Does the Church exist to strengthen the family?
With multiple Christian organizations preaching this message constantly, most of us accept this as a given. The Church helps our families become stronger. It is the Church's responsibility to protect the sanctity of marriage and of families. And of course here we are speaking of 'the nuclear family'-mom, dad, 2.3 kids. Many Christian colleges have an unwritten expectation that their students will be married when they graduate: There's the proverbial 'senior scramble' and sayings like: "Our college is a shoe store--you come in alone and they box you up and send you out as a pair!" or "Ring by spring!".
But...Jesus (and Paul) didn't talk like that.
Jesus said things like: "Who are my mother and brothers? And stretching out his hand toward his disciples he said: "Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven, those are my mother and brothers and sisters."
"And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name's sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life."
I think our mistake is this: We hold up marriage, and thus families, as good for their own sake. But they aren't. That is far too narrow a view. What if families exist to strengthen the Church? What if they are little microcosms of the Church, and are only really fulfilling their purpose as they serve the Church? What does this have to do with how we are parents?
First, once we have the big picture in mind, we become less self-focused and more ready to share our gifts (like children) with the Church. In other words, our goals become something bigger than ourselves--and that gives purpose and meaning to everything we do. Without the hope of something beyond ourselves...well then what is the point? (If nothing else, we are encouraged by the knowledge that there are others facing the same challenges we are.)
Second, this also means that we are parents to all the children of the Church and they are parents to ours. Certainly the Shema still stands as the central parenting message of the Bible. But all the kids running around, whether they're 'mine' or not, are all part of my huge, beautiful, dysfunctional family.
Third, families that are strong make the Church stronger. As a healthy hand or foot of thyroid gland is good for the whole body, a healthy family builds up the body. They are able to offer themselves more fully to the body. A healthy family is one in which each member depends on the others to do things s/he cannot do alone. Just as marriage is the adventure by which two become one through interdependence, so a nuclear family becomes one with the body. (Remember: "Whoever does the will...these are my mother and brothers and sisters.")
There are plenty more things that could be written here, but I think I will leave you with a quote from the ever-wise Samuel Wells. "When Christians are invited to join public discussions over issues...they do so as representatives of a body that adopts the unwanted baby, nurtures the unusual child, persists with the manic or addicted teenager, befriends the terminally ill neighbor, remains present to the elderly friend even while her mind dies. If they can point to such a cloud of witnesses they speak with authority: if not, they have perhaps little to say." (Highlighting added by me)
It turns out our vocation as Parents influences everything we think and say and do.