Diakonia: A Revolution of Tenderness
It is easy to be faithful during the good times, the healthy times, and the affluent times -- but the real school of love is in the bad times, the sick times, and in the poor times.
Summertime in Boston is a time for families to rest, reconnect, and recreate. From Memorial Day to Labor Day families reconnect with one another basking in the promises of a warm summer day and the good food cooked over a hot grill -- there is nothing more American than a hot dog cooked on a charcoal grill on the 4th of July. Vacation homes on area lakes and beaches are filled with families resting in each other's presence amidst the crashing of waves and the smell of BBQ or maybe even fried clams.
Families are places where love is received and love is exchanged. They are places where husbands and wives learn the ways of sacrificial love. In this love, they are invited to cooperate in God's life by loving children into creation. Parents share in God's providential love by the many ways they care, support, and educate their children. Families are places where children discover their worth and enjoy the freedom of being children in their parents' house. Families are places where we can know that we belong. Diakonia is the glue that binds families together in love.
Simply defined, "diakonia" is the table service that many parents and grandparents provide for their children and grandchildren and their extended family and friends. Those of us who have attended a fancy wedding or hosted a large gathering at home are acutely aware of this type of service. This service seeks to ensure that everything the guest needs is provided. A good servant anticipates the needs of the guests and presents the guest with what he or she needs even before the guest knows he or she is in need. This is the service that sustains and nurtures family life.
The diakonia common to all believers is also rooted in the service that John the Baptist provided as the precursor to the Messiah. John the Baptist lived his life preparing for and pointing to Jesus Christ. Families rooted in this form of diakonia prepare the way of the Lord by the way they nurture, educate, and attend to each other. Families rooted in this kind of love point to Jesus by the way the loving sacrifices each one makes for the sake of the other.
Although a family is comprised of various members -- I am the fourth of five boys -- there is one expression of love that links, binds, and keeps the family together -- diakonia -- that is life-giving love for the sake of the other. The fact that my father kept a bucket of ready-mix plaster on hand to fix holes in our walls is evidence that our family life was not perfect. But it was a place where my brothers and I learned the richness of faithful and committed love. This love was communicated by the way our parents gave us the freedom to grow into our own identities. At times our parents were strict, but we knew that it was because we were loved. This love encouraged us to be the best possible version of ourselves. Now that my brothers and I are all in our 40s and 50s, these are lessons we continue to learn and they are lessons we hand down to our own children.
In our collective experience, we know that family gatherings on the holidays can quickly turn ugly revealing the complexity of family life. Every family has its own struggles, pains, and sufferings. Families are often sustained during tough times by remembering and living out the vows that root the family in love. It is easy to be faithful during the good times, the healthy times, and the affluent times -- but the real school of love is in the bad times, the sick times, and in the poor times. It is in these times that family members can make heroic sacrifices by the ways they lift each other up when another is down. I was reminded of this love by the many ways my family came to the support of my younger brother and his family during his wife's battle with cancer. As we comforted his wife in her final days, it was apparent that we had the great privilege of ministering to the suffering and wounded body of Christ. This difficult time in our lives helped us to see the many ways that we were being ministered to by God in the simple gestures of compassionate care.
The lessons of love that we learned as children in our home were, and I imagine will continue to be, sources of grace as we journey together into the loving embrace of our God in heaven. Diakonia is the bond that binds families together. It is the love that promises to restore faith, refresh hope, and rekindle love.
DEACON CHRISTOPHER CONNELLY IS ASSIGNED AS DEACON TO THE TRI-PARISH BROCKTON COLLABORATIVE AND DIRECTOR OF FORMATION FOR THE PERMANENT DIACONATE. THIS REFLECTION IS ONE IN A SERIES ACKNOWLEDGING THE 50TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE RESTORATION OF THE PERMANENT DIACONATE IN THE U.S. AND EXPLORING THE UNIVERSAL CALL TO DIAKONIA FOR THE CHURCH AND ALL DISCIPLES.
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