Families soaring above the clouds
This is the first of two columns offering hope for today's families.
Call me irrational, but I’m crazy about families.
To negative folks, the troubles facing families of the day loom as big dark clouds, portending evil. To those with a positive outlook, however, the clouds are temporary only obscuring a bright future promising intrigue, challenge and opportunity unlimited.
I grant you that raising a family today is not easy; but then, I’m not sure there ever was an easy time. Adam and Eve had trouble with their boys. Earlier generations, especially those before 1910, suffered the agonies of having many babies’ lives snuffed out by epidemics. My parents didn’t think it was easy raising me in the textile town of Gastonia. My wife and I struggled raising children in parsonages, in the glass houses of pastorates and public professions. Each generation faces challenges and struggles and learn to overcome them.
We can hardly fathom the difference in human existence in the broad but brief span between the end of the first millennium and the end of the last. It’s just one millennium. Ten short centuries. But think of this.
Just more than one millennium ago, the now extinct Incas were developing a culture that built an incredible empire which they ruled from Peru. Leif Erickson landed on the shores of North America with a band of Vikings; a newly invented rigid collar gave horses four times the traction they previously had and thereby improved the lives of subsistence farmers everywhere. In the Americas, the native peoples domesticated corn and made the first chocolate drinks. During the first few centuries of the next millennium the Black Plague killed one European in four; and then the survivors beat back Arab invaders from the south, and fought Mongol hordes from the east. From the beginning of that millennium to its last hours, savage wars ravaged the populated continents.
Sure, life was hard a thousand years ago. But even in America just more than one century past, children openly sewed clothes in textile sweatshops. A century ago, coal-burning stoves fouled the air and horse traffic clogged the streets. Women couldn’t vote. Water fountains were segregated, and public education was pitifully inadequate.
There were no telephones, airplanes, automobiles, computers, or satellites. We didn't have strawberries all year or CNN all day. There were no Social Security or disability payments for the old or those injured at work. And two catastrophic world wars, separated by the worldwide Great Depression, were still to come.
Remember: In 1900, AIDS was unknown; few smoked tobacco; 50,000 fewer people died in highway accidents every year; inner cities throbbed with new vitality and fresh hope. There were no gasoline shortages or electrical power outages; no cyber threats; no suicide bombers or shooting massacres; no 9/11.
So while “Family” is being assaulted at every turn today, I hold to a robust hope for families. “Family” will survive. This conviction is born not only of faith but also of facts, facts which support the hope.
“Family” is God-ordained and self-defining. Given enough latitude, of course, anyone can define family. However, I like Christian author Gary Smalley’s definition of a healthy family which he says has six consistent elements:
1. Members exhibit a high degree of appreciation for each other.
2. They spend considerable time together.
3. There is open communication among members.
4. They share a strong sense of mutual commitment. 5. Their common life is marked by a high degree of spiritual orientation. 6. And, they are able to deal with crisis in a positive, constructive manner.
Note numbers 2 and 3 –– time together and communication. They are interrelated, and if your family members are going to be something more than boarders in a shared building, you have to make time and communication a priority. If parents deprive each other and their children of face-to-face time so that they can work night and day to provide “things,” they may find no one there when they have “arrived.”
It is virtually impossible to arrive at a definition of family that is universally accepted. In our Christian context, family includes a caring adult or adults who strive to raise children in a safe, wholesome environment in which they can thrive and come to know the God who created them and who loves them. Of course, you can have a family unit with two adults who are neither parents nor intend to become parents.
At Baptist Children’s Homes, we’ve expanded our definition of “family” beyond the immediate circle of parents and children to include relatives at any distance who are involved in the lives of the children we serve. An uncle in Baltimore may be more “family” than is a local dad who refuses to be involved with his child.
However you define it, “family” is society’s basic building block.