“So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God…”Ephesians 2:19
“For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name.“Ephesians 3:14
No one can pronounce my last name. Growing up, the first day of school was a comedy routine of teachers trying every possible pronunciation, inserting letters that didn’t belong, inventing new sounds, and ultimately just getting interrupted by my exasperated:“Pereira. Pur. Air. Uh.”
You can imagine my surprise the first time I ran into someone who pronounced it right on the first try – and with its (correct) Brazilian pronunciation, no less. The new friend must have seen the shock on my face, because he laughed and explained “my father is Portuguese.” He barely knew me, and until then, we hadn’t discussed our cultures or backgrounds. However, my name was enough. It marked me, identified me and my people. My name showed him where I’d come from, and who I belonged to.
Fullness and Family.
This year’s Revoice conference is based out of a prayer that Paul prays for the Ephesian church – a prayer that they would experience the fullness of their God. Paul starts this prayer by recognizing that God, our Father, is whom we derive our name from. It’s God’s name, not ours, that marks our belonging, and assures us of our inheritance. The “glorious riches” the Ephesians will be blessed with, the love that will hold them together – all of this flows from their role in God’s family, marked by God’s own name.
If you’re like me, the topic of Family may not be a simple one for you. I grew up as an only child, with all of my blood relatives on another continent; when my dad passed away when I was 19, my only legal family left was my mom. As I realized I’d be pursuing celibacy, my dreams of my own “family,” the household I’d imagined for myself, evaporated. I found myself asking “will I have no family?” I know I’m not alone in this experience… Some of us have experienced great familial loss and rejection; others have found acceptance, but only after great exhaustion, painful conversations, and heavy forgiveness. It’s easy to wonder what, if anything, we get to belong to.
Claimed and Named
It strikes me how casually, almost arrogantly, Paul mentions this family-belonging in Ephesians. He takes it as a matter of course. Paul doesn’t ask investigative questions of the Ephesians’ beliefs, create a litmus test, or check their voter registration. You are, he says quite clearly, members of God’s own household.
For those of us who’ve spent countless hours wondering about our household, wondering who will pick us up at the airport, wondering where we’ll spend Christmas Eve, there’s relief and fear here. Relief because this is a beautiful truth… and fear because of how flimsy this truth can feel. It’s possible that, like me, you’ve ached for family, for belonging. We’ve ached to be known and to be claimed by those around us.
It seems to me that God intends that very thing for us. The God from whom we derive our name has claimed us and set us in a Family. We’ll be talking about this more at Revoice22, as we kick off with a session on Family. Members of our community will be sharing about how we can experience our belonging to God, the Church, and each other. In the meantime, I wanted to suggest a few practices that have been meaningful for me in developing family.
Dream with God.
This first practice may be the hardest, because it involves that ever-vulnerable posture: hope. If Paul is right (and I daresay he is) that God has called us members of God’s household, we have to dream with God about the family we do, and will, belong to. If we’ve experienced relational hurt, betrayal, and abandonment, it can feel all but impossible to imagine a world in which we’re not alone. I believe, though, that this is the world God lives in, and the world God creates for us: one in which we are, very much, not alone.
If you’ve found that the cultural concepts of family around you have failed you, I want to invite you to sit with our great Father and dream. In prayer, you might consider questions like:
- What is it you long for?
- How have you seen God build this – either in scripture or the lives of others?
- Have you closed off doors for yourself out of fear, hurt, or hopelessness?
- Is there any evidence of God’s work in this area of your life, right now?
I’m impatient – happy to work hard, as long as I see instant results. The kind of guy who eats a salad at lunch and expects to be a marathon runner by 3 pm. Believe me when I tell you, though no family – even the spiritual family God roots us in – is built in a day. After I spoke about spiritual family at Revoice 2020, I had several people ask me how I’d developed my friendships. The thing I had to keep coming back to (that no one wanted to hear) is this: I have been praying and slowly building for the last 12 years.
When we dream with God, we imagine where we might go and how our relationships may develop. Next, we have to put that vision into slow, deliberate practice. We start with the friends we have – we invest, we ask good questions, we show up for their needs, and we invite them into our own. For those of us whose stories feel unknown, we start sharing. Identify just one person in your life who may be safe, and start with them. Take small steps to prayerfully expand your circle. Some steps may include:
- Asking an online friend for more regular contact. It’s easy to undervalue the impact that long-distance friendships can have in our lives. Our faith has a long-standing tradition of spiritual friendships spanning great distances. You may be able to identify people with similar experiences or passions more easily this way.
- A private conversation with your pastor or small group leader. I hesitate to recommend this one, honestly, because so many of us have experienced harm in church spaces. However, a private conversation with one church leader may give you some space to grow your support network, and can help you figure out what other church relationships could look like. Look for ministers who heavily emphasize grace, and ideally who are open about their own lives and difficulties.
- Initiating regular rhythms with some local friends. Get creative here! So much of community comes from everyday contact and unglamorous time together. Invite friends to lunch after church, or for a weekly coffee date. If you work from home, you may ask some friends to co-work together a couple times a month. Be flexible here – no rhythm goes unaffected by life’s challenges, and friends will have to reschedule sometimes. The goal isn’t perfect attendance, it’s regularity.
Be Willing to be Surprised.
Every time in my life that I have experienced seasons of loneliness, I have been surprised at the method God used to meet me. In my lower 20’s, I found myself praying desperately for close friends, only to be challenged by God to receive the friends I had already established locally. See, I was looking for peers – turns out, God wanted to bless me with friends almost twice my age, who would become part of my chosen family. If I had insisted on my community looking a certain way, I would have missed out on rich blessing.
That remains true to this day – every time I am looking for people to share life with, I end up being surprised who God sends. God will call you to love friends who are, at first, hard to love. You may be called to offer care to a friend struggling through a divorce, or be a spiritual aunt for a younger believer. The family God is building has all sorts. You’ll be surprised who you come to love.
A Family Reunion.
As I mentioned before, we’ll dig much deeper into this discussion at Revoice22. More than ever, we’ll be investing in community-building. This year’s conference will feature organized affinity meetups, information about the Chapters we’ve launched, and structured opportunities to connect and pray with others. I hope you’ll make it a point to join us. The family’s not the same without you.
-Art Pereira, Director of Community Care