Episode 1. Family Matters
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You know what they say – you can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your relatives. Ain’t that the truth?! Maybe that’s why families around the globe are being torn apart. Your Family …
You know what they say – you can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your relatives. Ain’t that the truth?! Maybe that’s why families around the globe are being torn apart.
Your Family Matters
As I travel around the world and see what’s going on in different societies and cultures, here’s one of the things that I see. It’s happening all over the place. This thing that we call family is under attack. It’s a war zone out there and this war is relentlessly pounding away at the family unit, intent it seems, on tearing it apart.
I’m a former army officer and I remember once during my training they took us to a large firing range. It was open; you could see for miles, there were no trees. We were sitting on one hilltop and on a hill a few miles away they’d dug a defensive installation. There were pits, bunkers with overhead protection, like the ones infantry soldiers would dig if they were defending that hill against the enemy.
Then they began to bombard that hill, first with light artillery, then with medium artillery and then with heavy artillery. It was the most unbelievable firepower demonstration I had ever seen. All of us who were watching it were thinking to ourselves, ‘Man, I’m glad I’m not in one of those bunkers on that hill’. And since we were training to be army officers, training to lead men into war, we knew that one day, we could well find ourselves in that place.
But the artillery was nothing, compared to the bombs the planes dropped on that hill. Yep, a squadron of bombers clew over and dropped their loads on that target hill. It was just unbelievable. The massive firepower that was unleashed on that defensive position.
That’s what I see happening to families around the world. Modern life is bombarding our families in all sorts of ways. And the army that’s marching against our families is called “individualism”. One of the greatest variations in cultures that I see across the world is the degree to which they’re collective or individualistic.
In many countries, they remain family and community oriented. Typically, they’re the less economically developed countries and there’s a good reason for that. Because when people are less well off, they rely on one another for protection and support. The more economically developed a country becomes, the less they rely on one another and the more individualistic they become. But even in many countries in Africa and Asia in particular where I’ve travelled, there is an incessant march of individualism.
So even these family oriented cultures aren’t immune. They are very much under attack from this western style of individualism, where it’s all about me, me, me. As media globalises, as cable television channels and internet and music crosses borders and cultural boundaries, our children in particular are being fed the line that it’s all about them. And it’s a seductive line. It’s a line that says you can have it all.
That’s why individualism is sweeping the globe. That’s why families in family oriented cultures are very much under attack.
And here in the so–called economically developed western cultures, hey, many families have been decimated. And those that haven’t are under attack. In the west, divorce rates hover between 40 and 50%. In the west, many families don’t even share a single meal together. In the west, many children aren’t learning to honour their parents, to respect their grandparents.
In the west, families are disintegrating en masse and it seems that all we’re intent on doing is talking about the symptoms, but nobody much is talking about the heart of the problem. It’s like cancer. Rates of cancer amongst people eating a western diet high in carbohydrates and seed oils are skyrocketing. I mean, a hundred years ago, almost no one died of cancer. Today it’s one of the top three killers. And all the stuff you see on TV is about treating the disease, instead asking why it’s happening and stopping it in its tracks.
It’s the same with this relentless attack on families. You hear adults talk about children who are disrespectful; you see young boys and girls going on drinking binges and getting rotten drunk – everybody’s talking about the symptoms. The disease however is the disintegration of the family unit. It’s the falling apart of the single, most important – God ordained – social unit on the planet. The family. So I come back to my original thesis – the family is under attack. Relentless attack.
But this isn’t just a geo–political issue. It’s not just a law and order issue. It’s not just a health issue. It’s not just a social issue. It’s a personal issue. Let’s bring it right down to you and me. Your family is under attack. My family is under attack. And when all is said and done, our families are the most important thing on this earth. Or are they?
On a scale of zero to 10 – how important is your family to you? Zero is not at all important. 10 is supremely important. Come on – no one’s marking your score card here except you yourself – HOW IMPORTANT IS YOUR FAMILY TO YOU, on a scale of zero to 10?
Some will answer that with an 8, 9 or 10. But many – many, if they’re honest with themselves, will be disturbed by the answer, because in their heart of hearts they’ll know that other things are much more important to them, than their families. Women tend to place a far higher value on family and relationships, for instance, than men do. In part, it’s because mothers are wired to love their children in a special way. And in part it’s because men are wired to be the hunter gatherers, out there providing for their families.
But there are other distractions too. There’s the whole materialism treadmill that we can end up getting on – and we find ourselves having to work so long and so hard for the stuff we want to have, that we don’t have the time to invest in our families. I want to leave you with this one thought today – YOUR FAMILY NEEDS YOU. Mother Theresa once said:
What can you do to promote world peace? Go home and love your family.
She had that right. Sometimes, we think there are all these big things out there for us to achieve. And hey, for some people there are. But nothing, nothing is bigger than going home and loving your family. This family that – okay, you didn’t choose for yourself – but this family, that’s the only one that you have.
This family that is a precious gift to you from God.
For this reason a man shall leave his mother and his father, to become one with his wife, and the two become one flesh. (Genesis 2:24).
After God created Adam, He created Eve and gave her to Adam, so that the two would become one and in so doing, produce offspring, children. There you have it, right from the beginning, God creates a family.
It’s easy to miss that. Family was God’s plan from the beginning and as it turns out, He has rather a lot to tell us about how a loving and effective family should live and behave and run as a family unit. That’s what we’re going to be talking about in these coming days and weeks on the program.
But not long after that, the family unit – the very first family unit – starts to come apart at the seams. They had two children, Cain and Abel, and out of jealousy one kills the other. So the moment sin entered the world, there you have it, the family unit is under attack.
When you’re gone, what sort of legacy are you going to leave behind on this earth? A good one, or … not so good? Well let me tell you, much of the legacy that you leave behind will be through your family, your children, their children. Sure, not everybody goes on to have a family. But most of us do and for most of us, our legacy will be not just the DNA that we’ve passed on, but the values, the morals, the competencies, the faith and the love that we’ve passed on.
I’ll say it again: your family is under attack, under relentless bombardment. And in this war zone, in this battle – your family needs you. So, back to my earlier question, on a scale of 0 to 10, where are they in your list of priorities?
Your Family Struggles
I want to deal today with a delusion that many people live under. I want to blow it completely out of the water. And that delusion is the perfect family. Here’s how it goes.
As we live day by day with our own families, we rub up against the imperfections in each family member. Husbands and fathers, wives and mothers, children, grandparents, grandchildren, uncles, aunts, cousins – not a single one of them is perfect. And as much as some of those people may, to a greater or lesser extent be talented or gifted in certain areas, the reality is that they’ve also inherited many of the foibles and weaknesses, ineffective perspectives and attitudes of their parents.
And, worse still, they’ve probably developed a few bad habits of their own.
Put all of those people together into a closed eco–system that we call “the family” and from time to time, sparks are going to fly. Not everyone is going to get on with everyone else, not everyone is even going to like everyone else.
You’re getting my drift, right? You know exactly what I’m talking about here, because there’s not a single person who hasn’t experienced this reality. It is the universal reality of every family. Every family has bits that are working well, and every family as some black sheep, some dysfunctional relationships, some clashes of personality.
Of course, there are different levels of dysfunctionality. Some families have things more or less together; others are a complete and shocking mess. I get that. But would you agree with me that there’s no such thing as the perfect family? Anywhere in the universe? Okay, so we agree on that.
So why is it that most of us have this ideal, perfect family thing in our heads that we compare our own families to – only to conclude, my lot are beyond help? Why is it that we believe the happy, smiling, stereotypical family thing that we see on television, in advertisements, in the sitcoms that we watch?
Why is it that we look at our friends’ families and think, ‘Wow, if only my husband were like hers’, or ‘If only my wife were more like his’, or ‘If ONLY our kids were as well-behaved and as well-adjusted and as respectful as their kids’. And ‘Look how tidy their kids keep their rooms. Look at the mess my teenagers live in’. Have you ever found yourself running those comparisons?
Sure you have! We all have!
Well, it’s a delusion. The perfect family is a mirage in the desert. There is no such animal on the planet, as a perfect family. And the reason we’re talking about this expectation of perfection, is that it’s this very expectation – this false, unrealistic, impossible expectation – that disempowers us from investing in our family.
We see the weaknesses and failures and imperfections of individuals. We see the conflicts. We see the dysfunctions. Every family has those to a greater or lesser degree, but we compare them to this false image of the perfect family. And we throw our hands up in despair and conclude – there’s nothing I can do here. They’re beyond help. I’m just going to have to put up with this mess!
Or worse still – and this is happening more and more – I’m opting out. I’ve had enough. That’s how divorces happen. That’s how children don’t speak to their parents for years on end. That’s how brothers and sisters grow up and drift apart – to the great detriment of their own children who now completely miss out on their cousins and aunties and uncles and grandparents.
Some people live in family oriented cultures. Others, like me, are immersed in individualistic cultures. Many of those who live in family oriented cultures have no idea – NONE – of how truly blessed they are in their extended families. Cousins growing up together. A neutral aunty or uncle who can step into a conflict that is simply too hot to handle for parents. The gentle wisdom and guidance of grandparents. Those things are the most incredible blessing.
And yet many other families, children, miss out on that blessing, because we’ve decided – nope! They’re a pain in the neck my family. I’m not going to have anything to do with them. HELLO!
Can you please do me a favour? In fact, – no, more than that – can you please do yourself a HUUUUGE favour? Ditch this delusion that out there somewhere there is some perfect family. Come on. Just forget it. It’s complete nonsense. NO – your family is not the only family with issues and problems and clashes. NO – your family is not the worst family on the street! NO – your family is not so hopeless and worthless that you should give up on them.
Come on … they’re your family. They’re the only one that you have. They’re your flesh and blood and they’re worth investing in. And the moment we ditch this ridiculous “my family is the worst family in the world” idea, all of a sudden opportunities open up for us to invest in family, and reap the rewards.
Your family is a special gift from God. Your family is the most precious collection of people on this planet. And if you write them off now, you are trashing one of the greatest blessings that you will ever, ever receive on this earth. YOUR FAMILY. The only one you’ll ever have.
So, let’s get real. Of course they’re imperfect. Of course they won’t always see eye to eye. And of course – the more of your extended family that you connect with and invest in and relate to and have meals with … in a sense, the more problems, clashes and dysfunctions you’re going to run into. Uncle so and so, who has a drinking problem. Aunty so and so, who’s as insecure and bitchy a person as you’ve ever met. That 16-year-old nephew who is the rudest child you have ever encountered.
But think of the opportunities for you to invest in their lives. To be there for them. To reap the reward of family relationships. To laugh with and cry with and celebrate with and mourn with. That’s what families do. That’s what families were always meant to do.
And they were never ever going to be perfect. Ever.
Let’s come back to that very first family in all of history. Adam, Eve, Cain and Abel. Adam and Eve had a perfect life, until they did the one thing that God told them not to do – they ate the fruit of the one and only tree in the Garden of Eden that God told them not to.
And so the first family let the curse of sin enter into this world – something that you and I are still living out today. God kicked them out of the Garden to fend for themselves and life became immeasurably harder. The experienced for the first time pain and hardship. And they brought two boys into the world who grew up and jealousy arose between the two:
Cain said to his brother Abel, Let us go out to the field. And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel, and killed him. (Gen 4:8)
Right there in the first family there was dysfunction. Huge dysfunction. I’m hoping that we never see that sort of dysfunction in our families. I hope we never see that sort of a clash and it’s tragic consequences in our lives.
But there you have it. You and I live in a world where sin has entered. And just as we have sin and shortcoming in us, so our other family members have sin and shortcomings – albeit different ones to our own – in them. Just as they rub us the wrong way sometimes, we rub them the wrong way sometimes. That’s the way it is.
Once we grow up, and mature, and accept that reality, my friend, your family can be such an incredible blessing to you. And, more to the point – you can be such an incredible blessing to your family.
Your Family Means Safety
I must confess, I’m a land lover. I don’t like being out on the open ocean, particularly not in some small boat that gets tossed around by the wind and the waves. When the storms are blowing, when the waves are crashing over the hull of a ship – well, there is nothing more scary than that.
There is nothing quite so frightening as an angry ocean. But in a very real sense, we live our lives out on that ocean. Think about it. We’re born as a helpless child – completely helpless. We can’t walk, we can’t communicate, we can’t feed ourselves … hey, a new born baby doesn’t even have very good eyesight. The human child, when it’s born, is completely defenceless, and completely reliant on it’s parents.
That’s where you and I started our life’s journey. And then God put us into a family. Now … I know … some people are orphaned. Some people have terrible parents. But for the most part, most of us end up in a family. Not a perfect family. But a family nevertheless. Now, let’s just stop and think about the rationale behind that.
We start out as a defenceless, helpless little person, and at the end of our childhood when we pass into adulthood, we’re supposed to be healthy, educated, balanced young men or women, capable of contributing to society, capable of earning a living, capable of finding a soul mate and … capable of bringing a defenceless, helpless little person into this world and starting the whole cycle of life again. Not sure if you’ve ever thought of it in those terms, but that’s the plan.
And the whole point of it is that our family is a place of safety and protection, a place of nurture and education, and a place where we learn to love and to relate to other people. It’s almost like a cocoon. You know, when a caterpillar goes into a cocoon and it goes through the process of metamorphosis and it comes out the other end, incredibly, as a butterfly. As the cocoon is to the caterpillar, so the family is to the helpless little person. A place of protection, and a place of transformation.
But … some father’s are too busy to be fathers. Mothers, more and more, also in the workforce now. Children coming home to empty houses with internet connections that give them unfettered access to the world – in all its beauty and in all its marred, ugly, dangerous manifestations.
Mothers and fathers, this message is for you. You are the very fabric of that cocoon. You are the protection, you are the nurture, you are the one who – whether you realise it or not – has by far the greatest role in transforming your helpless babe, into that beautiful butterfly that emerges at the end of the metamorphosis.
The Bible talks a lot about family. Because, as we’ve seen, family is God’s plan. Family is part of God’s amazing design for this world. And your family – the very one you’ve been born into and the very one that perhaps you’ve brought your own children into – is designed to be a place of safety, protection, nurture and transformation.
THE most important thing is NOT that our children should have designer label clothes, the latest smart phone, and all the entertainment and sporting and music options that they desire. THE most important thing is NOT that our house be the best on the street or that our car be the one that our little heart desires. THE MOST IMPORTANT THING – is that our children are loved and nurtured. Have a listen to this piece of wisdom for your family from God:
Better is a dinner of vegetables where love is than a fatted ox and hatred with it. (Prov 15:17)
It’s better for our family and our children to have less, with love, than to have more without it. It’s more important for our children to know that they are loved through what we do with them, than what we buy for them. Those who have ears should listen. Parents, grandparents … listen to God’s Word today. You have a job to do – a job given to you by God. Please don’t abdicate. Your children’s