– By Carolyn Weber
“Each home has its unbelievers and its believers; and thereby a good war is sent to break a bad peace.” St. Jerome’s words remind us that bringing the peace of God to the family table can be anything but, well, peaceful.
Reconciliation with God, and with one another, can run the most difficult in families, perhaps because families are such loaded relational nests. I am convinced this is why Shakespeare, for instance, literally set his timeless plays within family dramas.
In my Faith Today article “Coming Home as a Follower of Christ,” I coined the term “localization of grace” to express how we are called as believers to witness Christ’s love near as well as far. On the home front as believers among unbelievers, we often face the choice: a good war or a bad peace?
At first glance, especially for those who may not have grown up in a household knowing Jesus, sharing our faith among loved ones seems like it should come easily – until one tries to do it. But being “safe” and being “saved” are not synonymous. Global ministries are essential to the Great Commission, and to the extension of compassion and responsible sharing of resources among citizens of the world. But it is equally important to stay still and do so as well. Each realm of witnessing comes with its own travails and rewards, but often times, I think, the homecoming of the Gospel gets especially shortchanged by our fears stemming from, ironically, loving and being loved. In families, the stakes may seem higher because the rejection feels more personal and permanent: from our own doorsteps, it can be much more difficult to shake the sand from our sandals and move on.
How, then, do we cultivate this localization of grace?
Loving family as God would have us love can be a double-edged sword. The language of Revelation shows us, however, that truth comes from such wielding. Having someone who insists on loving you because you are “family” is a good thing: so much so, that the Lord came incarnate to convey such (after He made mothers, of course). As Messiah, He adds a new commandment: “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (Jn 13: 34-5).
A school principal of mine used to say: “If we each sweep before our cottage door, the entire village will be clean.” To a bunch of 8th graders, his refrain was usually met with eye rolling since it implied that we had to get cracking and tidy up our explosion of wintry boots, mittens, hats and Flash Dance legwarmers (this was the 80’s after all) from the school hallways. It wasn’t until much later, however, when I finally realized that for a Christian the saying had very little to do with actual dust on doorsteps and more to do with my own spiritual housekeeping.
Scripture shows us how to keep house: honour our parents, support our local church, trust in the parable of the mustard seed, in the fact that a little yeast goes a long way in the family dough. And pray, pray, pray. Praying unceasingly comes sorely underrated. Prayer, I’ve learned, is the one thing you can multi-task with successfully. It is also the least offending and most unassumingly powerful force of all.
But what happens when families cause great pain? For some, family might even qualify as the enemy. C.S. Lewis finds relief in the duty to love one another and pray for our enemies (Mk 12:30-31; Matt 5:44): “’Love your neighbour’,” as he explains, “does not mean ‘feel fond of him’ or ‘find him attractive’ … nor saying he is nice when he is not … this means loving people who have nothing lovable about them. But then, has oneself anything lovable about it? You love it simply because it is yourself. God intends us to love all selves in the same way and for the same reason: but He has given us the sum ready worked out in our own case to show us how it works. We have then to go on and apply the rule to all the other selves.”
Living out our faith among those closest to us first teaches us myriad ways of important loving: loving others when it comes easily, loving others whom we may not deem loveable, and finally, loving others when we are not in the mood. Forgiveness extended at home allows us to move more freely in our world. We need to remember to pass the peace to those with whom we live most closely, and who thereby see us at our worst. Lord knows as a result, they may be the most in need of such peace.
The localization of grace is essential to the extension of grace among and through the church as Christ’s body. “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace” (Colossians 3:15). Through His peace as our will, the Lord redeems even our pride of self-preoccupation for the good of His kingdom. What we cultivate in our hearts shapes our homes and extends to our world.
Praise Him indeed that a good war for a good peace is relative until all is restored.
Carolyn Weber is the author of the memoirs Surprised by Oxford and Holy is the Day. She lives in her hometown of London, Ont., with her husband and four children.