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Gary's Faith Walk

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The family plan

The Christmas 2008 dinner table had held the midday feast. Plates with reminders of turkey, dressing, and cranberries had been cleared. Desert of pies and topping was past, and we simply glowed in the light of family together—mother, father, sons, daughter-in-law, and newborn grandson. 

Like so many American families, we are spread out across several states. Our Christmas gathering is extraordinarily special, but it is not enough. The time is just too short. So with tummies full that December day, with a fire in the wood stove and the joy of being together, we developed the family plan. With 18 months lead time, we each committed to a summertime week together once every two years. Each adult blocked her or his schedule, and we pledged that short of death or the birth of another grandchild, we would gather again in a new way as family in June 2010.

Our June week was glorious! We delighted in sandy beaches, new foods and vistas, and lots and lots of time together with no pressing agenda. Clearly, this was not about the “doing.” It was all about the “being.” While a new locale every two years adds excitement, the meaning of the gathering is family.

My faith walk this year has in fact drawn me tighter within that circle of family. The death of my father, the special times with my mother, turning 60 (it is really more of a milestone than I first expected,) the joy of watching once erratic teens turn fully into the growing maturity of their 20s, the boundless enthusiasm of a two-year-old grandchild, and the steadfast love of my wife and life partner—all this has brought a new emphasis on the life of the family.   

Sorting out loyalty to God and loyalty to the family takes prayerful consideration. Scripture affirms that family loyalty stands under primary loyalty to God. Rereading the Ten Commandments certainly brings clarity on this subject, as our responsibilities to our earthly family don’t come around until Commandment Five!

But in quiet moments of reflecting on the Divine and on my family, I’m drawn to a recent theological statement on families. “Responsibility and accountability move in all directions—older toward younger and younger toward older, children towards parents and parents toward children… All members of a household share a common vocation toward one another and the whole household… Families are called to a life together that is lived by grace, for love, in communion. God calls families, as well as individuals and churches, to lead a life worthy of the vocation to which they are called, promoting the family’s growth in building itself up in love.”

Our family plan developed a year and a half ago and lived out so joyfully this June was a response to a deep yearning, a desire to be together more than our too busy schedules had previously allowed. Throughout this year, I’ve been reminded anew that family “love is delightfully irrational, transcending explanations… Receiving love, we become ones who give love. Familial love is not dependent on the worth of the other, or the health of the other, or the success of the other. Instead, love grows from the sheer presence of the other. For the love of God, families are called to love openly and to extend circles of God’s love beyond immediate family structures.”

My summer months are filled with activities—tending to my work, clearing brush, kayaking on the lake, enjoying friendships, and most of all receiving and giving love within family. It is a good place to be. And, I pray that you too are finding that place within your family.

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Gary Payton Gary Payton is on a Faith Walk that takes him to Russia, Eastern Europe and Sandpoint, Idaho

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