Monday, March 24, 2014

Foundations for Faithful Families

What’s up with families these days? Is it just me or does it seem that many American families are in real trouble?

According to the U.S. Bureau of the Census in 2009, there were approximately 2.2 million marriages, while there were about 1.1 million divorces. 

These are not very encouraging statistics! Most of us know that around 50% of marriages end in divorce, but you might not know how that stat has been figured. The fact is that 40% of first marriages, 60% of second, and 73% of third marriages end in divorce. Almost 20 million Americans are currently divorced. The consequence to the well-being of our families is tragic.

Perhaps most alarming is that over 1 million children are directly impacted by divorce each year. Today, blended families (or step-families) are the most common type of family configuration in our country. Around 2,100 new blended families are formed every day in America. And, sadly enough, greater than seventy percent of remarriages involving children dissolve within 5 ½ years. You see, the problem is that most families don’t blend; they collide!

In the beginning, God created families with the purpose of providing such blessings as unconditional love, physical and emotional safety/security, as well as spiritual training and healthy discipline for children. Family is a place where individuals ought to feel like they belong, but often that is simply not the case. 

Psalm 127:1 (ESV) states, “Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.” Without God being woven into the fabric of our family-life, we’re destined for disaster as a society.

Researchers have been able to identify key characteristics present in healthy families that are typically missing from problem families. These include the following: connectedness, flexibility, social and economic resources, clarity, open emotional expression, positive outlook and spirituality. Couples who agree on spiritual beliefs report significantly higher marital satisfaction and couple closeness than couples that are low on spiritual agreement (Larson & Olson, 2004).

So what can we do to strengthen and enrich our families? First of all, adults, let’s get our act together in our marriages. Most marriages terminate due to selfishness on the part of one or both spouses. Somewhere along the way we have forgotten that, in God’s eyes, marriage is not just a human contract but a spiritual covenant. Jesus taught that “What God has joined together, let not man separate” (Matthew 19:6). 

It’s time we stop making excuses for our immature behavior and get our marriages back on track by placing God and His Word at the center of our relationships. Attend church regularly! Incorporate prayer and scripture into the fabric of your daily life as a couple and family.

Keep the courtship flame alive. Arrange for baby-sitting and take your spouse out for a date on a consistent basis. Start serving each other’s needs rather than seeking what you can get out of the marriage for yourselves. The greatest gift that parents can give their children (besides faith in God) is to love each other.

Next, moms and dads, put down your iPhones and iPads and pay attention to your kids. Play with your children. Institute a “Family Game Night” so everyone can interact and enjoy each other’s company. Children need and crave quality time with their parents, but it often seems that we are either too busy or distracted by electronics. Kids spell love T-I-M-E.

Sit down and have dinner around the table in the evenings without the TV blaring in the background. Talk to each other. Laugh together. Share stories about the day’s activities. Did you know that teens who regularly eat dinner with their families are less likely to smoke, drink, or use drugs?

When it comes to household tasks, instead of assigning everyone separate responsibilities, attack family chores together as a family. For instance, wash dishes, fold laundry, or rake the yard together. This shared interaction breeds a sense of unity and “togetherness.”

These are just a few practical ideas. Remember that God is passionate about your marriage and family. They are worth the effort!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

A Mother's Hands

Someone has said, "The joy of motherhood is what a woman experiences when all the children have gone to bed." Mothers have the most difficult and rewarding job in the world. Their role, however, constitutes more than just a job -- it is a spiritual stewardship and a divine calling.

In Proverbs 31, King Lemuel paints a beautiful picture of an exemplary wife and mother. In his description he has much to say about her hands (see vv. 10, 13, 17, 19-20). It appears that Lemuel took notice of the powerful lessons his mother's hands were teaching him throughout the formative years of his life.

In a mother's touch, there is a wonderful mixture of tenderness and toughness. She possesses a softness in her hands that makes her appear weak and vulnerable, and yet a firmness to remove the lid on a pickle jar that nobody else can budge. In her touch, there is passion, patience, perception, and precision. A mother's hands speak a language that still whispers to our hearts long after her physical presence is gone. When you reflect on the hands of your mother, what comes to your mind? Let me share a few personal reflections with you.

1. A Mother's Hands are Resourceful. The woman described in Proverbs 31 uses her hands to sow the fields, purchase real estate, clothe her household, and care for the needy. Her hands give her life balance and enable her to do many things well simultaneously. Although while growing my family wasn't materially rich, we discovered our wealth disguised in our stay-at-home mother. Her hands were compulsively industrious and we learned from her creativity. Like a few small loaves and fishes in the Lord's hands, the hands of a good mother seem to be able to produce something from nothing.

2. A Mother's Hands are Revealing. She is a rudder on the family ship that gives sure direction to the home. It would seem that more than one Jochebed has used her hands to build a proverbial ark of bulrushes to protect her Moses. And then carefully and strategically laid him in the flow of life that led him to a successful place. A mother's hands carry us to places we could not go for ourselves, and they lift us to positions that would otherwise be unobtainable. In 1 Timothy 5:14, the younger women are challenged to "marry, bear children, guide the house, and give the adversary no occasion for slander."

3. A Mother's Hands are Resilient. In 1 Samuel 2:19, we are told that Samuel's "mother made him a little coat, and brought it to him from year to year." Although Hannah had given her son to the Lord, her hands never ceased to touch his life. Her annual visits and her abiding love were a constant in little Samuel's life. No matter how old her children may be, a mother's hands are always ready to impart a comforting and nurturing touch. Isaiah 66:13 compares God's love to a mother's love and says, "As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you." Her loving hands are a reflection of her Creator's image.

As I watch my mother aging (and doing so quite gracefully, mind you), her hands are changing with time. I notice wrinkles and spots that serve as badges of honor. The lines on her palms are trophies from battles she has fought and won. Her hands are not as strong as they used to be, likely because they gave me and my siblings their strength. But, no matter what they look like, her hands will always remain beautiful to us.