‘You can choose your friends but you cannot choose your family.’ This old saying assumes that families are necessarily biological—that blood or DNA is what connects people into families. But this is not completely true. There are many other kinds of families not biologically connected. There is no doubt that people can have very deep feelings about those with whom they are biologically related.
In our immediate family there were two adopted children along with two ‘home -grown’ children. We have always told them that families are made by covenant—by decision and promise-- more so than by blood relationship. My wife and I are not blood related for example I explained.
Furthermore, all the members of the family have to remain in the family by decision and promise if the family is to stay together. Anyone can leave the family if they decide not to be part of it. That includes the parents as well as the children.
People talk about family relationships in ways that go far beyond biological relationship. There are ‘sorority sisters’ and ‘fraternity brothers’. Even gang relationships are described as brotherhoods and sisterhoods. Any veterinarian could tell you how people describe their beloved pets as family members and grieve their loss as much as if they were human. Commitment to love and respect other beings knows no bounds and family is a good term to use in recognizing the relationships when they are made and the implicit or explicit promises kept. Decision and promise—covenant in other words—is the most important element in many, many kinds of family.
One is reminded of Jesus saying ‘Whoever does the will of God is my brother, sister and mother’, (Mark 3:35) and St. Paul saying ‘All who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God’. (Romans 8: 14) In the broadest sense, the family of humankind is made family by the presence and activity of the Creator Spirit received and expressed by all people in different ways.
Decision and promise occur whenever the Spirit of love comes like a wind that fills our sails and moves us to commitment, or when the Spirit comes like fire that warms our hearts and bodies, or when the Spirit comes like fresh spring water to give life in otherwise dry and thirsty souls, or when the Spirit comes like rock that strengthens our affections and holds our commitments steady. The Bible speaks of the Spirit in these terms. The Spirit comes to us, not of our own making, as it allows our decisions and promises to make us members of a great diversity of families.
A great theologian, Soren Kierkegaard, has claimed that the worst failing of humankind is forgetting the good that needs to be remembered. Family Day is the occasion to remember the goodness of the great variety of families that we have decided and promised to be part of.
Paul Newman is a retired minister of The United Church of Canada
You can read more articles on our interfaith blog, Spiritually Speaking, HERE
* This article was published in the print edition of the Times Colonist on Saturday, February 16th 2019