Thank you to Dinah Pillion!
Audio version of this post is here:
“We are what we remember”- As a new year approaches it is that special time to pause and look back upon the road we’ve just traveled this past year and to thank God who carried us safely through the many bumps and curves along the way. We now have an opportunity to prayerfully reflect on that journey and the changes and growth that took place, examine the areas that need improvement going forward, and honestly assess where we currently are on that roadmap. But perhaps of most importance is taking the time to look further down the road and consider our destination and the steps and route needed to arrive there. What kind of person do we desire to become? For we are commanded to “be transformed by the renewing of your mind”. As travelers, with each and every passing day, month, and year we are always in a constant process of change and a state of becoming that will continue until the end of our days. We are never stagnant because life is not stagnant. The ungovernable hand of time propels us onwards as we experience the cyclical seasons of life and ride the ebbs and flows of all the storms and calms in our path. Through all this, we are molded, shaped, and transformed into a product of all our past experiences. Incredibly though, our Heavenly Father has not left us to be solitary in this journey – in His infinite wisdom, He has provided us with a companionship like no other (whether for good or bad) along the way and by no choice of our own – our family. It is these very close relationships that become the tools in the hand of our Heavenly Father to chip away at all our imperfections and develop in us His character as we approach the destination we all seek – the Kingdom of God.
This process of becoming a vessel for God’s service could not be more true than in the early years of youth. God has loaned us children whose minds still yet innocent and easily impressionable can be shaped into something yet to be revealed. Yahweh’s only ask of us is that we return these children as a Heritage to Him. God’s purpose is intrinsically tied up in the dynamics of the family relationships (the parent-child, child-child, and husband-wife relationships). The earth will be filled with His glory one day, but for the present moment, He is working to build up families for His name who can reflect His perfect and righteous character. It is a monumental task that we cannot take lightly!
There is no better way for children to grasp and begin to understand the reality and embodiment of God’s love and character than in how it is expressed in the home, and in the very relationships, God has blessed us with. It is for this reason, this new years post will focus on the pillars that have been well identified, by research and those with years of experience, that are the components that constitute a strong, godly family. We pray that some of the ideas and suggestions may be of some use to all of us who, though imperfect and struggling, desire more than anything to build strong, stable, resilient, godly families. May God grant us wisdom and mercy as we strive to create families that our children will remember as being founded on God’s word and love and that the relationships we develop will help us in building a godly house that will be preserved for eternity in God’s kingdom.
“In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.” Eph 2:21-22
THE COMPONENTS OF A STRONG FAMILY
“Thy wife shall be as a fruitful vine by the sides of thine house: thy children like olive plants round about thy table.” Psalm 128:3 paints a beautiful picture of what we may call the “Ideal” family – a family that flourishes, that is growing and becoming something of beauty that will one day bring forth a ripe, mature fruit, sweet to the taste. When looking at a plant whose leaves are green and full of life, it is easy to forget how tender and fragile it is – and how much care is involved to provide enough water, light, and cultivating to keep that plant from drying up and withering all together. When reading Psalm 128, how many of us wouldn’t say “we want a strong family”? As the previous verse so clearly states, this is where happiness lies, “For thou shalt eat the labor of thine hands: happy shalt thou be, and it shall be well with thee.”
When our family sat down and genuinely thought about what our most important focus should be, we thought of course it is to build a strong family! However, that goal by itself seemed so big and so vague. The questions soon became: “How do we start? Where do we begin? How can we measure this?” We may already know that in order to create goals that are successful, the goal must be highly actionable, specific, and given a time and location. So what exactly makes a strong family? Families should in some way be a reflection of God’s character. How do we create beauty and bring glory to God? God’s glory is His character and the closest thing our children have to understand who God is as a Father is how they view us as earthly fathers and mothers. We are all familiar with the Proverb “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” (Prov. 22:6). How do we turn all that we know about God’s character and embody those principles in our home? How can we build an awareness of the areas we need to focus on? More importantly, what are we doing about it? What intentional, purposeful actions are we taking each and every single day to build those necessary relationships with our family, our children, and spouses that will God-willing become such a core value that the relationships will stand the test of time and trials? Over the past few months our family, recognizing there were key areas we needed to strengthen, began a discussion on what specific actions we could focus on in strengthening our ties with one another both as husband and wife and with each of our children on an individual basis. An otherwise stable-looking family may appear to work well. There is enough food, enough money to get by, enough hugs, the children’s needs are taken care of, – yet there may be something missing in some very key components that may leave some members feeling lonely, isolated, emotionally neglected, or not validated. Under pressure, this otherwise “stable” system of doing things can easily break down. A resilient family, however, is hard to break because they have invested in the key components where not just the physical and spiritual values are upheld, but also in the emotional investment that creates trust and a cohesiveness where each individual member has a satisfying family life.
One research we found very interesting was from the University of Nebraska in studying human development and family studies. Data was taken from over 25 countries and thousands of families and it was discovered that strong families have 6 common core traits.
These are the 6 common things that are the hallmark of a strong family:
- Appreciation and affection: They express their love for one another, and speak in encouraging and positive ways that validate the other’s feelings.
- Strong commitment to each other: They are committed to ensuring the happiness and welfare of those in their family by investing energy and time in family activities and things that promote this.
- Spend enjoyable time together: They enjoy being in each other’s company. Time together is planned and prioritized. Time is such a precious commodity in today’s world, and there never seems to be enough – but strong families will dare to “waste” their time on each other.
- Manage stress and crisis effectively: Just like any family they will face difficult circumstances and trials, but in hard times they come together and develop strategies to overcome.
- Sense of spiritual well-being: They are bound together by core principles and consistent lifestyle practices that guide their values and ethics. They may be brought closer together by important causes or work in their community.
- Effective and positive communication patterns. They communicate in respectful, kind, and loving ways. They allow space and time to listen and talk to each other.
In a world where families are deteriorating, where family members don’t want to be associated with each other, healthy families are proud to belong together. We may be part of a loving family, yet feel disconnected because so many factors in our life interfere with quality time. It’s always good to reflect and take stock of where you ARE as a family. Each family will have its strengths and weaknesses in each of these areas. At the end of this article is a link to a Family Strengths Inventory1 exercise that has been remarkably useful in helping individual families to have meaningful conversations about their interpersonal relationships and take those first steps towards an action plan to strengthen the family. Our family including our older children each completed this exercise independently, we then came together and discussed our answers. It was very important to hear from the children’s perspective how they viewed our family. It is just as important to celebrate all your family’s strengths in a meaningful way. We can easily focus on all that is wrong and not take the time to appreciate the beauty that already exists and build upon that. Once you know where you are, you can begin to work on areas to strengthen, and areas that need improvement. This year let’s make building a godly family for the Kingdom a priority!
“But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection.” Col 3:14
ONE FAMILY’S EXAMPLE
Here is one example of how our family is prioritizing our relationships:
After taking stock of our Family Strengths Inventory, we were able to celebrate many areas of strengths but also had many areas that needed growth. Throughout the year we will be working through each of the six components. However, to start off, we have decided that we will focus on spending quality time with each other. This may seem odd that a family who homeschools and whose father works from home has decided they need more time together! While we have made a concerted effort throughout the years in this area, we desire to build upon this in even stronger ways and particularly focus on QUALITY TIME, with the emphasis on QUALITY and paying attention to each other. It takes a great deal of deliberate effort for families to create a home with a positive environment where each member can grow and flourish as resilient little plants. It is a matter of prayer and prioritizing our family especially when our time together can get squeezed out by the many competing factors in the fast-paced lives many of us live.
We have come up with an action plan that fits our unique family’s needs:
- Plan a weekly family activity for the entire family for all 52 weeks of the year
- Spend a minimum of 30 min alone each week with each family member to do a special activity, talk, listen, just enjoy being together uninterrupted and without distraction.
Research has shown time and time again, that the marriage relationship is the primary element that is directly related to the quality and health of a family, in fact, it is the single most contributing factor above all other factors that impact the strength of a family. In addition to these family goals as husband and wife we also have a goal for the marriage:
- To commit to a monthly date night out without kids
SUGGESTED ACTIVITY TO ACCOMPLISH THE QUALITY TIME GOAL
MYSTERY ACTIVITY ENVELOPES:
This is a fun way to commit and prioritize a year-long goal of spending quality time together. We all know that the best of intentions at the start of the year usually fall by the wayside within a couple of months. This year our family has planned ahead for the year, an activity for each week.
What you will need:
- 52 envelopes (and envelope for each week)
- Colored Pens
As parents, we have brainstormed ideas for each month. Some activities are related to the seasons, (we wouldn’t go lake swimming in Winter! ) so some thought may be needed to find appropriate activities. These can be inexpensive, simple everyday things. We encourage keeping these simple and low costs so that the threshold to being able to easily carry these out is very low. The ideas are written on a piece of paper (you can make it fun by using colored paper) and are sealed in the envelope. Each week a mystery envelope will be opened that reveals what the family will be doing that week. We are committed to planning, prioritizing, and protecting these weekly activities so that they occur (we learned all too well this past year that when life circumstances like a health crisis occurs, enjoyable family time can get squeezed out at a time where it is most important to have this time together).
One rule we’ve emphasized is that this is the special family time to be done without distraction, or interruption – the focus is to be on the family. It is also important to us that this time is not seen as a “reward”, it is a time where whatever the past sins or trespasses of the day or week – are forgotten and this is the time to bond and reset as a family. There is nothing intrinsically extra-ordinary about any of these activities, in fact, many are things we may have done before. The difference is that we are taking the mundane and giving significance to them, and making them special because we have dedicated and committed this time to one another. As parents, in the days leading up to the unsealing of the envelope, we can spend a lot of time “talking up” the mystery event that’s about to be revealed to build excitement and anticipation and show how much we value this time as well. It is also important that our best efforts and focus during the activity is to encourage communication, appreciation for one another, words of kindness, praise, patience, and drawing godly lessons in the activities.
The children have helped to suggest some activities although most have been planned by us. Keeping the mystery and excitement is something that the children can look forward to. (Note: this can also be a fun method to incorporate into couples date nights).
Alternatively family’s can just plan an activities calendar where everyone knows ahead of time the plan and schedule so they can prioritize it. Finding something that fits each family’s unique needs is something that will take some thought and brainstorming. This may not work for your particular family, but the fun part is sitting together and coming up with ways you can work towards building a strong family in one or all of the six components.