27 December, Sunday — Extended Family

The Holy Family

Sir 3:2-6,12-14
Col 3:12-21
Lk 2:22-40

Over all these clothes, to keep them together and complete them, put on love.           

I gave birth to my second child this year during lockdown in Singapore, and what was meant to be a joyous occasion became quite an unexpected challenge. For starters, our respective families do not live in Singapore, which meant that the help we had planned for after the birth could not materialise. In addition, we couldn’t find any assistance for my confinement period, as the lockdown had been so unprecedented and it was a real struggle to engage anyone at all. We faced homeschooling since the schools were closed and our eldest child was at home. We worried about who would care for him when I went into labour and during the first few days when I would have to be in the hospital. There were so many things to worry about, but my husband and I decided that we would just have to dig in our heels and manage on our own somehow.

The absence of our immediate families, however, gave rise to a different sort of family. A small group of neighbourhood friends rallied around us when they heard of our concerns. They organized everything around the lockdown restrictions amongst themselves. They offered to look after our eldest child and have him stay over at theirs during the initial days, to give us some space. They prepared meals for us, ran errands for us. One even tended to our small but overrun garden for us. My aunt, who lives in Singapore, learnt of our predicament and did meal runs for us. And even though some of us were of different faiths, these friends prayed for our baby and a safe pregnancy and delivery for us. No surprise then, that our baby has now become a sort of ‘mascot’ amongst our friends. He is well-loved and well-looked after whenever they are around. To me, he is ‘everyone’s child’ amongst our group – my joy in his milestone achievements is also their joy – and I have come to cherish these friends as blessings from God.

The traditional definition of a family comprises a father, mother and child/children. These days however, the definition of a family is so much broader – grandparents raising their grandchildren, partners, single parents, foster parents. Wherever you fit in this definition, a family is a unit and, for this unit to work, it takes everyone to pull together. Today’s readings set out these roles for all members from parents to children. Yet what else does it take for a family to work? The reading in Sirach says it all: compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, tolerance, forgiveness, and above all of this – love.

The recent birth of our child has shown me though, that these values extend far beyond the family unit. Or perhaps the family unit needs to stretch beyond its traditional boundaries to encompass people who are your ‘village’ – the essential support system that makes the family work. I have seen compassion and kindness and love in my ‘extended’ family, and they have filled roles that are not defined, but because they care about us, they know exactly what those roles are. Our home is no longer confined to a physical address, but straddles at least three or four different homes where we know we would be welcome in a heartbeat.

The family unit of father, mother and child is still an essential one. For it to work, it needs effort from its members. And it needs support and love. My point is that we also need to look a little broader. Families come in all shapes and sizes. Love is the bond of perfection, says today’s reading. The overriding value is love. Where there is love, therein also lies a family member. As families shrink in size and globalize, it has never been more vital to find support in other people who could step into the various roles that a family needs to survive and thrive. We can’t do it all on our own. As we lift our families to God, I am certain that God provides us with friends and relatives who will rally around us when the call comes. And if this is not a familial kind of love, I don’t know what is.  

(Today’s Oxygen by Annette Soo)

Prayer: Lord, during these times of isolation and social restriction, we lift up our families to you in the hope that in your mercy, you will provide for us and care for our family members both near and far. Keep us all safe oh Lord, that we may be reunited soon.

Thanksgiving: Lord, I thank you for our little ‘village’ of friends and relatives who have rallied around us and supported us with love and care. Bless them always, Lord.

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