Our very first experience of love (or not-love) is our parents. At best, we are surrounded by family that shows us a love that gives us a healthy basis for understanding the love of God and an ability to love others. At worst, we do not have loving people in our lives, which makes it very hard for us to give and take love. Our most basic ideas of what it means to love come not only from the love we receive but the love we observe in those around us. If our parents respect each other, get along well and happily, and obviously care deeply for each other, we have a good starting point to loving relationships in our own lives, as well as well as responding easily to God's love.
Being human, life is not always like that. Even starting out in a loving family does not guarantee successful relationships. I was blessed to grow up with parents who were not "perfect", but who loved God and each other, and wanted the best for me. It hadn't always been like that for my dad, who had a broken marriage in his past. In a way, having had Godly, loving parents had made it look too easy. My mother passed away when I was 17, and shortly after that I met dad's first wife (my brothers’ mother) at a family wedding. We saw her on and off after that, at my brother's family events. Dad began talking to me about that part of his life, not wanting, he said, for me to make the same mistakes. He once said that his first mistake was to think that all married women were like his mother--and that he should have looked at her mother, and how sorry he felt for her dad. One of dad's sisters told me that she was afraid of my brothers' other grandmother. One of my brothers, and my sisters-in-law, also told me about the boys' mom; how things had to be her way despite what anyone else was doing or wanted to do. One of the sisters-in-law went to visit her own folks any time her mother-in-law came to visit saying there wasn't room in one house for both of them. Dad and the boys learned from the whole experience, and my folks, as well as all three brothers and I, had successful, life-long marriages.
My inlaws were another story. Both parents grew up in churches, and normally went to church regularly, but they had very different backgrounds and very different values. Even Middle Eastern Christians are affected by the Arab culture, which does not forget and does not forgive. I learned to recognize recriminations (in Arabic) that were told over and over again, and it became obvious that they did better not living together. Their kids' marriages tended to be rockier as well; there were several divorces, and several that held more or less together out of pure stubbornness. One thing I have noticed in my kids' cousins is that some of them are imitating or tolerating things that were major problems for their parents, seeing love as a package.
It is a challenge to learn the right things from our families. Both our own personal lives, as well as our familyEven the best families aren't perfect--there are things that I appreciate about how my mom raised me, and things that I don't feel were good for me that I avoided doing with my own kids. I appreciate having extended families that are, for the most part, good, God-fearing folks, but still have to make prayerful judgments of what I can forgive and tolerate, and what I should stay out of. We also need to realize that what we do with our lives affects layers of family around us; that families are both the easiest people to love, and the hardest people to love. God gave us families to love, respect, and take care of each other; the ability to do it right if we ask; and at its best, an example of how He loves us and we can love Him.