Family Is Weird

Yep, family is just a little odd.

Over a fifth of people who switch churches say they did so because they did not feel “connected.” One of the top five reasons young people leave the church entirely is that they have not found the “authentic community” they seek. The main metaphor used in the Bible for church is family.

So where is the disconnect between what is meant to be, what we innately desire, and what is? Why does the church appear to be failing at one of the main things it’s supposed to be?

We want church to be family.

We want church to be community.

We want church to be sanctuary.

We want church to be home.

We want church to be the place where we are a part of one another’s lives.

Here’s the problem. In the US at least, we think being in one another’s lives is weird.

We really do. We may talk about community, but in the depths of our hearts and our convictions about other people, we believe it’s weird to want to be a serious, consistent part of another person’s life who is not related to us.

Best girl friends notwithstanding.

Family is also messy.

It’s very difficult to be family when everything in the culture around us, everything we’ve been trained in since we could say the word “playdate,” tells us that there is a line between private and public that must not be crossed, even by friends. “Friends” is a flexible term, and it rarely denotes more than meet-for-breakfast-catch-up-on-life intimacy.

People who intimately know our crazy and will drop everything on their agenda to respond to it? Rare as a dandelion in January.

Yet that is precisely the image Paul and Jesus both call us to as a discipling community (aka, a church). The church—that crazy, dysfunctional, upside-down place we call home—is supposed to be a community. And while all the buzzwords in all the places tell us the next generation, particularly, craves genuine community, I wonder if we do? Because true community gets weird.

Are we ready for church to get weird?

It’s uncomfortable to ask someone questions beyond the breezy, “How are you, how are the kids, how’s work?” Try–“How is your prayer life?” “How is that anger issue you mentioned in small group?” These do not get asked in the same manner. They seldom get asked at all. They are registered in the realm of uncomfortable and therefore unaskable.

“Talk to me about your toughest struggle right now?”

Who does that? Family does.

It’s challenging to show up and clean someone’s house or take care of her kids because you know she needs it. She won’t ask—because that also is not done. And we don’t have the courage to just do it. It’s weird.

Who does that? Family does.

It’s difficult to ask someone if she can hang out spontaneously. We know the playdate, the Starbucks catch-up, the dinner party planned three months in advance. But the random text to just be together?

Who does that? Family does.

Somehow, we in the church have convinced ourselves that being together once a week (if that) and talking about little beyond the weather will make us a family. If we conducted our own family like that, CPS would be called in. Yet we believe that miraculously God is going to take that in a church and turn it into a healthy organism.

We’re delusional.

Family is downright . . . weird.

This is not a call for more church programs.

This is not asking for more mid-week services or potlucks or classes.

It’s a plea for us to treat our Jesus family members as we would our blood family members. Even when it’s awkward.

Ask about the hard things.

Go and do the needed things.

Admit we are in need.

Stop in with dinner and stay.

Clear your schedule enough that someone could.

Do LIFE together, not programs.

People want to be part of that kind of family. People outside the church have no interest in our programs and provisions. They have a lot of interest in people who are so connected that they laugh at one another’s joys and cry one another’s tears. (Romans 12.12)

Even though it gets weird, yes, people do crave this kind of community. Maybe because it gets weird. Maybe because so much of life is sanitized and hyper-scheduled and surface, we really do crave the weird.

Three things kill this kind of community:

I’m afraid to feel weird.

I don’t want to admit my needs.

I don’t have time.

There isn’t an easy fix for these. The fix is to decide that family is more important than any of them. The goal matters more than the fear. Going first is more valuable and necessary than hanging back waiting for someone else to work the bugs out.

Family has superpowers.

So here are some ways to go first:

  • Ask someone to be your prayer buddy. Text, call, message, whatever. Regularly.
  • Make up “sick bags” that are ready to bring to someone who needs it. A mint, a puzzle book, a silly card, an Arizona iced tea (just saying, in case you’re working on one for me).
  • Drop a note of encouragement to someone.
  • Tutor a kid in church who needs help.
  • Help someone balance their budget if you can and they can’t.
  • Connect two people in your church with similar interests.
  • Help a college student write a resume. Invite her for coffee to talk about how hard it is to get a job, find community, and be an adult.
  • Kindly and humbly suggest a way to solve a problem when someone tells you her troubles.
  • Invite two people to lunch after church that you don’t know well.
  • Call someone you know is having a hard time walking with God right now. Promise to stick with him.

Are we a church, or are we a Sunday morning show? Family gets weird. Together. When you get used to it, it’s a pretty great weird. 

Course Correctors

IMG_7454.jpgWhen our daughter was in high school gymnastics, she had a great team. Without fail, the girls cheered one another on. Shouts of “You got this!” and “You go girl!” bounced off the gym walls at every meet. Other teams noted the camaraderie and envied it.

But I remember one other team. They were highly ranked. They had a reputation. They scored big numbers. The evening I sat close and watched their girls vault, I figured out why. One by one, those girls took off toward the vault and threw some tricks that, judging by the way they hit the floor and sometimes the wall, they should not have been trying. The difficulty, and subsequent scoring, were huge. The danger was, too. Their coaches, who should have discouraged trying skills that could land them in a hospital, stood at the end and cheered as the girls hit the mat.

Cheering for people is great. I love being encouraged to do hard things. Sometimes, though, the best thing we can do for someone is to say, “Um, no, you actually don’t got this. Don’t go, girl.”

We’ve been talking here on the blog about church. What it is. What is could be. What it should be. The primary thing it should be is family. Family encourages one another big time. Sometimes, though, family has to do something more difficult. Sometimes, family has to tell us the truth.

Family keeps us on course

Sometimes, your sister has to tell you not to leave home in that outfit. Or not to date that jerk. We all know that later, we are grateful. It’s a family’s job to keep the weird uncles in check so they don’t embarrass everyone too much. It’s a family’s duty to tell Aunt Ruth she needs a hearing aid because she’s talking so loudly the rock band next door can’t practice.

IMG_9313.JPGWe edit one another’s resumes, practice job interviews, and filter photos before we post them, because we want our family to be shown in their best light. Hey, if it were not for my daughters, I would still be going around in mom jeans and white tennis shoes. Family tells us the truth when we won’t look in a mirror and see for ourselves.

Note: We don’t always appreciate the truth.

If church is our family, we should be keeping one another from that terrible date.

Nudge or Judge?

When someone in our church family is going off the rails, a good family nudges her back over onto the track. Don’t miss that important word. We nudge. We don’t judge. That one letter makes all the difference in whether or not we correct one another’s courses well.

Church has gotten the reputation of being kind of judgy. Let’s be honest, it’s easier to judge someone than it is to correct them. Judging is quick. It’s easy, because we have our set of rules taped to the wall, so we know when someone has broken one. It’s painless, even a morale boost sometimes, because if we can conclude that someone is worse than we are, we feel better about our own missteps. Judging is simple. Walking with someone through resurrection is hard.

Admitting we need someone to walk with us is perhaps even harder.

Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself. Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ. If you think you are too important to help someone, you are only fooling yourself. You are not that important. (Galatians 6.1-3)

To share someone’s burden implies that we treat it with reverence and care, like it is our own. Paul’s words create a picture of someone taking another person’s error and cupping it in her hands, like a nest for a baby bird, to support and sustain until the bird is able to fly. They do not leave room for judgment. Quite the opposite.

Gently and humbly.

When is the last time someone did that for you? When is the last time you did it for someone else?

The other side, of course, is that we have to be people who learn to accept correction. We have to begin to trust our families to tell us the truth. The beginning is the most difficult; after you begin, the going on seems natural. It is. It’s the way God meant for us to be.

IMG_6928Moving from relationships based on eggshell walking or grenade lobbing takes intentional effort. It is so much easier to either skirt conflict or to take shots at one another from the safety of our own righteous foxhole. Neither one requires risking rejection. Both keep us at a safe distance. Either allows us to keep “my private life” separate and unassailable from public examination.

It’s just that Jesus never let anyone get away with that.

Gently and humbly. I keep coming back to those words. What would our churches look like if we learned to steer people away from the dangers of life and learned to submit to that steering with those two qualities?

Just Take It

Accepting course correction means giving out rights we might prefer to keep.

When I tell my family that I want to strengthen my muscles, I give them the right to ask every so often—“So, have you been to the gym?”

When I tell them I want to eat better, I freely offer them the right to give side eyes to that frozen custard stop. I’ve invited them into my life as course correctors.

When my daughter tells me she has applied for the job she wants, it’s part of my job to ask her gently, “Have you sent a follow-up yet?” I’ve earned that right after changing hundreds of diapers, wiping grape juice vomit out of the car vents, and driving to approximately twelve hundred gymnastics practices. I’ve gone the difficult distance with her.

Just Earn It

Family gets in your face when it’s for your own good. They’ve earned that right. Church families need to earn the right—by going the difficult distance with us and bearing the burdens we can no longer bear. And when they do, we learn to listen when they tell us the curve is up ahead and we’re going a little too fast.

Family asks—Have you been reading you Bible like you wanted to? What’s your progress on that temper issue you told me about? Are you working on you marriage? These are hard questions. But ultimately, they are kinder than standing on the sidelines and cheering impending disaster because that’s more polite.

Gently and humbly. Good words to ponder. Possibly to paint on our walls.

Imagine if every church became a place where everyone is safe, but no one is comfortable. Imagine if every church became a place where we told one another the truth. We might just create sanctuary.—Rachel Held Evans

Summer Fun–the Girls Pick

The prompt over at Mrs. Disciple this week is “Awesome summer memories.” I decided not to rely on my idea of what our awesome memories were but to go to the source. I asked my now-grown daughters–what are your favorite summer memories? So here they are. At least, some of them. Because we are incredibly fortunate to have more than five.

4H and the County Fair

IMG_0040Every single year of their childhood, the girls and I had a frenzied July as we tried to complete approximately 1,242 4H projects in two weeks. Signing up for so many seemed like a good idea at the time, when they were presented with all the exciting project options in September. Every year, we pledged to start right then in the fall and not be frenzied in July.

We never did.

Every year, we would show up a the fairgrounds, car loaded with matchstick Eiffel Towers and chocolate chip muffins and stools painted to match their sun, moon, and stars closet renovation. LOADED. As in two or three trips and wagons loaded with boxes loaded with . . . it was a lot of projects.

We would arrive stressed, hot, and well equipped with tape, glue, and a prayer for anything that had fallen apart during transport. (Plus the ones that, to be honest, were not quite finished when they went into the car.) Did I mention it was always HOT for those twelve trips to the car?

Every year they complained. Fussed. Said they did not want to do so many project the next year  Then they walked out with champion trophies, huge smiles, and big dreams. When it was all over and only I was left looking at the craft room filled with past plans and triumphs, thy admitted it. 4H taught them a lot. How to accept judgment, how to speak to a judge with confidence, how to make just about anything with resourcefulness and will. How to be creative, bake bread, think outside the box, and have patience.

How to completely make things up on the spot so the judge will believe you totally meant for the castle wall to cave in like that. OK, so that last skill might border on inappropriate deception. But it IS a skill.

When all the judging was over, we would ride the rides and bring loving spectators to see all their hard work and ribbons. Those were good years. Absolutely Crazy. But good.

Backyard Bonfires

IMG_6381Many a backyard fire has blazed with the branches that seem to multiply daily falling from our black walnut and elm trees. They bring family all together from whatever corner of the world we are at, drawn to the orange flicker and the smell of bratwurst and marshmallows.

Life slows down. We talk. We stargaze. We watch the bats come out and dart around above out heads, scooping up mosquitoes as we offer up our gratitude for that service.

There is something about the holding of a marshmallow over a flame, waiting for the perfect golden brown toast, that demands the slower mindset. Then there is the squishy, melted chocolate and the satisfyingly crispy-crumbly graham cracker. Summer.

Spontaneous Day Trips

Like Happy Feet, we like to be spon-tan-u-ous! There is a well-worn book on our selves called Illinois Oddities. It is what is says. A listing of places in Illinois that are random, weird, odd, and great fun. We have made it our mission to visit these places.

We have touched The Leaning Tower of Niles, mini-golfed in a  mortuary, fed coins to fire-breathing dragon, and checked out Tall Paul and His Giant Hot Dog. (Yes, that is what it’s called. Yes, we made multiple inappropriate jokes in the car.) On the docket this summer—the world’s largest red flyer wagon.

The sites are (mostly) free, it feels like a treasure hunt, and it defines our family identity. (Not  entirely sure what it says about us, but that’s OK.) All wins.

We are blessed to live near Lake Michigan and Chicago, so many trips focus either on the city or the dunes and beaches on the other side of it. Sun, sand, mud, water. The girls have fond memories of Warren Dunes in Michigan and pasting clay all over our bodies before diving into the lake. Memories we will never lose.

Homemade Fun

Making ice cream to eat on the deck, swiping away the wasps. Decorating their bikes for the 4th of July parade with whatever we have around the house that is red, white, and blue. (My craft room is never at a loss.) Looking through FamilyFun magazines to find new things to create. Those were most of our summer days.

They didn’t have the bikes with all the fancy swirly pinwheels and balloons from the party store. But they had fun. And they were their own imaginative creations. Who needs to go places and buy things when you can retreat into the sunflower tent you grew yourself?


Yes, summer reading was definitely on the menu. Isn’t i the best feeling to finish the school year and realize you can read whatever you want to for a few months? Library summer reading programs, school summer reading contests. (We always won those—inrovert girls will always come out on top in reading contests.) All great for checking out twenty book and sitting in that sunflower tent reading.

Even if, to be truthful, we never got those sunflowers to grow past a couple feet.


210 Tickets to Freedom

Linking up today with Suzie Eller’s  Live Free Thursday and its topic–“It’s just stuff.” Boy, do I know stuff . . .


Last summer, my daughter and I embarked on a second round of Jen Hatmaker’s book 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess.

We got rid of stuff.

210 items, to be exact. Each of us.

Seven things, each and every day.

The craft room purge alone was enough to fulfill the Pinterest boards of a small country.

I am a hoarder. Not bad enough to get myself on a TV show that embarrasses my children to the third generation, but a hoarder, still. I keep stuff. Too much of it.

Or maybe I just need to get this book?

For example, the five pairs of great jeans I kept for years, because some day, they would fit again. You know what I’m saying here. I loved those jeans, and they had not gotten nearly enough wear before my size, ahem, changed.

Fast forward a while. I took them out last year, after having lost weight due to illness. Tried them on, all excited to get to wear those fashionable things again. Guess what? They were huge. I saved those jeans for years, and they never, ever fit again. (Plus, the likelihood of them still being fashionable was . . . not.)

So why not give them away years ago, when they still were fashionable and someone else could have worn them? Because they were still perfectly good. The fact is, from cars to clothes to craft items, this family doesn’t get rid of anything that still works. Usually, that’s a positive trait.

But what about when it’s not perfectly good for us? See, I’ve been asking the wrong question all this time when looking at something and deciding whether to give it away, throw it away, or keep it. My question has been, “Is it still good? Can I still use it?”

I’ve transitioned into looking at it another way. To ask another question.

“Is it still good for me? Will I still use it?

Or—is it perfectly good in order to bless someone else who needs it? I can’t let go of something, even something I will never use, if it still can be used. Even if it’s a pair of jeans that was two sizes too small, and is now five sizes too big. How crazy is that?

Do not answer that question.



It makes me ask other questions. What other things can’t I let go of? If my hold on material stuff is so strong, how is my hold on other stuff? Intangible stuff that, like piles of unused clothes and craft materials, can strangle the life and sanity out of a person? Stuff that takes up too much mental space with my need to cling to it and defend my possession of it.

The need to be right.

The need to defend myself.

The fear that someone else is doing better.

The pursuit of safe work rather than the risks God wants.

Doing what’s easy rather than what’s necessary.

The defense of my time.

The right to get angry.

Are there other things I can’t let go of, even when it would bless others immeasurably if I jettisoned them ASAP?


I’m here to tell you, getting rid of stuff is freeing. My closet and my craft room and my sanity thank me. But I suspect that getting rid of mental junk is even better. I think I’m going to work on some questions to ask about that kind of stuff.

“And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.” Philippians 4.8

God Gave Me Grosbeaks

115_1579edI’m not big on signs.

Last spring, I listened to another woman talk about how God “gave” her dragonflies for a season of difficulty. Whenever something particularly hard was going on, she looked around and there one was, in real life or embroidered on pillow somewhere. It was her symbol of joy.

And I thought, how nice. If you want to believe God is sending you dragonflies when he’s got a few million other problems to be solving, great for you. Whatevs, darlin.

I was in a pretty sarcastic mood last spring.

It had been a rough spring for me, and I could feel that sarcastic shell arise. During one of the most emotionally taxing seasons I’d been in for a while, that defense mechanism resurrected as easily as an automatic garage door, like the drawbridge going up to seal off the keep from attack.

I don’t like it. Sarcasm is a useful refuge. If you put on a front that doesn’t expect much of the world, you can’t be disappointed. Pick out the flaws, expect the worst, deflect what you didn’t expect with a wry twist of the lip, and move on.

It’s a good refuge, until you feel your soul shrinking with the littleness of it all. Until you realize that the shell effects your God life, too. Ultimately, unfortunately, it’s also telling God I don’t expect much from him. That he can’t or won’t come through and I’m bracing myself for the fall.

I need rest from that kind of not great expectation.

And God, knowing well it had been a rough spring, did what God does. He loved.


I’m not sure I’m ever going to get over a God who responds to the worst of my behavior with, “Hey, here’s a big, beautiful package with your name on it because I love you so stinking much.” I hope I never get over it.

The day after the dragonflies, what happen at my house? I get grosbeaks.

Because birds are my love language.


I have a bird feeder pole outside my window. Since we had moved the furniture around after a wedding shower (moving furniture around regularly is my middle child’s superpower), my work chair sits a few feet away from it. I can see the birds’ antics all day. (This is not necessarily good for my concentration, but it is wonderful for my blood pressure.)

That week, I looked out, and right there nonchalantly dining on the sunflower seeds was my favorite bird—a rose-breasted grosbeak. I haven’t seen them in my yard in a few years. I’ve never seen one that close. I did a dance of joy in my heart. (Since a physical dance of joy right there might have scared him off.) Not only that, but yesterday, three of them showed up all at once. Three. My cup runneth over.

I get absolutely giddy over these birds. I’m sure my daughter thinks the sanity ship had finally sailed here. The joy is perhaps inordinate over three black, white, and red birds.

Except it’s not. They are a gift, and I know it. There is no such thing as inordinate joy when presented with a gift of love from the Father. There is nothing but gratitude and humbleness. And dances of joy.

I don’t have a huge lesson today. No three points. No deep theological premise. Except that it is deep, indeed, if you remember that love is the language, the message, the story arc and life breath of the Scriptures.

I can underestimate that so often.

The theologian Karl Barth didn’t consider it shallow, as it is reliably reported that, in answer to a University of Chicago student asking if he could summarize his whole life’s work in a sentence, Barth replied, “Yes, I can. ‘Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.’”

I’ll take that scholarly analysis for my own.

So all I have to say to you today is this: Don’t underestimate God’s love for you today. Find it. Know it. Do a dance of joy when you see it. Rest in it.

Jesus loves you. This I know.

This post is a part of Suzie Eller’s Live Free Thursday on rest. See her beautiful post. “Rest, so you can do.” Wisdom here.

please, rain on my parade


This week, a replay from a post a few years ago.
Mother’s Day. Love it. Hate it. I’ve done both. But one thing remains–we are all in it together.
070c8-img_3386My radio station is at it again. Every time I’m in the car, I hear one more story lately of a “supermom.” It’s their lead-up to Mother’s Day. People (and by people I mean usually offspring of the supermom) nominate a woman as a supermom, and the radio host reads her story. It’s all very touching and mostly true, I’m sure. I do get the idea. We want to honor our moms, and that’s great.

And the Winner Is . . .

Last year, the station outdid the simple story and hosted a parade honoring the one woman chosen as the superest of supermoms. Yes, a PARADE down her street and in her town. Listening to that, I wondered, is there anything I would be more uncomfortable with than a parade honoring me? Well, I haven’t yet had my first colonoscopy. Maybe that. But that, at least, comes with some measure of privacy a parade does not.
I cannot thank my kids enough for not putting my name in for that one. I know the extraverted among us might find that fun, but I would prefer a nice weekend in a cabin by the water as my prize, thank you. Not that there is much danger of my ever winning the title. I am imagining how this would go down:
Parade Host: Is there anyone here present who knows any lawful reason why Jill Richardson should not be considered for the title of Supermom? If so, speak now, or forever hold your peace.
Child #1—There was that forcing us to eat mushy spaghetti incident.
Chid #2—And forgetting to pick me up from school for two hours.
Child #3—Missing my first grade Mother’s Day program comes to mind.
The first runner up would be riding in that convertible in no time, waving at her people.
612a6-img_5361Point being, instead of feeling honored when we hear these contests, a lot of us just feel more unworthy. More pressure to measure up. More belief that everyone else is doing it better. Less assurance that we will ever succeed at this mom thing.
“Supermom” sends the message that parenting is a competition. It’s not enough to be a mom; you’ve got to put forth the the effort to get to that gold medal stand.
Can I please interject with a question—Why? Why the race to be better than other women? Why the need to prove we’ve got this under control? Why the certainty that if our kids don’t sport organic cotton playclothes with matching fedoras we’ll be motherhood epic fails? Why do we define our worth by whether or not anyone ever nominates us for supermom?
This just in: A supermom is not a woman who has perfect children. Her worth is not determined by how many awards her kid wins, what college her son gets into, how many activities her daughter participates in, the cleanliness or size of her house, or whether she volunteers for the homeless shelter, charity fashion show, and blood drive.

You are a Supermom

A supermom is a woman who shows up, every day, whether she feels like it or not, and loves and teaches her kids for another day. A supermom shows her children that greatness lies in being there for the long haul and loving hardest when the will is the weakest. Supermoms make mistakes, big ones, and ask for forgiveness. Sometimes, it gets downright messy, but you keep crawling through the mud anyway, because that’s what you do.
Supermoms show up. Every day.
  • Supermoms aren’t sure if they can love any more for one minute at the end of the day, but then they love anyway.
  • Supermoms don’t know if they’re doing anything right, but they keep doing what needs to be done.
  • Supermoms wipe up the vomit and wipe away the tears and wipe off the insecurity, whether they’re wearing yoga pants or a power suit, whether it’s convenient or not.
  • Supermoms find one more spot on the shelf for a handmade creation, count the days until those creations stop showing up, then feel guilty for rushing childhood.
  • Supermoms know that tears and smiles, laughter and sobs, are interlocked in ways we can’t understand but instinctively know are two sides of the same thing.
  • Supermoms feel like throwing it in and hitting the beach in Antigua, but then they hit the homework help and the stovetop and the after-work-school witching hour. One more time.

Let’s Voyage

There is no medal stand for mamas.

Supermoms don’t need or get parades, because they understand that this is not a competition. More like a long voyage into uncharted territory where we know it’s in everyone’s best interest to keep afloat until we get there together. Women who start taking shots at other women will soon find they’ve put cannon holes through the sides of their own ship. Women who join hands and have one another’s backs in this, their toughest adventure yet, get through the only way we can–together.

You don’t need to be a supermom. You just need to show up. One more day, one more load of laundry, one more argument mediated. One more moment to hold a hand that’s growing too fast and teach it kindness, and multiplication. That’s what you do. And you can do it. Happy Mother’s Day.


I belong to this community online. It is a crazy bunch. Brought together to launch a book, we 500 women (496 to be exact) have launched so much more in the last year. We’ve welcomed babies and fiances. We’ve grieved together at miscarriages and loss of parents. We’ve helped buy a car for a foster kid who wanted to go to college, stocked an apartment for a woman fleeing her unsafe home, and given advice on everything from resumes to mission work to sex lives. I personally traveled 3 days in a car just to meet some of them. We are a force, people.

Do you know what keeps women in this community? The sense that it is a safe place. Nearly every day, someone posts those exact words—“Since I know this is my safe place . . .”  Since they know. They know it’s a forum for their deepest hurts, their greatest dreams, and their toughest frustrations. They know that, though others may bring in disagreement, they will never dump judgment. It works for this reason alone—496 women feel safe. When has that ever been the case in any community you’ve ever seen?

I know—online communities are easier than face-to-face flesh-and-blood ones. In real life, you have to deal head on with the messy. Online, you can choose not to post the first thing that comes to mind, whereas in person, well, sometimes the stupid just comes out before you can stop it. You can see the eye rolls that get suppressed on Facebook. You can’t avoid the one person who is always so needy that she drains the life out of you.

385f9-img_5020But church is not supposed to be like that. Church is supposed to be that safe place. It’s meant to be a haven where we treat one another as if we were all patients in the same ward, all trying to learn to walk again. We cheer one another on, and we share stories of mutual need, and the steadier among us hold the weaker up until they can return the favor.

We seem to have lost our way a bit on that one.

Never speak harshly to an older man, but appeal to him respectfully as you would to your own father. Talk to younger men as you would to your own brothers. Treat older women as you would your mother, and treat younger women with all purity as you would your own sisters. (1 Timothy 5.1-2)

Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you. (Ephesians 4.32)

And he has given us this command: Those who love God must also love their fellow believers. (1 John 4.21)

So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. (Colossians 3.12)

Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor. (Romans 12.10)

How many have instead been wounded by unspoken (and unrealistic) expectations? How many have been outcast because they disagreed on issues that should be peripheral but somehow became major fault lines? How many have chosen to take offense rather than give preference (and forgiveness) to one another?

There are good reasons people don’t want to join our family.

It would be like an entire extended family getting together for Thanksgiving dinner and sitting down at separate tables. You’re wearing red, not blue. You go sit over there. You’re eating ham and not turkey. Sorry—not welcome here. You listen to Christmas carols before tomorrow. You have to go to that table over there. And you? You who actually eat tofurkey? You are out of here. Completely. Out. Side.

It’s nonsense. But it’s nonsense too many of us perpetuate every Sunday. And that doesn’t feel like a safe place.

Am I suggesting we close ranks and refuse to ever criticize any other church or church member? No, I’m not. I don’t think hypocrisy fools anyone. It certainly doesn’t help us. I believe honest, kind, public disagreement tells others that we know how to fight right. We are real. We care deeply about certain issues of theology and practice, and we will fight for them because we care, but we care more about treating one another with respect. We care more about the relationship than about being right.

33422_445689050125_6454112_nIt’s a scary world out there. People already feel there are no safe places. Think about how valuable the church could be if we became what we were meant to be—that sanctuary, in the original sense of the word, that God intended.

We can be. We must.

What does a safe family look like?

–In a safe family, things said to family stay with family. They are not gossiped about in prayer group. They are not mentioned on Facebook. They are not vaguely but obviously referenced in conversation. If a person is vulnerable enough to share, that sharing is respected in a safe family. It is valued as the treasure it is, given with priceless trust.

–In a safe family, inadequacies, failures, and fears that are bared with family stay with family. They are not treated as trivia. They are not quickly “fixed” with glib advice. They are given the respect they deserve as jewels offered with more courage than we can imagine.

–In a safe family, hopes and dreams are encouraged. They are not ridiculed as dubiously improbable. Thy are not minimized to make the dreamer more “realistic.” They are blessed and cheered and helped along with insightful advice. If the unfortunate happens and they fail, they are applauded because they tried.

In a safe family, forgiveness happens right away. Offense is not quickly taken, because we assume the best of one another. We have patience with one another’s pace of discipleship. We listen to opinions with respect, not waiting to stick in our opposing thrust. We ensure that no one is sidelined who wants to be in the game. We do not determine anyone’s merit to sit at the table and contribute meaningfully by their age, gender, physical ability, pay grade, or anything else that never seemed to matter to Jesus.

17b9e-window4There is no magic way to make this happen. We just do it. We go first. We choose to take the words of Scripture seriously and to make them our heartbeat, even if we are the only ones for a while. Others will follow.

It may hurt when you choose to forgive and no one else does. It may sting when you choose to bite back the harsh words and the other person does not. It may wound when you put someone else first and she takes advantage of that. It may bruise when you choose compassion for someone who then betrays you, and instead of giving you a high-five others say “I told you so.”

Not it may—it will. It will hurt.

But someone will notice. Someone will follow. Someone will look inside at what you’re trying to do and think, I want to be a part of that kind of family. That’s a safe place.

And you will have created a sanctuary, right there in church.