The holiday season at the end of 2020 was a time of provocation! I was provoked to think about family. Family is a design feature of God’s creation that demonstrates his commitment to love and humility. I will explain what I mean, but first, a story.
At the beginning of the Christmas celebrations, December 19th to be specific, Marti and I celebrated 50 years of marriage. I am still tempted to think that number is a figment of my imagination; I am simply not old enough to have been married that long! Then I look in the mirror.
The day was not as it might have been because Covid restrictions were in place, which meant that the usual big celebration was not possible. We knew our four children (can we still call them that when they are all in their 40s?), along with their spouses and children, were planning something that would be appropriate, but they kept it very quiet. We were just told to keep the day free and they would be making dinner for us.
At midday, Mark and family arrived with the first course of the menu. From then on for the rest of the afternoon, each of our other children, Michael, Stephen and Sharon arrived with the next course. This enabled us to share that course with each of our children, their spouse and their children – one nuclear family at a time. It was a day of pure joy! During the day, and as we reflected on it later, Marti and I agreed that the disappointment of not seeing so many of our long-standing friends was compensated for by that condensed experience of family.
That wonderful experience provoked me/us in many ways; we reflected on God’s amazing creative design. There would have been many ways God could have populated the earth, but he made us “male and female”—wonderfully, intricately, intimately complementary.
He designed us so that we would have the mysterious experience of deep attraction. We have so many different names for it: love at first sight, infatuation, having a crush and many more. Each generation will have their own unique phrases for that moment when one person finds another romantically attractive.
IT WORKED FOR US!
I well remember when the final student arrived, right at the end of 1969, for the lecture phase of our School of Evangelism in Lausanne. In my imagination, I still see her pausing at the doorway, evoking me to think, “Uh oh, I’m in trouble!” That was because I had made a sort of promise to God that I would not get into any relationship with a girl for that year. I had to decide whether my promise was a bit too impulsive or that I had to avoid this very attractive young woman. I decided the promise was a bit rushed and shallow. Within a few weeks I had proposed to her and she had said yes!
During our courtship, we talked about so many things and enjoyed the emotional, intellectual and physical process of becoming closer and closer. (Not too close, of course!) One of the things we agreed on was that we wanted children. That was another of the amazing design features God built into human beings. We didn’t decide that after thinking deeply about sleep loss, expense, inconvenience, loss of some of our freedom, the challenges of raising several children with all their differences and different demands on our parenting. We were responding to a deep, Providential desire to bring the result of our love into the world.
LOVE, SACRIFICE AND HUMILITY
As the children came along, we never had to remind ourselves to love them—at least not often! We just did. We were designed to do that. We raised them to the best of our ability, often sacrificing some of our own desires along the way. With the benefit of hindsight, we can see some mistakes we made, but parenting is partly designed to keep us humble. Now, with great joy, we watch and help as they raise the 11 grandchildren they have produced. We had sometimes been–at least a little– bored by grandparents going on about the joys of having grandkids. Now we find we too can be incredibly boring to anyone who shows the slightest interest in our grandkids.
(That reminds me of a story I have been wanting to include in a blog. An American friend was at a drinks party where he was making new acquaintances. An English gentleman asked him a question and my friend went into a lengthy explanation of what he thought. At the end of his monologue, his new acquaintance turned to walk away and remarked, “I’m afraid you have greatly overestimated the extent of my curiosity!”) That’s just a warning that a bit of interest in our grandchildren can provoke a lengthy speech illustrated with photos.)
Our family arrangement is unusual for modern life but was common for countless past generations. We all live within about a mile of each other, so the three generations are together a lot. Our children and grandchildren drop into our home to talk, mooch snacks, borrow tools, ask if we need anything from the shops, etc. The three or four generational model was part of God’s design and it is full of richness and challenges. We are so proud of our family and, at the same time, our family keeps us humble.
We can celebrate the accomplishments of one another, but a lot of grace, forgiveness and long-suffering is also required. Our Creator designed family so that we could not escape the cost of loving relationships. I have tried to think of one word that encompasses the qualities required to make family life thrive and the only one that does it justice is: Christlikeness.
Most of us will know people who have a good family life, but do not claim to be Christians. They can only do so by developing the character qualities that Jesus incarnated. Good character is within reach of people who do not have an active Christian faith, but how much better to be able to call on God’s grace, read his word and consciously follow Christ’s example!
In the Western nations, that is those that have been deeply, historically shaped by Christian values, family has been understood to consist of a man and woman in a life-long covenant relationship who usually produce and nurture children, who then go on to produce and nurture children and so on. But for the past 30 years or so different minority groups have worked hard to undermine and change that description. As a result, many governments have redefined marriage, gender has been separated from biological sexual identity, governments and other institutions have eroded parental responsibility for, and authority over, their children.
The pain and confusion resulting from these attacks on family are being felt in many ways. Children especially are suffering. Depression, loneliness, suicide attempts, identity confusion, anger, hatred of parents and lawlessness have all increased exponentially. A passage from the Bible describes these kind of days as “the last days”. And says:
“But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. 2People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, 4treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God… “ (Timothy 3)
An anti-family revolution has been underway for several decades and has had much more “success” in my lifetime than I anticipated. I am committed to a counter-revolution! My strategy, along with my wife and family members is to pay the price to maintain loving family ties and to cling to God’s original design for a man and a woman building a family together. Are you committed too?