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I was talking with a friend the other day who was frustrated with his holiday experience. The bottom line was that it was difficult to spend time with his family. Family members were contentious and didn’t love each other well. My friend had an idea in his mind about what family time should look like, and his expectation wasn’t met. My friend left his family gathering disappointed.

I was talking with another friend who found out this year that he and his wife couldn’t have children. They had longed to have kids, and had pursued various options, but it just didn’t work. They had an idea in their mind about what they wanted their family to look like, but the reality of what was happening wasn’t lining up, and they were disappointed.

Family rarely meets our expectations. There’s always disappointment. Maybe your parents didn’t give you the love you needed. Maybe some of your deepest needs for affirmation went unmet. Maybe you were hurt or abused by your family. Then we grow up and try to create a family of our own, and that process doesn’t meet our expectations either. Maybe you long to get married and have a family, but you just spent another holiday season as a single person. Maybe you are experiencing the sting of separation or divorce. Maybe you are trying to have children but it isn’t happening, or you have kids but they are struggling.

What do we do when our family doesn’t meet our expectations? One thing I love about the church is it has the potential to redefine family in a new and life-giving way. There’s a cool passage in the Gospel of Mark where Jesus talks about how he redefined family.

Then Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone in to call him. A crowd was sitting around him, and they told him, “Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.”  

“Who are my mother and my brothers?” he asked.

Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother” (Mark 3:31-35).

When we are struggling with disappointment from our family of origin, it can be helpful to think about how the church and close friendships could redefine family for us. What would it look like to let your “chosen family” meet some of your needs for love, intimacy, connection, and support?

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