Ah, yes, one of the great joys of summer is the time-honored tradition of the family vacation. It’s tolerable-to-good when it’s your immediate family, but adding the extended family creates an entirely new element.
Imagine our hesitation when we found out that this year’s family vacation would include a family that is only our family in a technical sense.
My father-in-law, Bob, remarried two years ago to a lovely lady named Marie. This was difficult, although not unexpected, after we recently lost Tracy’s mom to cancer at a young age. We were not opposed to this in the least , but the change felt very raw to us.
This had absolutely nothing to do with Marie and her family, and everything to do with the struggle of adapting to the loss of someone that was a part of just about everything in our lives, even from a distance. “Honey” (as our children call her) still remains vital and fresh in our memory.
This year, Bob and Marie decided that it would be great for all of Bob’s side to get together with all of Marie’s side for a beach vacation.
“Skeptical” would be an understatement for my initial thoughts on this event. Who are these people? Other than the fact that our parents got married late in life, did we have anything in common? Would there be official referees to monitor all activity and interaction as 26 people live together in one big house, for an entire week?
Okay, we’re all adults here, right? Can we act like it for an entire week? Better yet, could I act like one for that long?
Marie has four children, with spouses and grandchildren to boot, which put us in the minority. All of us tend to be nervous when we’re outnumbered, even by people who are nice.
This had all the makings of a fiasco…except, it wasn’t. In fact, it was quite the opposite. It turned out to be one of the most enjoyable vacations we’ve had in a while. No, it wasn’t restful with 26 people in one house, but it was enjoyable.
We started to reflect on why the week was such an overwhelming success. The primary answer was pretty simple: Marie’s family showed up determined to make it a success. Oh, I doubt that they talked about it in those terms, but they reflected it in their attitude.
In fact, they taught us a few lessons, several of which would benefit most Christians and churches. They didn’t talk much about politics. They didn’t talk about religion. They didn’t discuss Hobby Lobby or Super PACs or President Obama or the Koch brothers. It became pretty clear that they understood something we could all stand to learn: Our time together is too valuable to spend it arguing about things that we cannot change!
But it was beyond that. They just approached everything with an attitude of helpfulness and cooperation that might be considered extraordinary. As a matter of fact, they might have been a little too helpful at times. We felt like we didn’t do quite enough to help with meals, clean-up, hauling stuff to the beach, etc.
We also noticed that they spent more time listening than talking! (What a novel concept!). They asked us about our jobs, lives, hobbies and habits. And they actually listened to our answers, instead of thinking about what they would say next. We might be stunned at how people changed their perspective on Christ, if Christians would take that same approach.
Granted, we went into this looking to make the best of it. But the approach of our new relatives certainly made it much easier to have a positive attitude. Isn’t it amazing how situations can change, simply based on our attitude going into them?
There is significant talk around our church—and many churches—about the fear of the unknown future. We are afraid of being outnumbered. We look at new situations with dread and apprehension. We are terrified of losing our habits and traditions if we submit to the changes that God is calling us to make.
But how good would these changes be if we went into them with the right attitude? We might quickly realize that we have no reason to fear. We might find that we have friends and family in unexpected places, if only we would make a conscious decision to welcome others into our hearts and lives.
Jesus warns us, all over the Gospels, to go into our relationships with an attitude of true hospitality. He tells us that how we welcome one another is a statement about our true character (Luke 7:36-50), and He rebukes those who refuse hospitality to others (Mark 10:13-16).
Resistance to change almost always involves a fear of loss. We dread the idea of trying something new because we fear that we will lose the control that we have when things stay the same.
But we didn’t lose any more of our “Honey” on this trip. Our memories with her—and sadly, that is what we have left—are as solid and secure as ever. Those memories were honored by welcoming new people into our lives.
And it is critical to keep in mind that we dishonor the Christ that we claim when we refuse to embrace people for any reason, particularly others that bear His name as well.
It’s all about attitude. If we go into new adventures and relationships with a mindset to make it work, we give the Holy Spirit a chance to introduce us to some new and wonderful things. If we close our hearts and minds before we even get started, then we shut off the work of the Spirit before it even begins.
So thank you to Marie’s family, for your willingness to embrace the new and the heart to make sure it went well. Thank you for valuing relationships and other people above yourselves.
But most of all, thanks for giving me some great sermon material for the rest of the summer.