Tonight, my husband, daughter, and I arrived home to our little Tallahassee abode and began to unpack after 5 days of holiday travel. After so much catching-up with so many family members in so short a time, my mind was still busy processing the complexities of everyone’s lives: what careers they’ve chosen to pursue, how they’ve chosen to raise their children, how their marriages are going, how their health is, etc. And amid all the activity still replaying itself in my mind, a memory of my Uncle Gene and Aunt Carolyn–who I still haven’t seen in at least a year or more–kept nagging at me, drowning out all the other emotions and considerations I was processing about everyone else.
Gene and Carolyn Johnson are actually my great uncle and great aunt. I believe they are in their 70s. Other than that, I can’t say that I’m actually very close to them, as most would consider closeness. I see them at family functions every couple of years–Christmases, golden wedding anniversary celebrations, and the like, and we don’t correspond regularly. I’ve been to their house in Alabama just once while passing through on our way to somewhere else, and that’s about it.
However, I know that they love Jesus Christ.
It wasn’t long ago that the “Johnson” side of my mother’s maternal family decided to plan a HUGE family reunion. The date was set well in advance to give people plenty of time to make room in their calendars for travel and attendance. And it was a spectacular success! Except for one thing: Gene and Carolyn didn’t come. My Great Uncle Gene, one of the elder remaining natural and Spiritual patriarchs of the family, would not be in attendance. I learned upon arriving at the reunion that he and my aunt Carolyn had thought it more important to maintain a previously planned trip to do mission work in a third-world country (Guyana, I believe, but don’t quote me) instead of being with us. Didn’t they know this could be (and ended up being) the last reunion for some of the elderly matriarchs of the family? Didn’t they know we would probably never be able to pull something like this together again? Didn’t they know that they were some of the only members that wouldn’t be coming? Didn’t they know that some family members were traveling from five states away to be there in hopes to see them? Didn’t they love their family?
I never forgot that day…not just because of the wonderful time I had spending with family members I rarely get to visit, but because Gene and Carolyn–a couple with every earthly reason to just “retire” and enjoy their family–chose to go to the lost and destitute to serve them right where they were at instead of to partake in reunion with family that was well-fed, well-loved, and already had the Gospel message at their disposal. This has nagged at me in the most wonderful way imaginable ever since that day. And I pray it continues to nag at me until I draw my last breath on this earth.
At the risk of my main thought dying the death of a thousand qualifications, I don’t want anyone to hear what I’m NOT saying:
I’m certainly NOT saying spending time with family is wrong. I’m NOT saying that enjoying retirement by focusing on family is bad. I’m NOT saying that my husband and I should have gone on a mission trip instead of to our families’ homes this Christmas. But what I am saying is that we should be WILLING to go wherever the Gospel is needed, at the drop of a hat and with no regrets, if the Lord says to.
Jesus said that anyone who loves his family more than Him isn’t worthy of Him. Christ obviously wants us to love our natural families, but He’s far more concerned about building His Spiritual family, filling it up with those adopted in by being born again; not of the will of man, or of the flesh, but born of God through faith in the Lordship of His Son. And so should we be concerned, as well. In Galatians, Paul writes that, before his conversion to following Christ, he was zealous merely for the traditions of his fathers. And that is something I think we all must fight. Far too often, I think I’m zealous to resurrect or redeem “the traditions of my fathers;” the things our culture does and has always done. We glean our passion from a past sense of nostalgia instead of from a present sense of what God IS doing and constant awareness of what He WILL be doing in the future.
So this Christmas, I’m SO grateful to God for the time I did have with my wonderful, natural family members. But I am particularly grateful for the constant reminder from my Uncle Gene and Aunt Carolyn that I must never love my natural family or its traditions MORE than I love the calling of Christ on my life to go into all the nations and make disciples of Jesus, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything Christ commands.
Uncle Gene and Aunt Carolyn, if you ever get the chance to read this, thank you for the Gift that has kept giving ever since that day you didn’t show up. I have been so encouraged in my walk with Jesus simply because you refused to come to a family function at the expense of the lost in another land that God had called you to. So as for that family reunion,
Thanks for not being there.