On Saturday we went bowling.
The bowling alley was alive with activity. Families, buddies, friends — all gathered together on this weekend after a holiday to enjoy each other and the game. I have not been bowling in over 20 years and it was an afternoon to remember.
And through the course of throwing a heavy ball down a wooden lane I remembered some important things about family and about sticking with family as they grow and change.
First off – I’ve no illusions about family – either my nuclear family, my extended family, or anyone else’s family. We’re part of a broken world and nothing shows this like family. But the glory in this is that family is a unit that God uses to show redemption in a powerful way. What is broken can be fixed, what is cracked can be restored, what is lost can be redeemed. And sometimes we see this through activities as common as sharing a meal, or in our case — bowling.
So here are some things I remembered as I spent a cold December afternoon bowling with family.
Be yourself, Keep it real. At one point my son Micah tried some fancy footwork. The ball went into the gutter like a slap in the face. My daughter-in-law Lauren looked at him and said “Babe, You never do well when you try and do tricks. Just be yourself” Bam. Exactly. We work best in our families when we are who we are, when we excel in how we’re gifted, when we don’t try the fancy footwork to impress — when we don’t try to do tricks! Trying to impress family, the people you grew up with, the ones who watched you through your awkward stages? It’s never going to work; they’ve seen too much of the real deal. They aren’t there to impress — they exist to love us, to help us be and express ourselves, to care when no one else does.
Encourage. Our time spent bowling was full of encouragement and friendly competition. Helpful tips from those who are better bowlers spurred those of us on the lower end of the score sheet to do better. Our successes were shared as a group. All of us celebrated the triumph of a strike or a spare. Encouragement is a gift that families can give each other.
Be fully present. We put away our cell phones. There were no distractions. We were fully present. We all focused on the game and each other. It was a gift. Being fully present in situations is becoming more and more rare. There is so much to take over our minds and hearts. Instead of enjoying an event we are thinking of how quickly we can post a picture on social media sites so that others know how much fun we’re having. Who honestly cares? What matters is that your family is having fun. It doesn’t matter if no one beyond the family ever knows how much fun it is. The point is that you are together, creating memories, creating life together, learning to reconnect after being away from each other.
Connecting happens best when you least expect it. Truth is, I almost didn’t go. I thought it may be fun for the rest of the family to go bowling while I got some ‘alone’ time. The reality is that in a week, two weeks tops, I’ll have plenty of alone time and I’ll be longing for the next time our family can get together. I would have missed out and been the poorer for it.
Connecting takes time. When your family is scattered across the country or the globe, setting aside time to get together is critical. On Saturday we had the luxury of time. We used the time to connect. With family in town for such a short time we cleared our schedule of everything but family. Sounds selfish? In a culture where family is replaced by gadgets and work it’s not selfish, it’s survival.
None of this is easy – family isn’t easy. We have enough ‘stuff’ in our family to last to eternity and beyond without grace, and to eternity with grace. But I believe in it. And I believe it’s worth fighting for. So next time they’re in town, we’ll put on our bowling shoes again and go bowling as a family. Because ultimately God uses family to remind us who we are, to remind us that we belong, to work out the miracle of redemption and leave us with our mouths open and our lips proclaiming praise.
“Family,” she announced. “They’re the people in your life you don’t get to pick. The ones that are given to you,as opposed to those you get to choose.”
“You’re bound to them by blood,” she continued, her voice flat. “Which, you know, gives you that much more in common. Diseases, genetics, hair, and eye color. It’s like they’re part of your blueprint. If something’s wrong with you, you can usually trace it back to them”…..”But,” she said, “even though you’re stuck with them, at the same time, they’re also stuck with you. So that’s why they always get the front rows at christenings and funerals. Because they’re the ones that are there, you know, from the beginning to the end. Like it or not.”
― Sarah Dessen, Lock and Key emphasis mine.