As I was seeking Christ in college–getting to know who He was–I had the privilege of going to one of the most sacrificial churches on the planet. I marveled at the way adults with full-time jobs would come to the church after work and stay until all hours of the night on weeknights to build sets, clean rooms, prep coffee, do data entry, bring meals to the worship team or a myriad of other services that kept our church of 3,000+ members up and running and beautiful.
It was awesome.
However, without the truth of the Holy Spirit in my mind and heart, sometimes I misinterpreted their zeal for The Lord as a despise for other things. I couldn’t comprehend that the sacrifice and love could coexist. My little shriveled heart just wasn’t big enough to imagine that. So in the midst of all that sacrifice, this is what I saw: parents missing their kids baseball games to lead Lifegroups, college students skipping family vacations to go on church retreats, and people moving to Lexington from as far away from home as Australia in order to be a part of the ministry of our church. There was one resounding theme here, and the way my heart interpreted it was this: “Family doesn’t matter to Jesus.”
I knew He cared about His church. I knew He wanted us to serve Him. I knew we were called to be a selfless people, giving of our time and our hearts to “reach the lost.” All of this seemed to come at the cost of one thing: loved ones; and frankly–I felt like Jesus really didn’t care about mine or anyone elses. It seemed like He cared about us doing His will, and didn’t give a you-know-what if anyone around us was hurt in the process.
Maybe the root of this false understanding was this verse:
“Anyone who comes to me but refuses to let go of father, mother, spouse, children, brothers, sisters—yes, even one’s own self!—can’t be my disciple. Anyone who won’t shoulder his own cross and follow behind me can’t be my disciple.” – Luke 14:26,27
I always read that and thought: “Gee, well I guess following Jesus means I start to love my dad and mom and sister less. I can only love Jesus. I can’t love them as much as I love Him.”
That’s not what the Lord, in this verse, means at all. Particularly, because in this verse, He’s not talking to those who are already following him. He’s talking to people who want to be His disciples–people who are seeking. People like you and me before we decide to follow Christ.
When we make a commitment to follow Christ, we have to be willing to give up everything. Jesus names our family members and “even one’s own self” in this passage because he knows that typically, those are the things closest to our hearts. He’s saying, “listen, for me to come into your heart and be Lord of your life, you’ve got to be willing to let go of everything. You’ve got to be able to make me, not yourself, not your mom, not someone’s opinion, your number one.”
The beautiful paradox of that is that once we do surrender to Christ and his love fills our hearts, we don’t hate our families at all. In fact, we begin to love them in ways we never thought possible. I love my family more now as a Christ follower than I ever did in the 22 years before that. I love my family in a way that I can’t explain–the way that would compel you to take a bullet for someone. They are the only ones I’ve ever experienced this sort of love for.
What I’ve been learning in this season, is that family matters to Jesus.
Remember that annoying genealogy in the beginning of Matthew? You’ll probably be reading it soon if you, like me, read the Christmas story every advent. I was reading (more like struggling to make through without falling asleep) it one day
Abraham had Isaac, Isaac had Jacob, Jacob had Judah and his brothers, Judah had Perez and Zerah (the mother was Tamar), Perez had Hezron, Hezron had Aram, Aram had Amminadab, Amminadab had Nahshon, Nahshon had Salmon, Salmon had Boaz (his mother was Rahab), Boaz had Obed (Ruth was the mother), Obed had Jesse, Jesse had David…
And so on and so forth. “Why in the world did you include this in the gospels, Jesus?” I asked Him one day, half joking.
Clear as day I heard The Lord say back to me, “because family matters to me.”
My heart started beating fast as I thought about his words. Could it be true? Could it be that He really does share this crazy passion for family that I have? Maybe family isn’t this necessary item of collateral damage of following Jesus afterall?
The Holy Spirit brought to my mind Noah’s family on the arc. The blessing of the family of Jacob. The reunification of Joseph and his brothers. David and Solomon and the kings of Israel. Ruth and Naomi. Jesus and Mary and Jesus’ cousin John the baptist. Peter and Andrew. And list after list after list of family histories found in the Old Testament that his people had faithfully and painstakingly copied down through the ages.
I realized in a moment that the Bible was smack full of value given to family. It’s why, after all, Jesus turned the water into wine at the wedding of Cana. Not to make some sort of reference to the legitimacy of drinking alcohol (yes, I used this argument on my parents many a time before I was 21), but because He didn’t want to embarrass His mother, His cousins, or any of the family of the bridegrooms party. It flat out mattered to Him that those around Him were not put to shame.
It’s why I’m in Charlottesville spending time with my family right now. I was the one prepared to move far away, and instead, he brought me really close. It is a huge gift in my life in this season because to my heart, it is Jesus saying, “No, this really, truly matters to me Molly.”
You can really trust Him that family does. He is so good y’all.