THE SPIRITUAL FAMILY
I want to write now on a subject that has been close to my heart for a number of years . . . "Personal friendships and the Spiritual Family."
God made us to live in families. Without the mutual love and support of the family, children could not be reared, nor could normal human life be carried on. The family is the unit of society; hence one of the Ten Commandments is, "Honour thy father and thy mother." However, when we grow up and become adult we must leave home and set up on our own, hopefully establishing new families. Our relationship with father and mother then changes; it is no longer that of authority versus dependence, but one of equality, of friendship, of mutual respect and love. Moreover, our brothers and sisters probably cease to be our closest friends. We choose our own friends, not in terms of physical kinship, but for other reasons not always easy to define. We look for people who are on the same wavelength as ourselves, who share our concerns, interests and values.
After death this choosing of friends will become almost an automatic process. We shall be sorted out in the spiritual world according to our ruling or dominant love, by the operation of the law "like attracts like. "The newly awakened spirit feels a strong pull in a certain direction, like the homing instinct of animal or bird. He goes on travelling in that direction, as the interiors of his mind come to the surface and take control of him, until at last he reaches a society of other spirits (a village, small town or city suburb, whatever it might be) where he feels entirely at home. This is his place. All the people there are completely in tune with him. They even resemble him, since externals in the spiritual world are an expression of internals; there is a strong family likeness. Their interests and tastes are the same as his, and they think of God in the same way. Maybe some of them were brothers and sisters or cousins in the natural world before death, but not necessarily. Anyway, all that is forgotten. They are brothers and sisters now! They are "Spiritual Family."
As the newly arrived spirit begins to settle down in his home—which for him is the centre and focus of the universe—he experiences the great joy of getting to know the members of his Spiritual Family intimately and at depth. And with it comes the desire of each to give out to the others in a mutual sharing. This brings to all the parties exquisite happiness, which goes on increasing, in a kind of chain reaction, to eternity. It is heaven! How big are these Spiritual Families? It depends on how many friendships the spirit, now an angel, can sustain at that level. The sorting out has already been done—that is what is called the Judgment. Those dwelling near you, in the spiritual world, are by definition like yourself. The further away people are from you, the less they are like you, so that the making of intimate friendships gets more difficult as the circle widens, though for that very reason, perhaps, it becomes more interesting and exciting. At any rate I am sure that during eternity the average angel will be able to cultivate deep friendships with many, many other angels in an ever widening circle, thus actively participating in the one great family of the Kingdom of God.
How different it is on earth, where we are thrown together higgledy-piggledy with people of all kinds, good and bad, congenial and uncongenial, friendly and unfriendly! As often as not we have to hide our real feelings, disguising our true natures, in order not to be too vulnerable. Those who expose themselves in this mixed society can get into bad trouble. They can get hurt. So we are warned to protect ourselves, not to give ourselves away. And yet, in true friendship one has to give oneself away!
However, it is possible during life on earth to have a few real friends who will constitute for us a Spiritual Family. How big that family can be will depend on how extensive our contacts have been, and on what talent we possess for making friends. I think I can say that my own Spiritual Family consists of between twenty and thirty members, living in different parts of the world. There are perhaps six in South Africa, a couple in New Zealand, seven or eight in England, and the rest in America and other parts of the world. You may ask, how is it possible to keep up with a family that is so widely scattered? Answer: By contact on the spiritual plane! On that inner level, distance is determined by spiritual affinity. If you are really in tune with somebody, you are close to him wherever he is. It is possible to be much nearer to someone on the other side of the world than to your next-door neighbour. You pray for the members of your Spiritual Family daily, and they pray for you. You give out to one another in love, and your joy in each other increases. If by good fortune you do manage to meet with any of them in the body, how marvellous that is! You carry on just where you left off, there has been no break in your relationship; you take one another completely for granted; you are "family." My idea is that all these individuals will also have their own Spiritual Families spreading outwards from themselves as centres; and each member of these will have a family as well, so that by a series of interlocking circles the whole of mankind will be linked together in loving fellowship.
How many close friends have YOU that could be included in your Spiritual Family? How many people are there, excluding blood relations, with whom you are really intimate, with whom you can "let your hair down," be yourself, say what you think without embarrassment, love without possessing or being possessed, be frank without causing offence, trust utterly, share everything—including money? Such a relationship is the most beautiful thing in the world, with the exception only of marriage love. Friendship is not the same as marriage, of course. Marriage involves the merging of two selves into one—which can only be achieved by one man with one woman. Friendship does not make one out of two, but it enables two, three, four, any number of people, to relate together like brothers and sisters on an inner level. In marriage, husband and wife look towards one another, whereas in friendship the friends are standing side by side, arm in arm, looking outwards into the world and sharing and enjoying what they see.
Are twenty or thirty intimate friends enough? I wish we could have more! We all have a large number of acquaintances, but these don't always count for very much. (Get yourself into trouble, and see how many of them fade away!) One true friend is worth a thousand acquaintances. Couldn't we undertake, as one of life's projects, the widening of our Spiritual Family? It is especially difficult, in our whirlwind society, with its competitiveness and its hurly-burly, to cultivate real friendships. We just don't have time! We are spread too thin! We don't even know where to begin!
How about starting with fellow members of your church? Here you have the advantage that there has been some preliminary screening. At leat you know that you and they have the same idea of God and share other basic beliefs and values. But . . . what a difficult lot church-folk often are! Maybe church members are particularly hard to get to know on a deeper level, because of the tradition that if you belong to a Christian church you have got to be "good." The result has been a kind of hypocrisy with church members, which you have to crack if you want to become real friends with them. A church group should consist of ordinary sinners who recognize themselves as ordinary sinners, but who wish to be reborn and grow up together as children of God. They should know one another so well, and trust one another so completely, that they can take off their masks and "be themselves," not concealing anything, but seeking help from one another in improving their spiritual condition, with power from the Holy Spirit working among them. That is what a church group is for—otherwise why not worship in private at home?
One thing I want to point out. If you are to make friends, you must be willing not only to give love to others but also to receive love from others: and that is what some of us just can't do! It embarrasses us. Our wretched pride stands in the way. We think that if we begin to accept love from someone, we shall be beholden to them—which of course is true. It might put us in an inferior position, at the receiving end. Perhaps they might start trying to help us, to use their influence on our behalf, or even give us things we need! That really would hurt our pride. It requires a considerable and genuine humility and grace to accept true friendship. Do we have that humility? If not, isn't it about time we set to work to develop it?
Now think what other qualities are necessary for the building up of our Spiritual Family. What qualities will other people want in you? Brilliance of mind? Wit? Charm? Beauty and elegance if you are a woman? No! These are all on the surface and do not touch the mainsprings of real friendship. I would list: openness; the capacity to listen to other people and be interested in their concerns; a contagious trust in Providence, and a tendency to look on the bright side of everything; respect for other people's opinions and viewpoints; not taking oneself too seriously. In a word, love for the neighbour. What blasts friendship and makes it impossible? I would list: being absorbed in one's own affairs to the exclusion of all else; talking "with one's ears shut"—not being conscious of other people's reactions to us; inordinate obsession with externals and trivia; perpetual facetiousness; negative attitudes; continual indignation and criticism of others and complaints about life in general; boasting of oneself; self pity . . . self, self, self! If you are always full of yourself and your own concerns, nobody is going to be able to make a friend of you, and they wouldn't want to if they could! I once heard it said, "A person wrapped up in himself makes a very small parcel!" He is a lonely soul, condemned to spend eternity outside those glorious, expanding, interlocking circles of joyous friendship which constitute heaven. In Scriptural terms, he is cast out into outer darkness. He casts himself out.
Above all I would say: If you are to be a real friend to others, and if they are to become members of your Spiritual Family, and you of theirs, then you and they must be Friends of God. If you are not on satisfactory terms with your Maker, you will not want to be in heaven at all, therefore what we have been saying about heavenly friendships will be irrelevant to you. Jesus himself said that love to the neighbour is "like unto" love to God. People who have difficulty in giving and receiving love in their relations with other people, usually also have difficulty in their relations with God—and vice versa. The same qualities of self-absorption which block love to the neighbour, block love to the Lord. Remember Jesus's commission to his disciples in the upper room just before his arrest and crucifixion: "This is my commandment, that you love one another, as I have loved you. Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do whatsoever I command you. Henceforth I call you not servants, for the servant does not know what his lord is doing; but I have called you friends . . . These things I command you, that you love one another." (John 15:12-17.)
So much for our Lord's friends. And his Spiritual Family? He had defined this earlier in his ministry, and rather dramatically. His natural brothers (James, Joses, Simon, Jude) had not been very interested in his ministry during his lifetime. That is not surprising; a prophet is generally without honour in his own household. Probably they resented his going away and leaving the whole of the carpentry business to them, and the running of the home. So they set off from Nazareth to Capernaum by the lakeside, taking their mother with them, probably determined to bring him back home. By now Jesus was drawing huge crowds. During one of his important addresses, someone interrupted him, saying, "Your mother and your brothers are outside, wanting to speak with you." (Outside! Note the significance of that!) What did Jesus reply? "Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?" Then he stretched out his hand towards his disciples (as he stretches his hands over you who are reading this—and over me) saying, "Whosoever shall do the will of my Father who is in Heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother!" The Lord's Spiritual Family.