You can’t choose your family, they tell me.
Except that in a lot of ways, we do. Sure, you don’t choose who gives birth to you (or in fact, who you might give birth to) – but family means a whole load more than that. It’s a much bigger challenge to be family than to share some DNA. And, I think, vastly more meaningful.
The Archbishop of Canterbury recently did an interview with the Spectator, in which he was asked about how he would treat his children, were one of them to be LGBT. Would he struggle with a tension between loving his kid and disapproving of their relationship? Would he be too uncomfortable to pray for them, or indeed with them? Would he feel the need to take some kind of moral stand against their wedding?
What would it mean for Justin Welby to be family? What does it mean to him?
The answer from the Archbishop was quite clear. His response wouldn’t be a tough love for his children. Not a fraught love. Not love with a lecture, or love with conditions, or love as long as they know how I feel about that.
He’d be there, throwing his confetti at the wedding. He’d be there, offering his prayers for their relationship. He’d be there, without needing to preach at them, change them or warn them. He’d be there, loving them. Full stop. Being family and enabling his kid to be family too.
Here’s hoping that his insistence on real love, if only in this hypothetical and very personal scenario, is a first step towards the Church of England treating its gay children that way too.
The Archbishop seems to know that the thing about being family is that you don’t get to control other people, or mould them to your own preferences. What you do control is your own choice to take them as they are, love them as they are, and commit to loving them as they will be.
You don’t choose your family – except that you absolutely do.
We choose to forgive and to persevere when any other relationship would have crumbled. We choose to affirm and enjoy one another’s quirks and idiosyncrasies, rather than becoming infuriated by them. We choose honesty, and the benefit of the doubt. We choose quality time even when it means missing out on other things. We choose to make one another’s concerns our own. If we’re family, it’s because we’ve chosen it.
And if, when, I choose to get married, it won’t be because I know every single thing there is to know about my partner, and have found no faults. It won’t be because they have searched me completely and found me entirely and unfailingly loveable. It will be because we’ve discovered enough to choose – to make a choice to love, no matter what, for better or for worse, for the rest of our lives. We’ll be family because we’ve chosen to be.
The most exciting part of this Christmas is that I get to meet two very small people for the first time – two new siblings adopted into our family – and just a few hours in, I love them already. But even before they’d jumped on my lap, even before we’d played with the dump truck and read stories, I loved them. Even before I’d seen the super cute photos, even before I’d heard their names, I loved them.
Because them joining our family is nothing to do with how cute or entertaining or clever or well behaved they are. They won’t have to do anything, ever, to earn the love of the rest of the family. We’ve chosen them, they belong with us, and that’s that.
There’s a reason that we’re given so many familial images to help us understand God’s love for humanity – God as our Father, Jesus as our brother, the Church as the bride of Christ, other Christians as our sisters and brothers. We’re meant to get something of the unconditionality of God’s love for us, to feel God’s protectiveness of us, his jealousy for us, his ceaseless forgiveness, his enjoyment of us, his commitment to us. He has chosen us, and that’s that. The challenge is for us to choose one another just as faithfully – the families we’re born into, the families we adopt, the families we marry into, and those we’re baptised into.
So here’s to family this Christmas – to those I share DNA with and those I don’t need to; here’s to the new additions, and to the old traditions, and to the ones we’re yet to make; here’s to learning more understanding, more acceptance, and more delight in one another.
Here’s to choosing one another – now and forever.