner and stay.
Clear your schedule enough that someone could.
People want to be part of that kind of family. People outside the church have no interest in our programs and provisions. They have a lot of interest in people who are so connected that they laugh at one another’s joys and cry one another’s tears. (Romans 12.12)
Even though it gets weird, yes, people do crave this kind of community. Maybe because it gets weird. Maybe because so much of life is sanitized and hyper-scheduled and surface, we really do crave the weird.
Three things kill this kind of community.
I’m afraid to feel weird.
I don’t want to admit my needs.
I don’t have time.
There isn’t an easy fix for these. The fix is to decide that family is more important than any of them. The goal matters more than the fear. Going first is more valuable and necessary than hanging back waiting for someone else to work the bugs out.
So here are some ways to go first:
- Ask someone to be your prayer buddy. Text, call, message, whatever. Regularly.
- Make up “sick bags” that are ready to bring to someone who needs it. A mint, a puzzle book, a silly card, an Arizona iced tea (just saying, in case you’re working on one for me).
- Drop a note of encouragement to someone.
- Tutor a kid in church who needs help.
- Help someone balance their budget if you can and they can’t.
- Connect two people in your church with similar interests.
- Help a college student write a resume. Invite her for coffee to talk about how hard it is to get a job, find community, and be an adult.
- Kindly and humbly suggest a way to solve a problem when someone tells you her troubles.
- Invite two people to lunch after church that you don’t know well.
- Call someone you know is having a hard time walking with God right now. Promise to stick with him.
Family gets weird. Together. When you get used to it, it’s a pretty great weird. Maybe someone will even send you Tic Tacs!