why we need mothers & fathers, brothers & sisters, daughters & sons

mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers

i have been wanting to write this post for a while. it has been especially impressed on my heart in the past few months and i thought in honor of the-day-after-mother’s day i’d actually write it.

i think that the purpose of community–“the church”–is to have a place, whatever that looks like, to learn to love God & others and to be loved by God & others. like so many things that matter, i do not think it magically drops out of the sky.  it comes through hard work invested in intimate relationship–whether that be our journey with God or our journey with people–and an openness to the movement of the spirit of God in us and through us.  and these relationships–God & people–are all tangled up together.   Jesus summed up the law–love God, love your neighbors, love yourselves.  that is the essence of the journey.  i also think they are wonderfully interdependent.  i always say “you can’t love God without loving your neighbors, you can’t love your neighbors without loving God, and it’s hard to love either one when we don’t love ourselves.”

over the years i have taken a lot of flak for over-promoting “healing” in the church.  i think the problem is so many people are scared of the word “recovery & healing.”   and in my opinion the reason that people are afraid of it is because they are afraid of what they might find (i know i was at first!).   healing means we will have to look at what’s missing, what’s broken, what’s hurting, what’s wounded, what is in desperate need of change.  it requires a humility that scares a lot of people half to death.    i think the word “healing” is synonymous with “spiritual transformation.”   our formation into the image of Christ is us becoming more whole in our ability to love God, our neighbors, ourselves.  and that formation can seem bloody, brutal, and oh-so-beautiful.

the part we sometimes forget is what an important role each of us play in each other’s formation.  God uses us in the weirdest, wildest ways to pass on his whole heart to his children.  this is why incarnational, redemptive community is so important.  there are so many different aspects to God’s character that one person here on earth can’t reflect them all.  but the visible sum of a lot of diverse & powerful & healing relationships through true community is how this transforms people in amazing ways.

we need each other.  we all have a story of brokenness, no matter how big or small.  some of that is through our family of origin, other is through different life experiences.  for others we just haven’t been exposed to diverse relationships so we don’t even know what we’re missing.   many know this, but i am an adult child of an alcoholic.  look at the “here’s what ACOA’s might be like list” and i struggle with almost every characteristic.  i have experienced healing in many incredible ways over the years, and God continues to redeem. a core issue for me is i have always wanted a tangible dad who was present, fighting for me, protecting me, loving me, cheering me on.  my dad just can’t do it the way i wish he could for all kinds of reasons.  but in the past 5+ years i have entered into deep & transforming relationship with my friend in community, mike.  we are healing for each other in different ways; we always  joke that i am his mother, daughter, sister, friend, and teammate and he is my father, son, brother, friend, and teammate–all at once, in some mysterious way.    part of my soul has been restored through this relationship and i am so much more free because of it, on more solid ground, more whole.

there’s not enough space to go on and on about all the different aspects of our relationship but here’s what’s clear:  if we had been afraid to enter into each other’s lives, we would have missed so much of God’s heart. i think all of the separation of men and women from each other is damaging.  women always in one group, men in another is not a reflection of the kingdom (i am not saying it doesn’t have it’s place, i am saying that it’s way overused).   side-by-side, in the trenches of real life together, learning, healing, growing, transforming.  i think that was always the idea of true redemptive community.  that God would use others to redeem parts in us that needed redeeming.

none of us can be all things to all people.  but we all have a part to play.  and we all have holes that need filling.    here are a few ways i think we can begin to live some of this out.

it starts with cultivating real, intimate relationship with each other & that will require intention, time, and risk. i do not believe “going to” church will do the trick.   it will mean being together–men & women in the same room, around the same table–sharing our stories, our fears, dreams, hurts, hopes and generally spending time together beyond just the periphery.  it means engaging in conflict, weeping together, celebrating together, nurturing an interdependence that is sometimes foreign for many of us (especially in a world & culture that espouses independence, control, and selfishness).

we have to learn to take sexual weirdness out of the picture and that takes practice.  i think this may be the hardest one to learn, especially in a world with so much sexual brokenness.  i could go on and on about this issue, but i think one of the reasons there is so much sexual brokenness is because we have not learned how to be together as brothers & sisters, as equals, with a purity of heart and spirit.  the onus on this doesn’t all fall on just men.  both sides have to learn much of what hasn’t been taught to us, because we have been fed both subtle and direct messages that say “men and women can never be just friends.” i think this is an evil tool the enemy has used against humanity that has perpetuated division & fear & control.  we have lost the heart of brotherly & sisterly love.  one of the reasons i am so passionate about co-pastoring–men and women side-by-side sharing–is that it is a way to live this out tangibly and not re-create unequal, imbalanced power dynamics that are so limiting . i have a lot of brothers.  we meet for coffee sometimes, we call each other when we need perspective.  we challenge and encourage each other in love.  we fight.  it is real. it is pure.  it is healing.  i had been taught a lot of things early in life how to use my sexuality to get what i needed, to fill an emotional void that needed filling.  much damage was done to me & i am sure i inflicted my share of damage, too, by using people this way.  now, learning how to have healthy intimate relationships with men other than just my husband has strengthened me in ways i can’t describe. my friend dan brennan at faith dance writes almost exclusively about this issue, offering amazing perspectives on cross-gender friendships.

start to notice places in our hearts, our story, our spiritual experiences that need noticing. what’s missing?  what do i long for?  what am i afraid of?  what are some of the barriers to letting myself experience some of these different dynamics of relationship?  what is God trying to reveal to me that i may not want to look at? what parts of God’s character is hard for me to believe?  this requires a quietness, an inner searching, humility.  i have a gut reflex all the time that says “i don’t want to need anyone! i can’t need anyone!”  it comes from my history and i battle against it constantly.  i know i am not alone in this spirit of self-reliance that shuts us down to these kinds of intimate relationships, not only with each other but with God as well.

it does take a village. none of us are God.  none of us alone can fill the huge and blaring gaps in some of our experiences. it’s way too much pressure to have to fill the shoes of all of these roles; not to mention it is literally impossible.  the healthy approach in my opinion is to just bring whatever we can to the relationship and let God do the rest, bring the others, and use others in small & meaningful ways, too.  this is why diversity in community is so important–we need all kinds of voices, roles, perspectives, differences.   the weird tension is that at the same time we need others, we also have to make sure we don’t demand or expect more from each other than is realistic.  become willing to be thankful for small things that change, heal, reveal helps take the pressure off.

oh, i think so much of this is missing in the body of Christ.  many have adopted the ways of the world & forgotten our roots. messy, organic, intense, healing community was always the idea, the family of God growing up together & spreading the love we were learning to the world. let’s listen to what God is stirring up in us & be brave enough to be mothers & fathers & brothers & sisters & daughters & sons to each other, whatever it looks like for each of us, a beautiful reflection of God’s wholeness lived out together.

Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar co-pastors at The Refuge, a Christian community and mission center in North Denver and is the author of Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.

25 Comments

  • Thanks for sharing Kathy, great post and a much needed challenge for our cross-gender relationships. Please be encouraged to continue promoting church as the healing community of God – it can never be overpromoted!

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  • Kathy,
    Beautiful post. Ah…I believe what you shared here about us being family members to one another, brothers and sisters, having friendships with the opposite sex is just so right-on.

    We, as the Body of Christ, are a Family…the Great Family. We live out what we are Truly, best when we live in the brother and sistership He created us to be.

    Blessings,
    ~Amy 🙂
    Walking In The Spirit

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  • yes 🙂 this is where my heart is too. beautiful one kathy. thanks! 🙂

    God has truly been stirring in me such a love for community, the Body….

    He really helped me understand that I’m not connected to Him through the Church (or any church)… but I AM connected to the church because of my relationship with Him. Once we are saved… we are no longer “just” one. We are part of something bigger and are commanded to be in community/true fellowship with others.

    I’m at a place now where I’m just trying to figure out how to encourage others in that… how to help create environments for people to connect that will spur them into relationships. how to help people connect but never try to ‘program or assign’ them into relationship. 🙂 How to cultivate relationships but all the while undersatnding GOd is the only one who “makes” community.

    Thanks!! 🙂 Love,

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  • Kathy, It is messy and it takes time. You can’t program it, but only encourage it. Yet it is worth it to have something real and valuable. It is amazing how we run from what we need on an organizational and personal level. Wonderful thoughts!

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  • Kathy…

    …exceptional

    …challenges all our hearts

    …keep writing like this, as your words open up sacred spaces that we all need to be walking into…together

    …Wes

    PS…may I have your permission to print this off to give to others, as well as share your website?

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  • Dear Wild Old Man Wes Roberts highlighted your post and I’ll give him a great big kiss for it when I get to meet him. We are kindred souls – recovery, healing and community are deep passions for me too.

    I’m taking it on the chin right now because our community is going through growing pains and I can be such a lightning rod at times. I have grown weary and your post reminded me that it is truly worth it. Thank you.

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  • dan – thanks. and thanks for all you do to keep infusing the body of Christ with such challenging thoughts. i hope to make it out to chicago one of these days & would love to connect.

    christina – thanks for reading & taking time to comment. i appreciate your encouragement! this post has reminded me that there are many that resonate with these thoughts & long for greater and greater healing & restoration across genders and aren’t just talking but actually contributing to change in practical & real ways.

    amy – yep, i am so with you!

    randi – i think one of the greatest ways to encourage others is to do it and then talk about what you are learning. there’s something so powerful about our first-hand stories & experiences, in the words of AA–our own “experience, strength & hope” i am excited for what God is doing in you & through you!

    davida – thanks, always great to hear from you. you were the first one to notice the new format (or i guess say something about it, hahah). i got tired of the little print! hope to catch up soon, this saturday eve at the refuge is a concert, focus on human trafficking, if you are bored & want to drive down, 6pm.

    glenn – yeah it is sure is messy, it sure takes time, and it sure is worth it 🙂

    wes – great to hear from you here! of course, you have freedom to share it with whoever you think would be interested.

    heidi – yes, so many who love wes and are blessed by his presence and wisdom and heart for God & people. i am glad you shared a bit of what is going on with your community; i always love to know it when friends from afar are in the thick of things and need to be reminded they aren’t alone & it is indeed worth the effort to shift things that need shifting. thanks for sharing & will be thinking of you as you & your community walks through hard stuff. being a leader of change is always so hard, may you feel God’s peace & strength & hope in the midst…

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  • thank you for that encouragement/reminder Kathy, you’re right! 🙂

    and thanks for being excited with me. I appreciate how you’ve helped me process so many of the things I’ve been struggling with. 🙂 thanks for you!

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  • I was directed to this post by a friend and I found much if what you said resonating with my own thoughts and experiences with church, with fledgling thoughts on what it means to be community, and with our need for others on our journey of healing.

    I am so grateful to hear of others journeys and struggles to live authentically, wholly, in a fragmented culture. Thanks.

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  • Excellent post! I wrote a blog post last year about the men in my life! I grew up being indoctrinated that ‘men and women can’t be friends’. In my life I have been blessed to have had fathers, brothers and sons in Christ and I’m here to say that we need more men and women who will model what healthy, God honoring relationships with the opposite gender look like!

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  • hey kath, i’m so thankful for the dual roles we fill in each others lives. my greatest wounding, the “mother wound”, could have never been healed in the context of a same sex friendship. only when i was accepted, warts and all, by a female, (you) was God able to bring redemption and restoration to my life and my story. i believe that the same is true for women who struggle with the “father wound”. it will never be fully redeemed until they are able to receive appropriate love from a safe male. it is unfortunate that many men and women look to romantic or sexual relationships, with often disastrous results, to fill the need that was meant to be filled, by a safe opposite gender friendship.

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  • Kathy…I don’t know if you have done it already, but I am really hoping that you will submit a proposal for the new Wikiklesia book that fleshes out this story where there is enough time and space to describe the wonderful way of relating that you have described.

    Brad Sargent talks a great deal about men needing to be “safe males” for the sisters who have been wounded by men, too.

    http://missionaltribe.org/groups/w2mt-collaborators

    Thanks for being who you are for everyone to see.

    Oh…and anyone else who has an inspiration story about women “taking flight” in the Kingdom as well as working side by side with the brothers, consider submitting a proposal yourself!

    Blessings….

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  • randi – well that’s what i love about staying connected out here in online world because we are all challenged and learning in different ways!

    claire – great to hear from you and glad that you found these thoughts encouraging and that they resonate with where you are at on the journey.

    dan – yes, i am sure one of these days we’ll get to have a real conversation 🙂

    karin – thanks for stopping by. i’d love to read your post! yes, we need more role models for this, more folks who are willing to say “yes, it is possible…and good..and healing…and spiritually transforming…”

    mike – oh how thankful i am for you! i love what you said here, though, how many are looking to get certain needs filled in unhealthy ways through romantic relationships that aren’t good for the soul, but it often feels like the only option. true redemptive community is so healing on so many levels and i agree with you that it then enables us to learn how to do those other kinds of relationships (marriage, kids, etc.) better!

    minnowspeaks – 🙂

    peggy – great to hear from you here! i try to check into the tribe when i can but i told grace i am always a little torn, want to be there more but sometimes not enough time. cynthia sent me the stuff about the taking flight project, so fun! i will definitely send something in and you can see if it will work with the combo of pieces you have. LOVE the collaborative publishing idea and can’t wait to see what comes together. thanks for all you do…i was with a friend yesterday who was abused by women in his life and it is so interesting how the same dynamics that you mentioned that brad had shared go the other way, too. how forming safe women friends for abused men (whether in childhood or in their family or marriages) has the same healing effect. we talk about the women thing more because it’s more prevalent but i do think that there’s another side of the story, too. bottom line is just a reminder of how truly we need each other!!!

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  • WOW! Kathy thank you for having both the strength and the weakness necessary to so powerfully address theses kinds of absolute critical issues. This is a message that needs to be sung from the mountain tops and in the valleys and in the backyards and in the cities and in the small towns and in the ghetto’s and the affluent neighborhoods and in the pubs, and coffee houses in every home and every other place that those who are in Christ may be found.

    WE NEED EACH OTHER, NOT IN SPITE OF, BUT BECAUSE OF OUR DIFFERENCES!

    Tom Wilson

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  • Wes put me on to this. . .

    Simply put, profound and provocative thinking for us all. Had to do a bit of healing over the last year and this rings true!

    Write on. . . .

    Doug

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  • tom – i am so with you: “we need each other, not in spite of, but because of our differences” so true!

    brother maynard – thanks for the link love. i always feel honored.

    doug – thanks for stopping by and taking time to comment and for the encouragement. always happy to celebrate other’s healing, too!

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  • kathy…I am so happy to hear that you’re putting something together for the Wiki2 book! No worries about “time” … there never is enough in my neck of the woods, either. In my world I know if God wants me to do something if (1) I have the energy and inspiration to do something and (2) if the time is available! LOL! I just go with what works, eh? ;^)

    I have had the privilege of being a friend to a number of men, too … and am trying to be an especially diligent mom for my three sons, to help them cut some of the trauma off at the pass, as it were, before it happens!

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  • wow…how’d I ‘miss’ this one? starting to believe I might have about 10-20 family members now. where do shepards fall in this ‘family’? I needed that too! thanks, SK! 😉

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  • “we are healing for each other in different ways; we always joke that i am his mother, daughter, sister, friend, and teammate and he is my father, son, brother, friend, and teammate–all at once, in some mysterious way. part of my soul has been restored through this relationship and i am so much more free because of it, on more solid ground, more whole.” -awesome that you guys could walk that walk and be there for each other in all the pain and mess to restore hope.

    Reply

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