It's all relative

Bedtime Theology with the 8 yo...  
My maternal great-grandparents, 1906

(While reading the story of Ruth gleaning grain in Boaz' fields, from the children's Bible)

Me: And so, Boaz and Ruth end up getting married and then they become the ancestors of King David – actually his great-grandparents. And King David is the ancestor of who?

8 yo: Jesus!

Me: You got it.

8 yo: Mom, I can't keep everyone straight in this book. Like who is whose grandmother, grandfather, aunt, uncle and whatever. It's confusing. This is a really big family.

Me: Ah, that's a good point, there are a lot of people in the Bible.

8 yo: So, maybe sometime you can explain it all to me? Like how everyone is related?

Me: Well, they're not all related, but yes, I can go over it all sometime. Do you want a chart?

8 yo: Nah, you can just tell me.

Me: Ok.

8 yo: (Shaking his head) I don't know how pastors and priests remember all of this.

Children are amazing theologians, seeing things Scriptures that adults do not and expressing ideas in new ways. Children experience it all anew, without layers of life experience or cultural expectation. I've spent plenty of time teaching the stories of the Old Testament and going over genealogy lists in Matthew's gospel, but can't think that I've ever simply said aloud: This is a really big family.

Either my child is terribly insightful or he's just watched Disney's Encanto too many times. He wanted me to stop and explain who everyone was in that family, too!

The stories of God's people DO depict the adventures and misadventures of one really big family, and much of that is true in the literal-blood-relation sense in the Old Testament (though not all!) But then in the New Testament, the family gets bigger and bigger, and all kinds of "other people" are grafted in to the family tree. Gentiles! Tax collectors! Roman officials! Outcasts! It doesn't matter if you're related by blood or share much else in common -- Jesus is enough.

My husband and children and I live thousands of miles from any blood relative (except one awesome first cousin, once removed, who is "only" a couple hundred miles away). There's no one within an easy drive for piano recitals, weekend visits, childcare help or holiday dinners. We have no family here, and yet we do. The phrase "family by choice" has popped up on the internet, to express these deep relationships we form with folks who don't share our DNA. My family has taken to calling some of these friends "Auntie" and "Uncle" and "cousins," to the confusion of our children. My middle son, when he was 3 or 4 asked, "Wait, you mean Auntie Kristi isn't our REAL Auntie?" Well, no, but yes in all the ways that matter.

Calling the Bible a story of a really big family resonates in so many ways that are true, and by true I don't necessarily mean literal. What's true about all big families is that they are happy and they are miserable. They function, except when they don't. They take on roles in the family system (strong one, protector, rule-keeper, rule-breaker, scapegoat -- looking at you again, Encanto.) Big families love and hate, they fight and they make up. They give us a glimpse of the unconditional love of God and they hurt us, sometimes in unspeakably tragic ways. 

The truth is, if you're looking for a family narrative, a story about families that reminds you of your own, a story that brings you joy, a story that resonates with your pain or a story that gives you hope for the future, you can probably find it in the Bible.

As my children get older, I'm telling them more and more stories about my ancestors, and we tell them about my husband's relatives, too. Your great-great grandfather was a postman. Your great-grandmother was born in Poland. Two of your great-grandfathers fought in WW 11. And so on. These stories help us understand who we are. The same is true for the stories in the Scriptures. These, too, help us to see who we are, and more importantly, whose we are. 


  1. I will have to watch "Encanto" again—just yesterday a pastor friend of ours commented how it was such a look into family systems! :) Your eight year-old is very wise!

    1. It's definitely one to watch again! I keep picking up more of the subtleties of the intergenerational trauma. And those songs are so catchy!


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