Our family has been on adventures lately, traveling to exotic locals like Nashville and Charlotte. In those cities we stayed with two families we haven’t known for all that long. These are fairly new friends, people with different family routines than we’re used to. Both of these families live life well, have enviable qualities. They are wonderful families. We have a choice when we see beauty and harmony in other families, especially when it appears before us in a way we haven’t seen before.
We can despair and envy. We can feel the contrast between a vision of the good we see and our own lack. We can feel it like a wound. Why have they got it together in this way and we don’t? It’s probably my fault. I’m a poor leader. It can deflate us. Then there’s envy. Why do they have this and we don’t? We should have what they have. If there’s anything the modern entitlement culture trains us for –in politics, advertising, and elsewhere– it’s that I deserve whatever is good that others have. Both despair and envy are, of course, bad paths. There’s a better way.
When faced with families living life in beautiful ways, we can choose to be inspired and grateful. These families we were invited to spend days with, families rich in traditions of generosity and grace, were so very inspiring to us. I was particularly inspired by simple traditions which connected their family life to the Story and its Author in natural ways.
And while envy isn’t the avenue we want to move into, I have no problem with adopting and adapting traditions, habits, beautiful aspects of family life from friends. In fact, I recommend it.
Ours is an age of DIY (Do It Yourself) religion. I have sometimes believed that spiritual life was only real if improvised, genuine only in proportion to originality and spontaneity. I was suspicious of reading prayers, of following traditions, of religious liturgies. I recognize that now as profound immaturity, of naivety, and self-importance. I have hoped to leave it behind.
One of the gifts of trying to leave behind DIY religion is getting connected to traditions and ways of spiritual formation which you have not invented, but have served the church and individual Christians for hundreds –or thousands– of years. It’s a wonderful thing to understand that it’s not all on you, that there’s much to receive from others, both living and dead.
What about family life? Likewise, it’s not all on us. We can receive, with gratitude, the gift given us by being invited into the life of friends, new and old. In 1 Corinthians 11, Paul invites the Corinthians to imitate him as he imitates Christ. In Hebrews 13, we are called to remember our leaders, those who spoke the word of God to us, to consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. Imitation is a humble act, one Christians are called to. I think it may rightly be extended to family life, to traditions and habits of life that inspire us in Godward ways.
So adopt. Adapt. Copy. Edit. Do not be afraid to receive inspiration and imitate. It may well be a holy, humble, happy thing. Receive from others, make it your own.
We are not alone, thank God.