Chosen family

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I’ve been so challenged over the years by the thoughts and story of a man named Wesley Hill.  Since reading Wes’s story in the book Washed and Waiting, I have emailed  with him about various questions and observations I have had as a straight person with a growing love for the LGBTQ community. He has, over and over, graciously responded to my messages and questions.  Although our lives will probably never routinely intersect, his exhortations to view friendship and family through a different lense have stretched me. Most recently he shared in a post a small snippet of life with his “chosen family”.  Isn’t that the coolest thing about the Body of Christ? We spur each other on.

I was particularly interested in his thoughts regarding friendship. In our world today friendship is viewed as discardable, of low value compared to marriage, and a “nice option if you need someone besides your spouse for companionship.” In the church we often talk about how marriage matures, refines, and grows us into Christlikeness. And certainly that is true. But the same words can be used of deep friendships, but we are not encouraged as frequently  to foster and commit to those.

I wrote previously about a friendship that I had with a single man about nine years younger than myself. He, my husband, and I grew to be great friends. We ate meals together. We did trips together. We didn’t share a house, but we did share life in very meaningful ways. And we got a lot of questions and funny looks along the way. He and I worked hard to have solid boundaries that would protect my husband’s and my marriage, our friendship, and the reputation of our ministry. He sharpened me like few others have in my life. He confronted sin in me. His questions helped refine me. He married at age forty, and we now have the awesome privilege of living in proximity to him, his wife, and their newborn daughter. Shawn and I are committed to him in relationship, and he is to us. Often we would talk about ways that we could encourage him through his years of singleness. We clearly see that the ways that we chose to live impacted his journey. It seems like that is the way it should be: the Body being the Body to each other.

Over the last eight years, we have had the incredible privilege, again, of doing life with a single person. This time with a young woman in her twenties. We shared life and a house. We got the same funny looks and questions, but we were glad for it all. Our young friend is a celibate, gay Christian. Over the years we lived, laughed, vacationed, and watched NCIS together. And both my husband and I grew in the conviction that church families, need to be, well, families. And often we act more like distant relatives at best.

The evangelical church rightly calls single people (including  gay Christians) to remain celibate. This is a hard calling in today’s culture but not impossible. The Holy Spirit provides power and encouragement. But we, their brothers and sisters in Christ, can play a role in helping make living out the historical Christian sexual ethic both realistic and possible. We do that in the form of relationship, bonds of kinship where we call each other “family.”— our “chosen family.”

I spend time with single people every week. Most of them experience times of great loneliness. It’s simple. All of us are called to trust the Holy Spirit to meet our needs. All of us experience loneliness.  Many of us experience sexual temptation. In fact, all of our temptations are common the scriptures say.

But we have a role to play in making the unique life of being single and celibate “realistic and possible”.

Will we do it?

The church that I attend has an unusual (at least unusual to me) amount of families that do foster care, adopt, and/or have someone not part of their blood family live with them. It’s beyond cool to be a part of such a body.

But most places and people that I observe do not hold this value. Why is this?

In my humble opinion (yes, just an opinion), I think there are two primary reasons:

First, we are so busy that we could not imagine the time investment another human being would bring. Especially as they bring dysfunction and baggage (that’s why they are in foster care or out of a home in the first place).

While sharing a home these past years it has required effort on all our parts. Conflicts arise, miscommunication happens, chores need to be done, and sometimes we wouldn’t all agree. I wanted new carpet and it got voted down two to one several times! It takes time, energy, and emotional investment to integrate lives in a meaningful way. But it is worth the effort. It reflects our heavenly Father who is a pursuer.  Our Father who is an includer. He brings people into relationship, He seeks people out, He initiates, and in order to grow in His likeness we must do the same.

Does this mean that we all should be sharing a house with someone? No. But we do need to invest in relationships outside our nuclear family. Jesus clearly told His followers that His family was the ones that did his will. He had a “chosen family”.   

A second reason that we lack a value for an “expanded view of family” is that we have created an idol of the nuclear family. We place all our time, energy, and emotional resources into that basket. After all, we say, God has given me my family and children to steward and care for. I am responsible to them and to the Lord. Truth. I am responsible for the family He has blessed me with. But the heart that He’s given me can enlarge enough to encompass others.

My husband and I did not set out to influence our kids with new ideas about “chosen family”. But if you watch the ways that they live now as young adults, you will see this value in each of them. Having other significant people in our lives and in our daily routines did not detract from our attention to them. I firmly believe it enhanced all of our lives. We are all different today in ways that I believe reflect God’s desire to include primarily because we committed ourselves to the brothers and sisters that God brought into our lives.

As a church, I pray that we can repent of our idolatry of the nuclear family and become includers, become pursuers, become committed friends. I pray that in a year from now we look around our family rooms and see an expanded family, a “chosen family”.

Susan Titus