The French have a lovely saying, “Vive la différence!” It is a delightful reminder to celebrate what makes us unique and inimitable. Nowhere should our differences be more celebrated than in the church. In the last chapter of Romans, Paul sends his greetings to the church, and it is a beautiful litany of names—everyone from relatives to first converts to a friend’s mom who becomes a mom to Paul as well. It serves as a great reminder that God calls into the kingdom a wonderful mix of broken, hurting, suffering, and wounded people who have very little in common except for the joy of knowing Christ. God invites us to celebrate the beautiful diversity of this kingdom in our deepest, most intimate relationships.
Over the years I have heard people say that a certain family in the church is dysfunctional. It is almost always a phrase that allows others to cast judgment on the family or to look down on it in pity. “There, but for the grace of God,” we whisper, rather happy we don’t have to endure what the dysfunctional family endures. We are usually talking, of course, about families that have problem children or adults who don’t fit societal norms or families with members who have mental health, addiction, or behavioral issues. Any behavior that stands out as different or quirky or unique causes us to pause and label the family as dysfunctional.
All families are dysfunctional. Sin permeates all our family relationships. In our own strength and power we are unable to function in right relationship to God or with each other. We desperately need someone to rescue us in our struggle. Most of us are good at hiding our dysfunction and presenting an image to the world around us, but that is a dysfunction in and of itself.
On any given Sunday our church is filled with a delightful mishmash of people with amazing stories of God’s grace. It is uncomfortable and awkward for us to rub up against each other in community. It is difficult to struggle with our own sin, the sins of others against us, and sin that permeates this world. We have a Sinner’s Chair in the back of our sanctuary where people can sit and be lifted to God. On any given Sunday the Sinner’s Chair might be occupied by a frazzled young mother, sad that she yelled at her kids, or by a man addicted to alcohol desperately wanting to give up his addiction. The person praying over them might be someone struggling with pornography or someone fighting to keep from cutting herself. A homeless person might sit down and cry out for food and shelter or a lady mourning the tension in the Middle East might sit down in tears and be prayed over. People struggling with their own burdens gather around the chair and listen to broken hearts and pray God’s blessing. We are always called to acknowledge our wounds and the ways we have wounded others.
That is where the fun begins. The fun of laughing in spite of our pain. Laughing at the goodness of God in the middle of our dysfunction. Laughing at the delight God takes in us. Laughing at all our quirkiness and unusual behaviors.
A few years ago, my copastor got an email from a young man who simply wrote, “Am I going to hell?”
My copastor responded with, “I don’t know, are you?” Thus began our relationship with Mike who, despite suffering from autism, has become a leader in our community. On occasion the autism causes him to lose control of his emotions, and he might melt down with a string of profanity that would shock a sailor. But this same man put together a huge fund-raising event benefiting a young widow and her four small boys who are also part of our community. Mike’s passion for justice and mercy propelled him to walk through the dysfunction and to function at the highest level–caring for a widow and the fatherless.
We’ve seen God’s provision when a young man in our congregation suffering from schizophrenia was looking for a place to live and moved into an apartment with another member who was looking for someone to share rent. The second guy struggles with obsessive/compulsive disorder, so we were concerned whether or not these two would be able to live under the same roof. The fun thing about the guy struggling with obsessions was that he became fixated on making sure the other guy took his medications. It was hilarious to observe him badgering his reluctant friend to take his pills as prescribed.
I suffer from a sleep disorder brought on by being ADD. I get easily distracted and often have difficulty focusing on a particular task and seeing it through. My doctor told me that no one cared when I wrote my sermon. If I wanted to work on it at three in the morning, it was no big deal. I told this to a church member, and she said, “Yeah, great for you, but I’d hate to be married to a guy who practiced his sermon in the middle of the night.” My wife, who has the gift of administration, tries constantly to manage the unmanageable. She actually enjoys administration and is known as the queen of sticky notes. She plasters sticky note reminders all over my laptop, the door to the garage, and even on the steering wheel of my car. I, of course, am still able to forget to bring home the loaf of bread. God meets our weaknesses with the strengths of others and our strengths meet others’ weaknesses.
Psalms 68:6 reads, “God sets the lonely in families” (NIV). In a very real way we are all shoved together into a huge, diverse, wonderfully awkward, dysfunctional family by a loving adoptive Father who cares deeply for us and wants what is best for us.
Rod Hugen is copastor of the Village in Tucson, Arizona, and leads a church planting effort called The Tucson Cluster. He and his wife, Kathy, have two sons. He loves writing, basketball, and a good game of Scrabble.