Chosen Family

“They were walking along, talking, when suddenly a fiery chariot and fiery horses appeared and separated the two of them. Then Elijah went to heaven in a windstorm. Elisha was watching, and he cried out, ‘Oh, my father, my father! Israel’s chariots and its riders!’ When he could no longer see him, Elisha took hold of his clothes and ripped them in two.” – 2 Kings 2:11-12

I believe in the idea of chosen family. That’s no slight to my family of origin, whom I love dearly. But I love the idea that my family is made even larger by the fact that there are people dear to my heart with whom I share no legally-binding connection.

LGBTQ people have long known about this concept. In fact, in decades past we’ve referred to other LGBTQ folks as being “family.” One of the reasons why is that in a time when many families of origin rejected their gay and trans kids, strong surrogate families emerged instead. Thanksgivings and Christmases were spent not back home, but in the protective embrace of friends.

But chosen family doesn’t belong to any one community. Elisha and Elijah knew that. Elijah was the older mentor who taught Elisha, and who named him his successor as prophet of Israel. Thought not father and son by any legal measure, their relationship was in every way just as real. Elijah became Elisha’s spiritual father, teaching him the faith and preparing him for his work. 

It’s no surprise, then, that when Elijah disappeared into a whirlwind Elisha mourned as only a son would. In accordance with tradition, he took the clothes he was wearing, and ripped them in two. 

Too often we limit our definitions of family. We include only those who share a last name or, worse, blood. But in the Bible we see God working to create families in much broader ways. Jesus’s important descent from King David comes not through a bloodline but through Joseph, his adoptive father. Ruth and Naomi cross religious lines to form family. John is told to see Mary as his own mother as Jesus hangs on the cross.

Our families teach us who we are, and who we can be. And sometimes God creates families for us in the most amazing ways. 


God, thank you for the family I have, no matter what binds us together. Amen. 

dd-emilyheath.jpgAbout the Author
Emily C. Heath is the Senior Pastor of the Congregational Church in Exeter, New Hampshire, and the author of Glorify: Reclaiming the Heart of Progressive Christianity.