The commercial below shows a glimpse of the special kind of love that we call familial love. The Greeks called it storge (στοργή), and the Romans called it pietas. Both words refer to familial love, the natural or instinctual affection between parent and child. Michelangelo’s “Pieta,” depicting Mary cradling the dead body of Jesus with tenderness and sorrow, demonstrates beautifully the meaning of pietas.
Familial love has some unique qualities. For example, we don’t choose our family; we are born into it. We can choose friends, and for the most part we select them because they are agreeable to us. Not always so within the family! And when couples marry, although they establish their own nuclear family, each brings to the marriage his or her own family and extended family.
Because we don’t simply pick our family, some of God’s most important lessons can be found in family life. There is often a lot of tension in day-to-day family life due to all the different personalities and viewpoints, not to mention the different historical dynamics. But if there were no tension, there would be no change! The Lord surely means some of these tensions and differences in order to help complete us and purify us. We need to learn patience and show a lot of love and forgiveness within the family—but that’s good for us!
Familial love is especially oriented toward raising children and bringing us all to maturity. I remember once, in a fit of anger, telling my mother that she was kinder to strangers than she was to me. She responded, correctly I now see, “I’m not in the same sort of relationship with strangers as I am with you. I don’t the same obligations to them that I have to you. I’m your mother; it’s my responsibility to correct you and help you to grow up well.”
As we all know, no one can drive us crazier than our family members, yet at the same time no one can bless us the way they do. Familial love is a mysterious mix of fondness and frustration, conflict and care, shared memories and shared melodrama.
Ah, family! Can’t live it; can’t live without it. The song in this commercial beautifully puts it: “I don’t know why I love you, but I do.” Enjoy this glimpse at the ups and downs of familial love.
Family watching television, c. 1958. National Archives and Records Administration. Evert F. Baumgardner. Images of American Political History. Posting online by Dr. William J. Ball. All images are believed to be in the public domain.