A Surprise in the Sadness
I went to my cousin’s funeral the other day. It was sad – for a bunch of reasons. It was sad because a man had died. It was sad because he was young. It was sad because he had three kids he left behind. His life had been difficult. He had struggled with many things and his passing will leave a permanent scar on his family, but in the middle of the sadness, surrounded by people who share my last name, a strange feeling snuck up on me. A feeling I wasn’t looking for and didn’t expect.
Let me explain.
There are not many Sondergelds in the world – in Australia anyway. Most people I meet haven’t heard of the name or met anyone who bears it.
I lived in Sydney for eight years in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. Shortly after I arrived, I remember looking in the White Pages (I admit, it was a long time ago!) to see if there were any other Sondergelds. There was only one. One other family out of three million people. By the time I left Sydney eight years later, I was the only one.
So it was a strange feeling to be amongst Sondergelds at the funeral. And not just any Sondergelds – blood relatives. I looked around and saw tall, barrel-chested men – the classic Sondergeld physique. I saw former rugby league players and ex-basketballers and I enjoyed the blue-collar authenticity. I listened to my uncle read the eulogy and it was classic Sondergeld in both content and style.
As he spoke, there were times he seemed to be talking about me. His son was 6’3” – just like me. His son’s nickname was ‘Sondy’, a nickname I have been called most of my life. It’s a nickname that seems to be given to any Sondergeld of the male variety (two of my sons have gone by the names ‘Little Sondy’ and ‘Big Sondy’).
This was my clan. These were my guys. I saw some of me in them and as I was with them a strange feeling of belonging came over me. Strange because I was at a funeral. Strange because the extended cousins on the Sondergeld side don’t have that much to do with each other. Despite this, it felt like a part of who I was had been decoded. I understood more about who I was by being with my crew. We are Sondergelds. There are lots of us. Similar but different. Unique but alike.
Somehow, when I was with my people, I became more me than I ever was on my own.
As I chewed it over, I began to think about the church. I began to wonder if the same dynamic happens in God’s family. The more I thought about it, the more convinced I became that God’s family and natural families have this in common. None of us is fully who God made us to be in isolation.
We are incomplete by design. We need God and each other to see who we are and to help us become what we are – God’s beloved children. You can see this dynamic at work when God’s family gathers together. When we gather, we see family members who don’t seem to be able to get their stuff together either (Isaiah 43:11). We see brothers and sisters loving God, talking to Him, and worshipping Him – even though they can’t see Him (John 20:29). And still others share their weaknesses, but in ways that look more like strength (2 Corinthians 12:10).
The family likeness we see when we gather affirms the family likeness we see in ourselves – even as it spurs us on to grow more in them.
After all, this is our crew.
These are our people.
A weird bunch. Not a perfect family by any stretch.
But a family nonetheless.
The Father from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named (Ephesians 3:15).