It takes a lot to survive parenting, doesn’t it? And to survive being parented, as well. If you Google “Parenting books” – you will get 296 MILLION pages of possible responses to that. That is a lot of potential advice from a lot of potential people on parenting. So many people weigh in on parenting because the family is so integral to who we are and who we have come to be. Whether it is our family of origin, (where we came from, whether extended or traditional, functional or dysfunctional, or any of the hundred variations we experience); our family of construction (the one we create by marriage/kids/adoption) or our family of choice, (the people we choose to enter into relationships of life and love with) we know, for better or worse, what it is to belong to a particular unit that we call family.
St. Paul weighs in on the debate on how best to be a part of a family with these wonderful words to one of his families of choice at Colossae. “Put on … heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another … as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do. And over all these put on love, that is, the bond of perfection.” You see, somehow this Paul knows this truth about those intentional families that he helped to create called the church: “Families don’t just happen, they are made to happen.”
It always takes work. It’s not supposed to be easy. So when we’re struggling on some part of the journey that is particularly uphill or confusing, we hear what we are supposed to do: be compassionate, humble, patient, forgive each other; above all, love one another.
That kind of loving and living is a choice, isn’t it? A choice that we are allowed to make again and again, even if we’ve completely messed it up every day of our live and our family till now. And most of the time, the choices are not presented to us in the big moments. It is not life or death kind of decisions to clothe ourselves in this kind of mercy. Rather, it is in the small moments that we train ourselves to choose family, to choose the common good.
I was on the phone with a good friend from Texas last night. Suddenly, I heard the sound of wailing and tears approaching. “Just a minute, child situation to manage.” “What’s wrong?” I overhear. “She won’t let me watch my show” he wailed through 3 year old tears. A little wrangling and bargaining went back and forth between mom and son and daughter, and then: “It’s agreed – you both will share the TV? Good.” That is how we learn heartfelt compassion and mercy – by practicing it in those small situations.
On this day when all the church throughout the world calls us to mirror the Love of the Holy Family, and to see the journeying of Mary and Joseph as a model, we are invited to take stock in our own families, be they of origin, of construction or of choice. 296 million web pages tell us that holy families and holy friendships and holy relationships don’t just happen – they are made to happen.
In prayer this week, we are invited with St. Paul, to do a little examination of conscience. Pick one ‘family’ or family member – be it origin, construction or choice – and use Paul’s litany as a little test to see how well you are doing in making family happen. Heartfelt compassion – check. Kindness – check. Humility – check. Bearing with one another – oops: not so checked!
Because Irma Bombeck was wrong about the hope parents and children, friends and families need to keep going. It doesn’t come from the promise to ‘run away from home.’ Rather, it comes from the choice to create that home together. So, in the words of St. Paul – “get busy putting on all that heartfelt mercy, compassion, and kindness…”