Back in March before the quarantine began, I read the cover story of the current edition of The Atlantic. It was a piece by David Brooks, provocatively titled “The Nuclear Family Was a Mistake.” He looks at the development of the modern notion of family as the ideal arrangement and the many ways it fails to meet its promises—for married people, single people, aging people, and especially for children. Brooks makes an argument for the preservation of the family by envisioning a healthier and more stable structure that includes multiple generations and welcomes “chosen family” to share in the joys and burdens of family life. I found some of his arguments compelling, especially for Christian community that is based on kinship in Christ and resolved to give it more thought.
Later that week everything closed down and I began a living Coronatide experiment in the limitations of the nuclear family and an endless opportunity to reflect on Brooks’ observations. My family is not enough! I enjoy the company of my husband and children and I can honestly say that we have enjoyed the extended “togetherness” and made sweet memories in the nearly five months we have spent, almost exclusively, together. We have also placed stress on our little family and pushed ourselves to our limits as parents. Though we have tried our hardest, my husband and I are not enough to make our nuclear family flourish.
In his article Brooks examines the support structure necessary for the illusion of independence for a detached nuclear family. In our own family we rely on school, childcare, activities, and babysitters to allow both adults to work and rest. With no outside help but the continued pressure of work and school we have felt stretched to the breaking point at times without any relief in sight. Like many parents, we have wearied ourselves with days of infant and child-centered activities and late nights catching up on missed work and personal time. For families with even fewer financial resources, relational support, and jobs that must be done in-person, the pressure must be crushing.
As we as a culture and church begin to reengage in regular relationships with people outside of our own households we should take the lessons of this season to remake some of the most basic building blocks of our lives. What was once an intriguing idea now seems vital to me and I am determined to extend the borders of our family. This is what shaped the early church and enabled it to grow rapidly. An invitation to church in the first century was not to attend an event but to share a family meal. Christian community was formed not for the benefit of the privileged few but for the the mutual good of the many so that they formed a community of radically different people who shared an identity in Christ.
In Ephesians 2:19-22, Paul calls together the rich variety of the people of God into one family: Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.
Let’s invite the Holy Spirit to guide us through the complexities of this season. I am not enough for my children. We are not enough for each other as a family. We need the church and the chosen family we have found. I pray that God would renew our desire for the church and that he would bring us back together soon.