God made people to operate best in families, whether we like it or not, but what happens when our families are not healthy?
Nicky Gumbel tells a story in one of his devotionals about a busy father who was looking after his daughter and trying to find a way to keep her entertained while he worked. He took a magazine page with a world map and cut it into pieces, creating a make-shift puzzle for his little girl.
Only a few minutes later, though, he heard, “Daddy, I’m finished.”
He was shocked to find that she’d put the map back together correctly. Curious, he asked, “How did you manage to do it so quickly?”
She replied, “When you took the page out of the magazine, on the back of the map of the world there was a picture of a man and a woman. I thought if I could put the man and woman back together, I could put the world back together too.”
What Even Is Family Anymore?
Family has become a touchy subject for many as modern society attempts to redefine how it should look.
The model of the working father and homemaker mother is no longer a safe assumption for family structure in much of the western world.
Philip Cohen, professor and sociologist, conducted research on America’s family and he identified “the three biggest changes in family life in the past 50 years as the decline of marriage (in 2010, 45% of households were headed by a married couple, whereas in 1960 it was close to 66%); the rise of the number of women in the paid workforce; and the whole stew of blended, remarried and co-habiting families.”
Many families can’t afford a single source of income, and by necessity, children often spend the majority of the week with caretakers other than their family. Alongside economic pressures are cultural ones that now require people to navigate questions no one was even considering a few decades ago. Rising rates of divorce and remarriage create blended families of step- and half-siblings. This means that society needs to quickly find answers to issues like “Which parent should be favored by courts for custody? When is a child old enough to have a say in which parent has primary care?”
Beyond that, recent LGBTQ+ legislation is demanding its own set of answers. Do a child’s parents even need to be a man and woman in the first place? Why can’t two men or two women raise kids just as well as the stereotypical couple?
Additionally, growing numbers of women are choosing to have a child without a partner of any variety. There are now websites dedicated to advising “single mothers by choice” and answering legal questions about sperm donors’ rights.
All of these modern “advances” to how family is defined, however, are beginning to demonstrate their cost, as evidenced in books like J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy and Charles Murray’s Coming Apart. Both are remarkably similar views on the decline of America’s middle class but also general social morality, one memoir and the other academic research.
Neither author is notably religious or politically conservative, but both unerringly point to the root of the issue: families. Or rather, the lack of them.
A Twist Right From the Start
In the Indianapolis Business Journal, writer Curt Smith notes, “For decades, pro-family groups like the Indiana Family Institute, Focus on the Family and faith leaders of all types and beliefs have decried the decline of the nuclear family and predicted a harvest of tears. The harvest is here, and the tears are indeed bitter…”
Child psychologists reported to Global Post International that an unstable home life has led to significant developmental issues for many children.
Therapists and councilors reported to Psychology Today that separation from a parent typically leads to somatic health problems and higher levels of aggression in children, often resulting in self-destructive behavior when they become adults.
The Austrian Economics Center collected data from the Census Bureau which shows that, even solely on an economic scale, disruptions of the family unit have serious impact. “…poverty is most common in single-parent families. Forty-five percent of children living with a single mother live below the poverty line, as do twenty-one percent of children living with a single father. In contrast, only thirteen percent of children living with both parents do so.”
If family impacts our physical and emotional wellness so much, could it have spiritual importance as well? It would seem so.
In a sermon on family, Gary Wilkerson explains, “Family is in the very DNA, the very nature, the very reality, the very fabric of the godhead, of who God is.
“When we live in families, it’s not something God is inventing only for our benefit. It is a reflection of his will being done on earth as in heaven. God is the everlasting father. Jesus is the eternal son….”
We were holistically made for family.
Healing the Home and Our Hearts
It’s all good and well to talk about the importance of a stable, loving family, but what about those of us who didn’t get much choice in the matter?
Many of us are keenly aware of the familial damage we’ve accrued, whether it’s facing the death of a parent or child, growing up in a broken family, experiencing abuse at the hands of a family member, or having to grapple with an abusive partner or messy divorce as an adult.
Yes, God cares deeply about families, but he also spoke a lot about his deep love for orphans, widows and the abandoned.
Jesus knew that some of us wouldn’t have the luxury of a good family, so he claimed us. “There was a crowd sitting around Jesus, and someone said, ‘Your mother and your brothers are outside asking for you.’
“Jesus replied, ‘Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?’ Then he looked at those around him and said, ‘Look, these are my mother and brothers. Anyone who does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.’“ (Mark 3:32-35 NLT).
“This family of Jesus is a reality,” Gary passionately insists as he explains how the church steps into the real-world gaps. “It’s not a word-picture. It’s not like you are a family. You are a family. It’s not like the church kind of takes on a role of a sort-of-family, or it’s a picture of a family. No. The Bible says that you are the family of God.”
Where there has been loss or wounds, Christ steps in and offers healing and community through his body, the church.
God is in the business of making new families for those who don’t have one.