If you would have told me that Christmas three years ago was the last Christmas I would spend with my family for as far as I could see, I might have treated it differently. I imagine I might’ve been a little more present at our family meal, or spent more time opening each gift under the tree, or been more careful to memorize all the goofy little moments that made us laugh until our sides hurt. I had moved across the country for college, and as I began my second year, God changed the course I mapped out for my life drastically and rapidly. I left college to pursue the calling of full-time ministry, and though I jumped at God’s lead wholeheartedly, I hadn’t fully wrapped my mind around everything this new adventure entailed.
I remember the day I sat in our executive pastor’s office as a new intern. I remember how it felt as he tenderly brought me to understanding that my new role, this life I had embraced with everything in me, meant that some of the things I considered normal would look different here on out. As he explained how much my gifts, talents, time, and energy were needed to help bring people to Jesus during the busy seasons, the realization finally sunk in: I wouldn’t be going home for family-oriented times like Christmas.
I had a choice in that moment. Was I willing to sacrifice the comfort of being with my family for the holidays, among other things that would change in my life, for the call of ministry I felt so deeply pulled towards? I chose to look through the shock of it all for God’s provision. Though I couldn’t make sense of why He would ask me to serve Him so far from home, I trusted that He wouldn’t let me do life alone. I placed my life in His hands, and He ensured me that I could still experience the sense of belonging and family that my heart so badly wanted. And sure enough, I did.
I began to build relationships with those I did life and ministry with. I felt a part of something, like I mattered, and was cared for as if I was people’s own daughter or sister. Though my physical family was spread out across hundreds and thousands of miles, it was like I was adopted into a new family. That’s how the Church—the people of God—is designed to be.
“And I will be your Father, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.” -2 Corinthians 6:18
“…you received God’s Spirit when He adopted you as His own children. Now we call Him Abba, Father.” -Romans 8:15
“God decided in advance to adopt us into His own family by bringing us to Himself through Jesus Christ. This is what He wanted to do, and it gave Him great pleasure.” -Ephesians 1:5
These scriptures reveal that God’s intention for His people from the very beginning is to be a family to one another. He chose to bring us in as His own kids. He wants to be our loving Father. He desires for all of us to be like brothers and sisters: loving one another, making great memories together, and growing alongside each other as we become all we were created to be. We have a place in God’s family. When we get a reality of that, we can learn to embrace our local church as family in a personal, intimate, and powerful way.
Yes, I still miss my family from time to time. But I understand my purpose so clearly now that I can spend holidays away from them totally confident that this is where I’m supposed to be. Having people positioned around me that feel like family make the seasons even more enjoyable. Embracing your church doesn’t negate or replace your family in any way, but it adds to and expands the love and belonging family is meant to share. Maybe your family is in tact where you are. Prayerfully consider if there is someone you do life with that is missing that this time of year. Opening your heart and home to them can make such an impact in their life. The families who did that for me over these last few years have given me more than words can say.
Separation from family during the holidays, whatever the reason, can be hard when we try to face it alone. We can’t buy into the lies that leave us feeling isolated and lonely. Lean into your local church. Open your heart up to the idea of embracing those around you. Know you are not alone—not during the Christmas season, or ever. My prayer for you is that you let love flourish as you experience the warmth, togetherness, and meaningful connections that God intended for His Church to have. After all, we are family.