Well, we've a come to the end of our time with Jack and Judith Balswick's The Family. Have you managed to make it all the way? Not exactly an easy read (a few evenings of suddenly jolting awake over my copy and having no memory of where I was up to!!!); but as I now try to sum up what I've drawn from it, I'm convicted of how important it is to have a biblically shaped understanding of why God has placed us in families, of His wisdom in doing so, and how we as Christians frame a response to the reality of what family looks like in our broken world.
This morning I was listening to a friend as she talked about her dysfunctional family, and as I now reflect on her deep feeling of lost-ness, I think it's impossible to overstate the significance of family. Family has the potential to be a source of immense joy, and when it fails, it is a source of almost unbearable pain. God has created us as beings with deep, undeniable needs that can only be met in fellowship with others. Inside the family there is the potential for love and intimacy and a sense of belonging that can rarely, if ever, be found anywhere else. If your family doesn't provide that unconditional love and acceptance, who will? Who will meet that need, in a sustained way? Obviously, we who know Him can say, with deep thankfulness, that God provides completely what our parents could only ever provide partially. But research is showing more and more that those early years of bonding with family members form the basis for a person's lifetime of relationships. That is the way He has made us. And yet, in our modern society, the systems which have supported family life, have been and are being eroded. An ever-increasing obsession with commodities and consumerism, individualism, the fragmentation of community...the isolated nuclear family is like a little boat being battered and bruised in this storm. Without support it is so difficult to keep afloat, in any meaningful sense.
The most vulnerable families are those who have been broken apart by the pressures of life and by human frailty. I have a number of single parent friends, and reading the Balswick's section on single parent families underlined for me how tough it is for them - struggling just to keep your head above water financially, and having little emotional resources or time left for your children. In the face of this burden, it is so important that we as Christ's church are a family for families, providing that structure of grace in which single parents and their kids can find support, encouragement and fellowship.
I felt really fired up by the Balswick's final chapter, in which they call for a radical Christian response to modernity. As worshippers of the true God, we need to fight against the worship of wealth in our culture, as well as against the idolisation of individual freedom and personal self-fulfilment. Does that mean that as parents we don't both go back to work full-time, but ensure that our children are spending enough time with a family member who loves them? Does it mean that we don't accept that promotion that will uproot our family to another city? That we accept a pay cut rather than miss out on family dinner time each night? That we take time out from a flourishing career to care for an elderly family member? These are complex decisions, but in view of the toll that greed, consumerism and individualism are taking on families, it is essential that we, as Christian families, model a different way, the way of self-sacrifice for the good of others.
Far from turning to 'amoral familism', in which we care only for our own family, it is the mission of Christ in reaching out to the lost, the marginalised, the poor and vulnerable which becomes the central mission of the strong Christian family. That mission becomes, in turn, something that binds a family together. Do our ministry commitments conflict with time shared with family? Then maybe we need to think of creative ways to reclaim the meaning of community, and be involved in community activities together as families. How can we, as a strong family, be a blessing to our church, to our community? How can we, as a church, structure our activities and ministries so as not to contribute to weakening family togetherness, but strengthening it? Lots of questions are swirling around in my mind - hopefully you too have been stimulated to evaluate your own family and church life. May God strengthen us to live out His truth, in our families and our world.