During the holidays we often gather with family. What does it mean to be a family? What makes a family?
Today as we look around we can see that families come in all shapes and sizes. Families often have economic, physical, emotional and psychological challenges. What they have in common, however, is love and respect that holds them together at their core. On the other hand, we often find people connected as a clan or group who claim a common genetic lineage. But there may be abuse, lack of respect or disregard for anyone else. I question whether this is actually a family in a true sense of the word.
Although our culture puts great weight on genetic links, choosing genetic links as a definition of family is really arbitrary. For example, where should we make the cut-off for genetic linking? Those one genetic link away? Two genetic links away? Three? In truth we are all connected and all part of the human family. Believing otherwise breeds tribalism and elitism.
Today is the feast of the Holy Family. What does it mean to be a holy family? It seems to me that those who are families of holiness for us, love and respect who we are as persons, encourage and support us and are open to listening and sharing with us. If we are lucky these individuals may also be part of our genetic family of origin. If we weren’t so lucky then, as adults, we must create a family of choice for ourselves.
In the end, families are our first experience in creating strong, rich and deep relationships. Think of the adults who most impacted you as a child. Did you have a teacher who took an interest in you? Maybe a neighbor opened her home to you? Throughout my childhood I remember well four women who gave me their time, care and attention. In celebrating families, we can celebrate those who bring out the best in us, stand by us and love us.
The experience of family is the foundation by which we develop the ability to move out into the world as adults. This movement out into the world brings us the maturity to see beyond ourselves, work for change in the world and enrich who we are with diverse connections and transformative relationships. In the end, these relationships will enrich and develop our personhood as we change the world. They help us to see in ourselves a vision of who we are and who we can become.