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I was talking with a friend the other day, and she expressed sadness about the lack of support she was feeling from her family of origin. She and her husband were thinking about having kids, and my friend felt like they would be all alone in that process. She had an idea of what closeness and support would look like from her family, but the reality wasn’t matching what she hoped for.

I’m guessing we can all connect with my friend’s story in some way. There are probably things about our families we wish were different. Probably some of our needs were met from our families of origin, but others were not. Our ideal for what a family should look like doesn’t match up with our reality.

One thing I love about the church is I think it can make up for some of the things we didn’t get from our families of origin. If the church is functioning correctly, it can provide community, love, support, guidance, and discipline. This spiritual family can fill in the gaps where one’s family of origin couldn’t quite provide what was needed.

I think Jesus realized this reality, and there are times in the Gospels where he tries to reorient our focus from our family of origin to our spiritual family. For example, in the book of Luke, the author recounts a time when Jesus’ biological family was trying to see him, but struggled to get through to Jesus because of the crowds.

Now Jesus’ mother and brothers came to see him, but they were not able to get near him because of the crowd. Someone told him, “Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to see you.”

He replied, “My mother and brothers are those who hear God’s word and put it into practice.” (Lk 8:19-21)

It is difficult to come to the realization that one’s family of origin didn’t provide everything that was needed for us growing up, and might not match our ideal of what a family should look like now. The disappointment from this realization is real and needs to be grieved.

But as we work through this disappointment, I think it is important for us to think about how we might ‘fill in the gaps’ with other kinds of relationships and community. If you are a person of faith, I think the church is a great place to start. Often churches can provide small groups, mentors, support for physical and emotional needs, and opportunities to serve.

However, one thing I have found from going to quite a few churches over the years is that even though the opportunities to find support and community are there, you have to initiate and take advantage of them. This involves making a commitment and being okay with some risk, especially if you have been hurt in other relationships in the past. This risk might be especially difficult if you are struggling with your own family of origin, which is often our template for how relationships work. But there is also opportunity for something awesome. You have a chance to be a part of a community, a place where you can support others and be supported when you need it. You have an opportunity to be part of a spiritual family.

Discussion: How do you define family? What do you think of the idea of family of origin vs. spiritual family? How has your spiritual family been able to ‘fill in the gaps’ for the ways in which your family of origin wasn’t able to meet your needs or expectations?

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