This week, I said goodbye to a lovely friend and sister called Serah, who travelled back to her country, Papua New Guinea.
When Serah was in the UK, we talked at length about her life, her family, her hopes and dreams for the future. I found her to be an inspiring and passionate women who was devoted to God and grappling with what it means to follow Him in her life.
I talked to her about the same things in my own life, and she listened as I shared about the questions and grapplings I have in seeking to follow Jesus.
There was quite a stark difference in these conversations that has been challenging me.
In my conversation, I was the main topic. My individual pursuits, how I felt, how I needed to make decisions. I made decisions based on what would be best for myself as an individual.
But Serah’s conversation was more concerned with her family’s wellbeing. She made decisions dependent on how they would affect her family and on what would be best for her community.
In quite an illuminating way, I noticed how both Serah and I had been so deeply shaped by the ideals and the messages within our culture. Serah, with her collectivist mindset, made decisions based on the wellbeing of her family and community. While I, with my individualistic mindset, constantly think about decisions and relationships based on myself and what I want. Serah illuminated the way that the ‘be yourself, live your life, make decisions by yourself’ culture had shaped me.
Recently, I read these words from Jesus in Luke 14:26: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters…. he cannot be my disciple.”
Powerful words. Some may say these are harsh words – words that one would not expect to be uttered from Jesus’ lips.
For me, these words are pretty hard to swallow. I love my family. For Serah, I think that these words are probably even more radical. Yet Jesus was speaking to a culture in which family relationships were similar to Serah’s, they were of utmost importance. Your brother and your sister were your highest priority; even more so than your spouse. Decisions were always made from what would be best for ones family.
Yet, perhaps Jesus words here were not a call to hate, but perhaps a question to those who said that they wanted to follow him.
Can the allegiance and love you have for me and for my bride, the Church – your fellow Christians – be even greater than your love for your birth family?
In this command, I think God was calling them to choose to love Him and the Church with the highest form of love that they could comprehend – a love that would even override ones allegiance to their birth family.
What a radical call.
So what does this mean for us who live in an individualistic culture, who perhaps find it hard to comprehend the call to relinquish our highest love and allegiance from our birth family and instead towards God and our brothers and sisters in Christ?
I don’t know what it means for you. But I’m asking myself whether I will continue to base my life around the culture of self-obsessed ‘live your own life’ culture or around the calling of God to hate this in comparison to following Him.
Will I choose to give myself in love to my church family? To sacrifice my desires for what feels best for me or for what is the best for the Church as a whole?
Perhaps there is a way that you can challenge yourself to take the ‘I’ away from your notions of church family and following God to the radical, exciting and difficult journey of saying my life is not my own – I belong to Jesus.