My family tree is… complicated. When people ask how many brothers and sisters I have I’m not sure how to respond: do I just say the brother and sister I grew up with, who strictly speaking are “half” siblings? Do I include the two half-sisters I’ve only met once, 10 years ago? Do I count the two half-brothers who I’ve never met or spoken to?
“A brother and sister,” I say, hoping my hesitation wasn’t too obvious. “Both younger.”
Being a member of a church which places such emphasis on families is really painful sometimes. Like, having to leave the room/building/location painful, and instead aiming for somewhere where I can cry, pour my grief and hurt into the heavens, and try to stop my blood booming in my ears and cheeks. I can understand teaching the ideal, to have a goal to aim for, but I also appreciate living with the realities.
Living with the reality that you will never see your parents in the same room again. Hoping that you will never see your parents in the same room again. The reality of divorce making families bleed and fracture, and the equally viable reality that divorce can be the healthiest outcome for a family. The reality of my family looking like one Mum, two sons and a dog. The death of family members, and family feuds, and step-whoevers that all bring their own ingredients to the family recipe. There’s the reality of not going to church one Sunday because you’re with one parent, the reality of not having either parent going to church anymore, and the reality of being the parent yourself to your siblings, your Mum, your Dad, your best friend, someone or yourself. The reality of yelling, of bruises, of no lunch money and suspicions. We all live with the reality of so many problems, challenges, scarcities and abundances which make families such a complicated, wonderful, terrible and heart-ransoming mess.
No family is perfect, no matter how it looks from the outside, and this truth is spoken about at General Conference. We know the truths about our own families, and they are worth their own weight in wonder, endurance, devotion and disaster. You are not alone in looking at the photos, the Sunday School lessons, hearing the sacrament talks, watching the people at church and thinking “That’s nothing like my family.” You’re not alone in thinking that, and here is the truth which should come straight after that thought – “and that’s a fantastic thing.”
Fantastic because you have a wealth of data to examine and apply in your own life. How someone talks to calm another, at all the different styles of being brother, sister, mother, father, grandparent, friend and adopted family. It’s fantastic because you can identify what you want to be like, what you want to be different, with concrete examples to base it off and you can start now. It’s fantastic because you can look out and recognise the secret language of other people’s hurts, disappointments, struggles and family dynamics, and you can use that in planning your future, and for reaching out. I have sought out good friends to share my family disasters with, and they have cried with me, cheered me on, laughed at the insanity and the strange things I’ve done to cope with the craziness, and I’ve been grateful to do the same. There is warmth and refuge in the saying that you can’t choose your family, but you can choose your friends.
No family is spelled perfect. Christ himself had a different family set up and set of circumstances, and He cares about yours as well. You are not alone. You have the best big brother ever known in the Saviour, who will always listen, and you have so many people around you cheering you on no matter what your family situation. Family isn’t spelled P-E-R-F-E-C-T but you, dear one, are spelled W-O-N-D-E-R-F-U-L.
What does your family look like? What do you find difficult or wonderful about being part of a family-focussed gospel?