When I was growing up, my mother established a wonderful pattern for our family. Every night before bed, she would gather us around her, open the Bible, and have us take turns reading a few verses. Afterwards we would all briefly discuss the passage, and then we would pray together. No matter how tired she was, my mother would always bring us to the Scriptures.
Being on staff at various churches has allowed me to hear a variety of stories. One type I dread is about family members who haven’t spoken to each other for a long time. There’s been a breakdown in communication. I hear, “I have no idea what I did. He (or she) just stopped talking to me. My letters, phone calls, and e-mails aren’t returned.” Indeed, it’s a crushing experience when communication and love between family members falls apart.
The oldest of eight children, my mum can tell quite a few stories of sibling hijinks, mischief and rivalries. She became the appointed babysitter and had to learn quickly to hold her own among her energetic charges. To her siblings, she was simply bossy. On occasion, those relational contexts of long ago rise to the surface, so with any advice she offers her beloved siblings today, my mum reminds them the only life she’s in charge of is her own.
As I was growing up, I often felt as if I didn’t quite fit in. I was different from even my close friends but couldn’t figure out why. I tried to take an interest in what my friends liked and to talk and act like them. But it wasn’t until I went to college that I decided to stop worrying about what other people thought of me. Knowing that my identity was in Jesus, I didn’t have to try to be the ‘cool kid’ anymore.
The American Civil War involved brother fighting against brother—not only symbolically, but sometimes literally. James and William Terrill were officers who fought for the opposing armies. William broke ranks with his family when he joined the Union side. Both brothers died in battle, never to be reunited.
“I wake up in cold sweats every so often thinking, What did we bring to the world?” Tony Fadell, who helped create the iPhone, voiced those words of concern over the self-absorption that can come with too much ‘iFocus’ in our use of technology. He noted that communication devices—though capable of much good—are designed to meet individual needs and aren’t always about what’s best for healthy family and community relationships.
As many have sadly experienced firsthand, an all-too-real problem is the failure of Christian communities to really embody Christ’s love. Author Mary DeMuth describes how, in an insidious way, spiritually abusive leaders can even distort the gospel into a “culture of fear and shame.” Such leaders use guilt and fear to manipulate others into compliance with their own rules.
Researcher Brené Brown describes encountering in her work a unique group of people who seemed able to find significant joy and purpose in their lives regardless of their circumstances. The common thread uniting such people? Vulnerability. Perhaps counterintuitively, Brown found that those most willing to face their insecurities were also those most rooted in a secure sense of love and belonging.
When we first welcomed a fifteen-year-old Chinese exchange student into our family, we thought it would be for only one year of high school. But years later he’s still part of the family. And we’ve added his younger brother to our growing group. Both young men were quiet and a bit reclusive when they first arrived—adapting to a new culture. But it’s been beautiful to see their hearts open to God’s love and to our own. Their faces now typically display smiles, and laughter effortlessly spills from their lips.
Whenever I counsel couples considering divorce, I always start by asking them this question: What kind of relationship did your parents have? Children whose parents divorce are far more likely to do so themselves—in fact, men whose parents are no longer married are 35 percent more likely to divorce, and for women the likelihood is a startling 60 percent. Sometimes in order to heal our broken relationships, we have to look back at the relationships in our past.
It’s been said that more is caught than taught. That was true for my siblings and I as we witnessed our parents caring for their parents. My grandmothers, both widows, lived in homes adjacent to our own—purchased by my father and mother. And in time, a grandmother’s sister-in-law also came to live in our little community. All three were doted on by Mom and Dad.
Although God’s unconditional love is the foundation of faith in Jesus, really believing in unearned love isn’t easy. As Dale Ryan, CEO of Christian Recovery International, points out, even jokes depicting St. Peter’s questions at the “pearly gates” reveal an assumption that God’s love is extended based on our beliefs.
My friend Tracy was returning on a bus from a pro- life rally. Her three boys accompanied her. A conversation took place on that bus ride that will stay with Tracy for the rest of her life.
I need to apologize most often to those to whom I’m closest—my family. They are the ones dearest to me but can also be the ones I’m most likely to hurt through my pride or selfishness. When this happens, I need to heed the promptings of the Holy Spirit to confess my wrongdoing, asking them and God to forgive me. Then I can be freed from the weight of my sin.
The bundle of hyperactivity known as Liam was making a day of terrorizing his older (and much calmer) brother. Finally, Mom had enough of it, and Liam earned the mother of all timeouts. Well, at least for the rest of the morning.