We live in a complex and rapidly changing world, a world that brings about dramatic changes in family lives. Most of us have personal experience with one or more of the following: couples choosing to cohabit before marriage or as an alternative to it; divorce and blended families; same-sex intimate relationships; and decisions related to complex medical technologies at conception and end of life and points in between. Many of these experiences have been fraught with confusion, pain and even anguish.
One speaker uses a vivid sports illustration to explain this changing reality. “It’s like the team went into the locker room at half-time”, he said, displaying a picture of a football field, “and when they came out, it was a whole new game.” The picture in front of us had changed to a baseball diamond. Many of us are like football players trying to figure out what happened to the game we knew, had trained for and loved.
As I survey the changing landscape of family relations, I marvel at the task that lies ahead for all of us. How will we form strong, lasting marital bonds? How will we raise our children, giving them both security and freedom? How will we discern which medical technologies are ethical and life-giving, and which feed a denial of death and a false sense of control? How will we receive and become vessels of God’s grace and compassion? What faith resources do we draw on to guide us? How do our ancient Scriptures provide instruction for us and what are the limits of our previous interpretations of Scripture? How do we “fashion lives that are holy and hearts that are true” (“Here in This Place,” Hymnal: A Worship Book, No. 6)?
Much of my own history has traced a relatively conservative path in family life. I am grateful for the fruit I have known: the stable home my parents provided; a long, loyal marriage; good health; and strong faith. I name these fruits humbly, knowing they are gifts, and also knowing that any number of factors could have led me to a very different life.
I consider it a privilege that I’ve been invited—as a pastor, counsellor, friend or family member—to witness other people navigate the terrain of rapidly changing family life, as they find themselves living with cohabitation, divorce, blended families and same-sex unions. Like pioneers who set out for a new land, they face daunting uncertainties. They use their tools of faith, hope, compassion and tenacity to carve out new homes for themselves and their loved ones. Often they walk a lonely path, shunned by other Christians, not given a place to speak honestly of their experience or perspective. I have learned much from them. As we increasingly face these changes in family life, we will need to learn from those who are “walking the walk.”
We will also need to ground ourselves in the essentials of our faith. The Apostle Paul, writing in I Corinthians 13, offers a wise and well-known teaching: “Faith, hope, and love abide, . . . and the greatest of these is love.” I believe that love is at the heart of God, that love is what God calls us to and surrounds us with, and that love will be our guide, whatever the future.
Melissa Miller (firstname.lastname@example.org) lives in Winnipeg, where she ponders family relationships as a pastor, counsellor and author.