God put human beings into families and into His big family to make sure everyone had a place to feel special and to be affirmed in a world where many feel lonely and isolated. How is it that we often take something like family—so vital to the health and well-being of humankind—for granted? Why do family problems so often need to reach crisis proportions before family ministry becomes a priority in the church? Perhaps it’s because the church has been slow to recognize a very simple principle: Healthy families don’t just happen. Families need care if they are to be strong and healthy.
The care of families is important because family relationships are dynamic. Families need to be cared for because relationships are constantly changing and developing. The images gracing our wedding photo album are certainly not the same two faces that greet us each morning in the mirror nearly 40 years later! The stresses and strains of the journey up the corporate ladder are worlds away from the challenges of growing old. Husbands and wives who once playfully enjoyed one another may one day find themselves living silently under the same roof and wondering how a marriage that began with such promise could disintegrate to this sad state. Without intentional care, vibrant health in families can slip away as easily as an individual puts on weight and loses muscle tone over the holidays.
The care of families is important because change is inevitable and difficult. Families everywhere are in the throes of social, economic, technological, and political change. Some change is predictable, and preparations can be made. For example, as surely as the leaves come out on the trees in the Spring, children and teens will enter the wider world with all of its influences—good and bad. Parents who are helped to anticipate this challenge will be better equipped to prepare their children and to set appropriate limits.
Not all change is predictable, however. Sometimes events that change life forever in a family come suddenly and without warning: a child dies in a tragic accident, parents lose their jobs, war breaks out and families must leave their homes for safety, etc. Families can be empowered for growth and change, or they can be left highly vulnerable to the powerful and sometimes destructive winds that often accompany change.
The care of families is important because the strength of the church and society is dependent upon the health of their most basic unit—the family. A small boy who was building a church from toy blocks on an uneven surface was exceedingly frustrated because his church kept tumbling down. In desperation he finally said, “If I can’t find a better place to build this, there’s no use in building!” How right he was in observing that no structure can be any stronger than the base upon which it is built. Ellen White summed up this principle nicely as it applies to the importance of keeping families strong and healthy: “The restoration and uplifting of humanity begins in the home. . . . The well-being of society, the success of the church, the prosperity of the nation, depend upon home influences.”1
Strong families communicate with each other. Caring families listen and share in ways that make people feel safe in sharing their innermost thoughts and feelings. They intentionally create opportunity for dialogue. One mother quickly learned that a few minutes of rubbing her son’s tired legs at bedtime loosened his tongue amazingly! A doctor found that his daughter enjoyed making rounds with him. The trip to and from the hospital and through the halls gave them a time and place to keep in touch with one another.
Healthy families show their love and affection for one another. Kay Kuzma, a popular Adventist author on family living, visualizes every human being as having a “love cup” inside. When love cups are full to overflowing, people experience an inner sense of personal well-being that is likely to spill over and spread love to whomever their lives touch. Healthy families look for ways to communicate their love in ways that make each individual family member feel that love personally.
Well-functioning families have realistic expectations. They expect sticky things to be spilled, siblings to quarrel, and getting everyone out the door on time to church to be a challenge. Healthy families are able to grow toward the ideal while at the same time being patient with one another as growing human beings.
Strong families spend time together—working, playing, worshipping. Even in the midst of activity overload, successful families make time for each other. They make a concerted effort to eat together at least once a day. They share responsibility for chores to keep the household running smoothly. Our family plays table games. Our good friends make kites. Another family gives teams of two responsibility for designing a creative worship activity for Friday evening each week. Families whose members enjoy one another’s company often will likely continue throughout life.
Strong families find joy in each other. A gospel song has a line that goes, “We’re going together, enjoying the trip, getting used to the family we’ll spend eternity with.” Family living may be filled with challenges, but Christian families can experience a deep abiding joy in the surety of the full and complete salvation which is theirs in Jesus Christ. Finding the joy and sharing it in the family and in the wider circle is what being family is all about.
The church has a major role to play in caring for families. Start with one of these “do-ables” this week:
• Plan a family church service, giving various families responsibility for reading Scripture, providing music, acting out a Bible story as a children’s feature, etc.
• Honor a member of your community in church who provides a service to families in your area—a family counselor, physician, director of a shelter for abuse victims, etc. Use this opportunity to educate families about the community resources available to them.
• Go on retreat together as a church family and just enjoy learning, playing, and worshipping together.
• Invite the youth of the church to put on a Sweethearts’ Banquet for all the married couples in the church.
• Start a parents’ support group that meets monthly for one year to learn from each other about the needs, joys, and challenges of each stage of child growth and development.
Family is worth caring for. And cared-for families help to make a church the family of God.
Karen & Ron Flowers
General Conference Directors of Family Ministries