My parents endured several years of suffering as I wandered away from my faith. My feelings towards God ranged from ambivalence to hostility as I questioned everything I’d been taught to accept as true. But even as they prayed for me and spoke the truth to me, calling me to repentance and faith, they also did something else. They made sure I knew I could always come home.
“You belong here,” they preached to me, over and over again. Despite the shame I was accumulating for myself as I ran from God, they made sure I knew I could not outrun God’s love—and I could not outrun theirs.
My husband and I have come to call this the “family gospel.” The family gospel doesn’t save anyone. But it’s an important context for the true gospel of Christ to take root in our children’s hearts.
You Belong Here
At the core of being human is the deep desire to belong. A child who feels he or she doesn’t belong is going to grasp for that connection elsewhere. They’ll be willing to compromise what they know to be true for the substitute of belonging—fitting in.1
When we pull a seat up to our family’s table and say, “You belong here,” we teach our children about the beautiful diversity of God’s family. You might be different from us. You might not feel like you “fit in.” But you belong here, nonetheless. We love and accept you not because of what you do, but because you’re ours.
This unconditional love and belonging was an instrument the Lord used to keep me anchored to my family and, eventually, to bring me back into his church. In our homes, it could be an instrument of God’s grace in the lives of our children, helping them not to seek love and belonging in places that promise but don’t deliver. As we send our children off to school, and into experiences where they might feel alienated and alone, we can remind them, “You belong here.”
The “Family Gospel” on a Larger, Truer Scale
This “family gospel” also has the potential to point our children to two things: God’s unconditional love for them in Christ, and the home that’s always available to them in Christ’s church.
We won’t love our children perfectly, but as we do so imperfectly, we can continually point them to their perfect Father who is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” (Ps. 103:8). We can model what it looks like to be in a community where you’re confident you belong—we can humbly confess our sins when we fail; we can extend forgiveness when we’ve been wronged. We can create space for differences and celebrate the unique ways God has gifted and made us.
Jesus told his disciples that many would have to leave their families behind for his sake, but promised they’d receive a hundredfold “now in this time” (Mark 10:30). He was talking about the church! As we do our best to model the belonging of the kingdom of God around our own tables, we want to invite our children into the life of the church, showing them that the “family gospel” exists on a larger, truer scale. Wherever they go, they can find a place to belong, where a diverse body of misfits and outcasts gather around a table to feast together on the body and blood of Christ.
Every family isn’t equipped to preach this family gospel. As believers, we have a unique opportunity to demonstrate how the welcome we’ve received in Christ compels us to welcome others. For our children and our neighbors and all who long for a place at the table, we pull up a chair and say, “You belong here.”
1 Brene Brown, “Finding Our Way to True Belonging,” https://ideas.ted.com/finding-our-way-to-true-belonging/.