What does God require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? ~ Micah 6:8
Growing up, did you feel called to bring about some sort of social change and better the world? Were there social causes that you had a heart for and felt called to offer yourself? High school and college seem to be a fertile time for offering acts of service such as those you may have felt called to. Do you remember upon your graduation feeling the exhilaration of freedom, the heaviness of responsibility and the hopeful determination of going out into the world to make it a better place? You may have felt on top of the world and ready to change it so you went out and sought out the many opportunities to act on these “callings.” And then “first came love, then came marriage, then came baby in the baby carriage.” Now your acts of service consist of packing a shoebox for Angel Tree every Christmas and sending your donation to the ministry of your choice each month. You sigh because you want to do more, but your life is already so full of acts of service, you wonder how you could ever again make a difference in the world outside of your nuclear family. And then your children start to grow and you wonder how you’ll teach your children to go out and make a difference in the world.
Yet so often talk about spirituality in family life today ignores justice. We fail to recognize the family as the heart and soul of doing justice. It is the place where justice is first learned and practiced, and the place where we might begin to turn the world upside down. This is one of the most spiritually challenging and formative arenas for those who care for children.
How to be peacemakers both at home and in the larger world is quite a challenge. For almost twenty years we have wrestled with the challenge of integrating our family life and social ministry…. We have wanted…to be able to act for justice without sacrificing our children and to build family community without isolating ourselves from the world.1
Care for our own children and care for others is not mutually exclusive. The author argues that by caring for our own children, we are essentially creating justice in the world. Caring well for one’s own children for the sake of the wider society, including raising them to love justice, can itself be an act of faith and public service. Contrary to modern assumptions, raising children is not merely a private matter of personal gratification far removed from the larger world. Children are in fact our closest, most vulnerable, and most valuable neighbors. Their neglect is a grave transgression. Their welfare is a rich benefit for all the other people they will deal with in their lives, and for society as a whole. This includes basic provision for children economically, materially, and beyond. No family stands alone in meeting this obligation, and families without sufficient means need our social and economic support. There are even times in a family’s normal life cycle that make outreach to other children difficult, but this need not negate the family as an arena of public service.
A “whole and healthy family is a service to this world,” says Presbyterian minister Marjorie Thompson. “The pastoral care that family members provide one another is the principle ministry of family life, preceding and undergirding all other forms of ministry.” Martin Luther even calls siblings our “first neighbors.” Sometimes they seem to be the very hardest neighbors to love well; perhaps for just this reason they are good ones to practice our loving on.”
The adult who engages in the Christian nurture of children is carrying out, as historian William H. Lazareth puts it, “a far better work in God’s sight than all the current pilgrimages, sacrifices, and cultic ceremonies combined.”
This by no means downplays the acts of service you may feel called to besides caring for your family – it simply highlights the amazing ministry each of us have just by being parents! On the flip side, Catholic ethicist Julie Hanlon Rubio states, “ Those who would serve God must resist the temptation to make caring for kin their only mission in life.” We have so isolated care of children as an almost exhaustively private concern of individual parents rather than an obligation shared by a wider circle of friends and community. Rather we should see our home with its family life as our mission base from which to work. Next week we will further explore how the lessons of justice can be integrated into our own homes.
1. Quote by James and Kathleen McGinnis in Parenting for Peace and JusticeAll green text comes from Chapter 6 of In the Midst of Chaos by Bonnie J. Miller-McLemore.