George Burns, American actor, writer, and comedian, once said, “Happiness is having a large, loving, caring, close-knit family in another city.” The quote is humorous, but it also points out a problem many share around the holidays: How can the extended family gather and enjoy one another’s company without feeling the stress that sometimes comes from meshing different personalities?
Successful family gatherings include a spiritual concept of family, which starts with a better understanding of the relationship everyone in the world has in common with God, the one and only creator. Mary Baker Eddy, who discovered Christian Science, put it this way: “God is our Father and our Mother, our Minister and the great Physician: He is man’s only real relative on earth and in heaven” (“Miscellaneous Writings 1883-1896,” p. 151).
Humans see ancestry as shaped like a tree. Picture the large, solid trunk with the many branches representing relatives from the great, great, greats all the way up and out to that newborn niece or nephew who just added a new twig to the family tree. But God’s family isn’t best represented by the symbol of a tree at all.
The story of spiritual creation is laid out in the Bible in the first chapter of Genesis. When God finishes making all that has ever been made, He looks out at His creation – His family – and acknowledges that it’s very good (see Genesis 1:31). This account of creation puts God at the center of everything. The symbol of God’s family, then, is more like the sun than a tree. God is at the center, and all of His loved children are like the individual rays shining out from that one and only source. And since the Bible names God as Love itself, it follows that you and I and all of our extended family members are actually included in God’s family – with divine Love at the center (see I John 4:16).
I used these ideas several years ago when we had a family gathering at our home during the Christmas holidays. We were all playing a card game, and it seemed as if everyone was having fun. But suddenly one family member took offense at something I said or did – I wasn’t sure what. His reaction caught me totally off guard. He threw down his cards and stormed away from the table. Not understanding what had triggered his reaction – only knowing that it was directed at me – I also stormed off. I stomped up the stairs and slammed the door. But immediately, I knew that this wasn’t going to fix anything, and it absolutely wasn’t going to make for the happy holiday gathering we had planned.
What I really wanted right then was to let go of the tumultuous family tree concept of those gathered at our house, and trade it in for the spiritual view of God’s family – the one with Love right at the center. I knew it was the only way out of this awkward situation.
Away from anger and confusion, my thought shifted to divine Love, the true center of my family. Genuine affection replaced hard feelings, and I felt impelled by divine Love to go back downstairs. Just a few minutes had gone by, and I found this dear family member sitting alone in the living room. I put my hand on his shoulder and told him how much I loved that he was here in our home, and that if I had done anything to make him feel unwelcome or unloved, I was very sorry. He graciously accepted my apology, and as we hugged each other, all of the awkwardness evaporated. We have enjoyed many moments of kind affection for each other in the years since.
Mrs. Eddy wrote in the textbook of Christian Science, “[T]he material sense of personality yields to the incorporeal sense of God and man ... as one Father with His universal family, held in the gospel of Love” (“Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” pp. 576-577). We all can expect and insist on joyous family gatherings filled with grace, poise, and peace when we include everyone we know in the Love-centered family that God has created.