“Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? Or What shall we drink? Or Wherewithal shall we be clothes? For after all these things do the Gentiles seek: for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.” – Matthew 6:31-33
If truth be spoken, there will be a global agreement that family life has lost the bliss it once had, and the family now has earned a new identity as dysfunctional. This month, in our country, along with International Men’s Day and the celebration of women achieving the right to vote in 1962, we must collectively, earnestly work together to save the nobility of family life!
Some years ago, while attending National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, DC, I received excerpts from papers delivered during a number of years by Dr. Armand M. Nicholi Jr., Harvard Medical School, Massachusetts General Hospital. It was written with the American family in mind but as I share some of it with you, dear readers, you will see that the same climate exists here as elsewhere in this troubled world.
“We have been warned for years by social scientists that the American family is disintegrating and will not, in its present form, survive this century. What causes relatively affluent families – with all advantages that money and education can offer – to fall apart? How do we explain the feelings of emptiness, low self-esteem and depression among the spouses, and the anger, rebelliousness and incapacitating emotional conflicts among the children within these families? Conversely, what about families that succeed – that not only stay together, but develop strong, stable, supportive relationships, and thriving, emotionally healthy offspring? Do these successful families have common denominators? Can we apply this knowledge to our own families?
Why talk about the family? We all fall short and the talk only makes us uncomfortable. The answer is simple. Our family experience is the most significant experience of our lives. Regardless of differences in cultural, social, educational and religious backgrounds, we all share the experience of being a child and, for good or evil, spending our days of childhood in the context of the family. Here, the seed is sown for what we become as adults. Early family experience determines our adult character structure, the inner picture we harbor of ourselves, how we feel about ourselves, how we perceive and feel about others, our concept of right and wrong; that is, the fundamental rules of human conduct that we call morality; a capacity to establish the close, warm, sustained relationships we desire, as well as the intimate sexual relationships necessary to have a family of our own; our attitude toward authority and how we resolve our ambivalence toward it, especially toward the ultimate authority in our lives, and finally the way we attempt to make sense of our existence on this planet. No human interaction has greater impact on our lives than our family experience.
The breakdown of the family contributes significantly to the major problems confronting our society today. Research data makes unmistakably clear a strong relationship between broken families and the drug epidemic, the increase in out-of-wedlock pregnancies, the rise in violent crime and the unprecedented epidemic of suicide among children and adolescents.
Is there danger, as scientists have warned, that the American family as we know it today, will cease to exist? I don’t think so. A larger percentage of Americans today marry, have children, and commit themselves to living in a family household than ever before. I believe they will continue to do so in the future. We do have, however, serious cause for concern, concern not that the family will disappear, but that certain trends or patterns prevalent today will incapacitate the family, destroy its integrity, and cause its members to suffer such crippling emotional conflicts that they will become an intolerable burden to society.
The trend toward quick and easy divorce has a strong bearing on family life in this country. The ever-increasing divorce rate subjects an ever-increasing number of children to physically and emotionally absent parents. The increasing number of married women with young children who have joined the labor force and wok outside of the home has a profound effect on family. Single-parent families where the mother is burdened with providing the children emotional support, as well as economic support, is an overwhelming problem in our society.
Faith helps to foster stability and strength in a home by giving us a new standard for our relationships – the standard for both our vertical and horizontal is Agape – a unique kind of love, a love devoid of sentimentality – yet considerably more than kindness. A love based not on feeling, but on the will – thought as we carry it out by exertion of the will, it contributes to how we feel and to our sense of fulfillment. Agape involves stepping out of our own needs sufficiently to become aware of the needs of others, then acting to meet those needs, whether we feel like it or not. Agape, therefore, involves thought, effort, time, accessibility and, at times, self-sacrifice and self-denial. It’s a difficult kind of love to practice, but it is the key to all successful relationships, especially those within the family.
Faith within a family fosters forgiveness. The capacity to forgive is absolutely essential to all relationships – especially the close, intimate relationships within a family, where the very closeness makes others particularly vulnerable to our selfishness and our other shortcomings. Those families who follow the scriptural admonition to “be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other just as in Christ God forgave you”, have a formula that can contribute significantly to maintaining family stability. Because of our innate selfishness, we need continual forgiveness in both our vertical and horizontal relationships – especially our relationships within the family.
With our text today, if families will rely on the God of all Creation, and lay aside those things that cause worry and strife, we will become a strong nation through strong families! It is not the sun, the sand nor the sea that will make us strong, but all of us on board The Ship of the Nation, forsaking decadence and fostering excellence!