Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Families: The Challenge To Do It Right

Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.This is how Leo Tolstoy began his major novel, Anna Karenina. It's easy to find people bewailing the state of the modern family. We look around and everywhere we look, we see unhappy families with their own disaster areas. Some of them look OK on the surface but have rot underneath; some flaunt their messy drama in public.
But this is nothing new. Some years ago I was putting together a Father's Day lesson for an adult class. As I looked for Biblical examples of fathers, I was surprised to realize that practically every family we see described in the Old Testament was flawed, some massively so. Even giants of the faith had messy families. God asks a whole lot of us!
He gives us an assignment that is basically impossible for us in our own strength. Even Abraham and Sarah made a lapse in faith of which the fallout is still with us, when they tried to "help" fulfill the prophecy of an heir. David, the "man after God's own heart" had sons who were literally mortal enemies, one of which rebelled agains his father. Solomon, the wisest man in the world, turned his back on the true God and produced a son who was world-class historically stupid, and lost the larger part of his father's kingdom.

Poet Robert Frost defined "home" as "the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in." The question is: when they open the door, are they smiling? And is it a genuine smile? I grew up with relatives showing up at the front door, often without warning, assuming they would be welcome--and they were. Family vacations were usually built around driving distances between relatives. I'm not quite sure how best to define "happy family", but I think it's one of those things that you recognize when you see it. My own family was not perfect, but good enough that my brothers and I stayed out of major trouble and in touch, and in turn raised kids who are friends as well as cousins. At a major family reunion several years ago, some of the more distant cousins found it odd that my grandfather's descendants were almost all still active in churches. I suspect that that is a key reason that we are happy as families and an extended family. One incredible blessing I am looking forward to this summer is a trip to Finland with my son and the Lambert family (who are cousins of mine), to touch base with the original homes of my mom's parents and Mark's grandparents, who came from the same part of Finland. I am looking forward to this experience with folks with whom I not only share an ancestral culture and family, but a family heritage of faith.

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