Family. A mixture of people we get and don’t get. People we like, and people we would never have chosen to be with if we had a choice. But we don’t. Because they’re family. Right?
I haven’t seen my cousin Ralph in 50 years. The moment he hit his teens he chose to stop attending family gatherings. Why? His sister tells me it’s because he feels he has nothing in common with any of us; we’re just a bunch of strangers he was randomly thrown together with at birth. Funny thing is, before he disappeared, Ralph was the only person in the family I related to; he was the person most like me.
I was a smidge more loyal. I never actually stopped attending family gatherings. However, by the time I was a teenager I’d decided my friends, the people I chose, were far more important than a random group of strangers called “family.” So I graciously tolerated “family,” but I loved my friends. And I felt positively virtuous about this (I felt positively virtuous about everything when I was a teenager).
Until one day (a day that lasted several decades) I began to realize that loving the people I chose—people who were more like me—wasn’t the virtuous path, it was the easy one. It was, in a sense, simply an extension of loving myself. Which isn’t a bad thing (friends can extend us in the best sense of the term, too).
But it’s not the whole thing.
Recently, my family got together. I watched with an anthropologist’s eye as this seemingly random bunch of people–we’ll call them the Wartzenalls–at first vacillated toward the ones they find easiest to love. But I also watched as they reached out to those they don’t find easy to love, sometimes amid hot tears and frustration. Because, while Wartzenall love might not be enemy love, it’s definitely a step in that direction.
Enemy love? You know, the kind Jesus commanded us to do (Matthew 5:43-48). It’s the hardest kind there is. It’s forcing ourselves to understand people we have no desire to understand. Why? Because understanding our enemies is the first step toward loving them. It’s the opposite of feel-good love; it’s get-down-in-the-dirt commando love. By comparison, Wartzenall love is paintball!
Still, family love, Wartzenall love, is the perfect way to train for enemy love. And for that very reason, life gives us lots of surrogate families: spouse’s families, coworkers, neighbors, church congregations. Some of these tribes might even provide opportunities to practice full-blown enemy love. If that happens, it won’t feel good. But it may just be the most important thing you’ll ever do (Jesus thought so). Why? Because it’s the only way…
To heal this broken world.