Once, many years ago, I heard an uncle make a disparaging remark regarding my mother-in-law. Now, this was her brother-in-law, who I thought was very supportive of her. After all she had been widowed when she was young, in her 40s with two young children. She kept her family together and always held their best interests above her own, but gave in to no one, but God. He, the brother-in-law, on the other hand, had everything: an education, a wonderful career as an engineer in his hometown, a loving wife and family, and never wanted for anything.
His comment was that she was “working her way into heaven,” because she was devoted to her church family, too. I thought this was very thoughtless and mean-spirited of him, and (yes, I might have told you I forgive, but I don’t forget) I’ve never forgotten it. I’ve mulled over it, and yes I’ve forgiven him for this and other questionable comments, but I really just pity him and anyone else who criticizes those of us who hold our faith very dear to us.
But it also brings me to another thought. Sometimes I’m on the fence about those who seem to spend so much time with their church family that it seems they forsake their earthly friends and family. I’ve thought that about a couple of folks, particularly my own mother. She attends church services Sunday morning, Sunday night and Wednesday night; joins her church women’s group at least once a month if not more often; and joins in a Bible study group regularly as well. Add to that the social events, the funeral lunches she helps with, and it’s a very full schedule.
I call her to check in with her several times a week, since we live three hours apart, and she fills me in on the lives of her church family, most of whom I don’t know at all. It’s an exercise in patience, but I let her go on because she cares about these people and she wants to share. I’ve actually asked about some of the folks, because she speaks about them so often. And I’ve begun to understand and appreciate the importance of them for her. She lives with my older sister who does not have a church home, and does not attend. She’s a believer, but doesn’t have the same level of faith my mother holds. I believe that mom is seeking that bond with someone and that someone right now is her church family, whom she can see regularly. She’s close to her other peers and family as well, but doesn’t get to see them as often.
The conclusion I’ve drawn from this is that it’s important to hold your faith family close, but not to forsake your earthly friends and family (especially those of other faiths or no faith at all) as well. It’s equally important for the rest of us to understand the importance of that family of faith to your loved one. It may seem that they are forgetting the family of origin, or the friendships beyond the church. But, what it really may be is the need to be built up in the faith.
This can be as true for our aging parents as it is for our children, as they reach adulthood and the need to find their own way spiritually. They’ll always love you, but need to grow in their faith and the faith family can help them to do that. Give them the space to experience that growth, and allow them to embrace that part of their lives, even if it’s not within the faith home you hold dear or beyond your understanding of faith at all.