Friday, 27 May 2016

Love God = hate your family?!

A couple of weeks ago a small group of friends, all dads with young-ish (and rapidly growing) children, met together to chat. Nothing unusual in that, especially with curry involved! But what was more unusual was that we had come together to talk about being a dad - to share, with as much honesty as we could manage, the joys and the struggles of parenting, how we've been shaped in it by experiences long past and more recent, and how we might try to do it as well as we can. It was a fascinating conversation, and hopefully the first of many. Perhaps most interesting was that it brought to the surface tensions that we wrestled with, not just between our best ideals and the imperfections of reality, between the various senses of vocation in our lives.

Love God = hate your family?!

We recalled Jesus' harsh words in Luke 14:26: "If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters - yes, even his own life - he cannot be my disciple." The 'cost of discipleship' might sometimes be great - but hate your family?! Jesus is speaking in hyperbolic language, of course, and we had a sense that this is, first and foremost, a call to resist idolising. Following Jesus, loving God, seeking the kingdom, must come first - and nothing else must fill that place. We can (and culturally, often do) place 'family' in the place of God - as the ultimate source of our security, as our ultimate goal in life, as the locus of our meaningful relationships, and so on - and such idolatry can destroy us all. Jesus' words must shock us out of such idolising. But...

Love your neighbour = love your family?

I resist the expression 'charity begins at home' like the plague. It's normally said to argue that generosity shouldn't be extended anywhere else but the home, or 'our community', or 'our country'. 'Look after our own first' usually means not looking after 'others' at all. It's an expression that comes out of a worldview of scarcity and competition, rather than abundance and sharing. But if what if we took 'charity begins at home' more at its word? What if home and family, in whatever form we our lucky enough to have them, offer us a 'school' for love - a place to learn it, practise it, get it wrong and learn from our mistakes - a training ground for loving in the wider world? The particular gift of family (however difficult that gift is, often, to receive) is that we're stuck with them for life - whether through the commitment of marriage, or the 'givens' of parents, siblings and children. And if we have a lifetime with these people, then we have a lifetime to be able to learn the art of loving them.

Vocations in harmony - or tension?

I floated a suggestion, offered to me by a wise friend, that if our various vocations are given to us by God, then they shouldn't conflict. I'm afraid to say that none of us, in our little group of dads, was terribly convinced. Managing tensions between our different vocations seemed to be an inextricable part of our lives - in particular the tension between loving our family and loving our other neighbours (both locally and wider): both loves are 'good', both we acknowledged as callings from God, but they often seemed to pull in different directions on our time, energy and attention.

I've been thinking about our conversation a lot in the days since that evening. I don't feel like I have many gems of wisdom yet, but it feels important to try and get dads (and perhaps men more generally) together more often for these kind of conversations, as I have a feeling we men tend to be rather less well-equipped for them (or more resistant to them, perhaps) than women.

For the moment, I have some emerging questions that might just help me navigate some of those tensions between the different calls on our time, energy and attention. They probably need refining, and adding to, but they feel like a place to start...
  • Vocation - am I called to this? with all that I am?
  • Responsibility - how much of the responsibility for this rests with me? who else is it (or could it be) shared with?
  • Strain - is something (or someone) under strain here? is there a 'clear and present danger' of something (or someone) breaking?
  • Possibility - can I contribute meaningfully here and now?

I wonder what wisdom you can bring to this - as male or female, whatever the makeup of your particular 'household' might be? I feel like I'm just a beginner, with much to learn!


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