We have just returned from two extended family events: our 38th year at a conference center’s Guest Period in the North Carolina mountains, and the celebration of a great aunt’s long and remarkable life in Vermont.
The purpose of this short post is to extol families, and to encourage all of us to do everything we can to hold fast to every family member.
Before there were tribes, governments, or churches, there were families. The family is the basic building block of every society and civilization. As an aside to this post, that is why the forces of authoritarianism and darkness always attack families: each family is a safe foundational unit where the truth and the light can be discussed and defended without fear of outside reprisal.
But today I don’t have a political point: I just want to marvel at the strength and resiliency of families.
At these two family events, with many overlapping members, there were men, women, children, teens, straight, gay, old, young, Northerners, Southerners, Republicans, Democrats, Independents, Greens, marrieds, divorced, children of previous relationships, Christians, atheists, spiritualists, world travelers, stay-at-homes, doctors, electricians, farmers, lawyers, musicians, entrepreneurs—all getting along and enjoying each other’s company.
And no doubt learning something from one another.
There were grown children from what must have been a difficult divorce and remarriage several decades ago who nevertheless welcome each other with genuine love and grace, realizing that none of them could change what happened, and that they are all family.
There were discussions of today’s political situation which in almost any other context could have led to anger and dismissal. But in the family context everyone realizes that love and acceptance are more important than any day’s issues, and that it’s ultimately more important to keep the relationship strong than to win a particular argument.
We played board games. Hiked. Ate. Square danced (twice). Swam. Boated. Fished. Ate some more. All the while talking, and thereby hopefully passing on family memories and occasional wisdom across distances and between generations.
If you have read the last chapter of Ten Lies and Ten Truths (for a free e-copy, click here) you know the difference between a To Do List and a To Be List. It’s hard to imagine anything more important for long term relationships than extended family time together. And so real family time, both daily routines and commemorative events, is one key To Do item that will have a major impact on the most important To Be’s in your life. I also remind husbands and fathers who are believers that we are spiritually responsible for our families, and so it is we who should be encouraging and participating actively in these events, not looking for ways to avoid them. What will we answer on that day when our Father asks us what happened to our first responsibility, our family?
And if there are one or more family members who are slipping away, or who are actually estranged, it is up to us to reach out and to do all in our power to reconcile the differences, to exhibit genuine grace, and to ask for forgiveness. Those qualities may not always be possible in every situation, but they are the bedrock qualities of what makes families so different and so important. And they are key teaching moments for the next generation.
I know that not all families or family members are good. Yes, there are instances of abuse, alcoholism, neglect, etc. They don’t have a school for how to be a family member—you have to learn by on the job training, and some of the exercises are tough.
But I emphasize that “so long as it depends on me” in all of this. Particularly for husbands and fathers, who have the opportunity to exhibit daily in our families the constant interaction and important balance between authority and grace.
Whatever the issue, whatever the divide, I have concluded that, so long as it depends on me, the most important outcome is to keep the relationships within the family healthy. Others within the family know what I believe on a lot of today’s issues, but they also know that I believe eternally in them.
So here’s to families. Be Pro-Active. Reject Passivity. Encourage them. Enjoy them. Protect them. Love them. They really are the foundation for all other relationships.