More important than “family”

Maybe you have heard someone say something to the effect that “there’s nothing more important than family.”  Maybe that line comes when someone must set priorities . . . or maybe a family member is going through trying times, and everyone is thinking about family loyalty.  Priorities and loyalties are good, yet family will let you down sometimes, so there is another side of this coin.

I’m actually not sure I know what a close earthly family looks like.  Last week, some correspondence from a friend got me thinking about non-family family. . . .

First—aunt who?

My wife’s extended family has a proclivity for calling everyone “aunt this” and “uncle that,” but I didn’t grow up in that familial climate.  There were on the other hand two very special people in our lives that my sisters and I grew up calling “Uncle Paul and Aunt Doris,” and when Aunt Doris died a couple years ago, it felt like a family event even though we haven’t lived in the same locality for 30+ years.  In more recent years, we have three times visited UP and AD and their daughter.  They are still “family” to us.

I’m now wondering whether we should encourage our son to call a few very special people “Uncle ___ and Aunt ___”  Based on facets of certain long-term friendships, e.g., with the friend who wrote, this “familializing” might or might not be expected.  Whereas some of our “blood” extended family really isn’t anymore,¹ some dear friends have proven to be more like family than most family, if you know what I mean.

Secondthe mortgage company was down wid dat

Once upon a time, when applying for a mortgage, I wanted to keep the payment lower, so I was looking for some additional down payment money—a “gift” that I would repay anyway.  The rule was that any such money had to be a gift from family, or it would be considered a debt, changing the debt coverage ratio.  In my case, the only viable blood-family source of funds was unwilling, so I asked some spiritual siblings, and they were willing.  The mortgage company had probably never before encountered someone like me who would go to some length to help myself financially without lying about it.  They went for it when they heard my biblically based explanation of how I viewed that Christian relationship as more significant than physical family.

Third:  those Mennonites “get it”

Another friend recently commented on my account of a visit with some Mennonites, explaining why nuclear families do not sit together “at church” in many Anabaptist traditions:

Another possible reason (as I’ve heard from some people) is to separate families.  In a church setting, families sitting together may create unnecessary barriers or distinctions between groups, when we are all brothers and sisters in Christ.  The church family is higher than the nuclear family.  That isn’t to say the nuclear family is bad, just of lesser importance when compared to the bride of Christ.

I thought that wonderful explanation was worthy of repeating here.


¹ I’m not happy about the choices a few extended family members have made—or about the relational distance on several main branches of our family tree.  It’s the way things are, though, and I’ve mostly moved on.

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4 thoughts on “More important than “family”

  1. Sandy Ellis 11/10/2016 / 8:39 am

    I fell the same way. I grew up in a small family, and we were not very close. Even though we live close to each other. I consider many of my brothers and sister more like family than my physical family. I am have felt more loved and connected to my church family than my physical family.

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    • Brian Casey 11/11/2016 / 7:30 am

      Thanks for sharing this. I obviously experience a lot of resonance with your thoughts here. In my case, the sense of a lack of close family is more about the extended family outside my family of origin, but the fact that I’m a good deal older than my sisters meant that we weren’t close for a while. I’ve grown closer to one of them in more recent years. The main point of all this (as you point out so well!) is that spiritual sisters and brothers can really be vital.

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  2. Jonna Statt 11/11/2016 / 1:05 pm

    Just read this: about the separation of families within a Mennonite setting – having done this now 15 years after never having heard of this seating arrangement, I would overall say I prefer it. When at other churches during that time with mixed seating again, we tend to notice a LOT more talking between spouses, dating couples etc. during the service -even during the sermons.

    One Mennonite told me one perk of this was that when someone is widowed, they don’t feel so much out of place sitting among their own gender, compared to sitting “alone” in mixed seating. Guess it makes sense. My parents once visited our church and did NOT like the split seating – said they are a couple and prefer to be identified as such even in church, especially since they were/are older. I can see that point as well. As a side note, when you have a larger family, as we did, it was helpful behavior-wise to have some sitting with each of us, esp. when they were younger. They do sit in mixed groups for weddings, funerals, special events, as a side note.

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    • Brian Casey 11/14/2016 / 7:43 pm

      Another friend once said something about the parenting help when children are younger — “divide and conquer”! I hadn’t thought about the widow/widower scenario, and that might be just as important a “pro.” I recall that after a man died in a longtime church servant family where I grew up, my dad (an elder) made a point to continue to include the widow and not let her feel like a misfit.

      I appreciate your sharing always.

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