God sets the lonely in families Psalm 68:6
Though my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will receive me Psalm 27:10
For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart Hebres 4:12
His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness. 2 Peter 1:3
What is family? When you think of your 'family', who do you think of? Are you close, or is there hurt and pain? Is there any hope for reconciliation? Do those who are related to you share your faith and worldview? Is there fellowship or misunderstanding?
I have been pondering this topic much in recent weeks. In my life, some of the most painful experiences have stemmed from broken family relationships. As a teenager I was removed from the care of my parents after many years of abuse, and it took me many years to feel I had 'dealt' with some of the emotional pain resulting from this. I have to struggle to find any 'happy childhood memories' or times where the family dynamic was normal and balanced. I suppose the scars remain to an extent - there are areas of vulnerability where I do not always feel as secure as I ought, or where a random conversation or event can trigger a cascade of unexpected thoughts or emotion.
However, from this dark background, the light of the gospel shone so clearly and brightly and as I accepted the truth therein, I knew what it was to be freed from guilt and shame, to be freed from fear, and to know that my identity was in Christ. If you go through the Bible and look at all the statements that speak of who we are in Christ - it is a remarkable and mind-blowing exercise. As it says in the epistle to the Ephesians, we have been blessed with every spiritual blessing. That is just incredible!
The love and kindness of Christians was key in my conversion. I was a lost, abused, confused seventeen year old, and yet I was treated with love, care, compassion and dignity by the Christians I met. I had never known such acceptance - and came to understand that the love of Christ was unconditional. After years of striving for acceptance (and feeling I failed dismally in this), I knew the freedom of a perfect heavenly Father. I know that some people find that having had a poor role model in their human father can make it difficult to understand and accept the glory of our heavenly Father; however, for me it was the opposite. Knowing that my human parents were so deeply flawed, I was able to embrace the perfect love of my heavenly Father. I remember the first time I read Psalm 27: When my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will receive me. Even now, that verse melts me; the Bible is inspired and speaks into every situation, and that verse assured me that God knew what I had been through, cared about it, and promised to provide me with something better by far.
Time moved on, and I had my own children. Again, I had no role models to show me how parenting should be - but God provided several amazing families who welcomed me into their lives and let me see how family life worked. Helpful books on Christian parenting were recommended, and I was encouraged to look at what the Bible said about family, parenting, discipline and so forth. Not having had 'natural' role models, God provided me with people who became closer to me than any biological relatives, and for that I am so very thankful.
Two of my children are adopted. As I've written before, adoption is something I find so very beautiful because in many ways it mirrors the work of the gospel in our lives. Something which is broken, and seems beyond hope is restored and given new life and new hope. Yes, as long as we live in this world, there will be scars that remain - perhaps (probably?) at some stage my children will ask difficult questions about abandonment and the circumstances of their early lives. Yet they have a family where they are loved, valued and accepted, and where with the strength God gives us, we will raise them to His glory.
Coming full circle, I recently came to know that my biological family have 'issues' with the fact that we have adopted, and that the adoptions have been cross-cultural. For years, I had wondered why the relationships which were tentative at best had become more and more non-existent (emails not replied to, phones not answered, calls hung up and so forth). At times I felt myself back in the place of an insecure rejected teenager, wondering what I could do to win their love and affection. And now I feel not only rejection for myself and the choices we have made as a family, but also of my children - and that is deeply painful. I do not want my children to be exposed to the same irrational, hurtful rejection which I endured; I want them to know they are loved. (Yes, their behaviour will require discipline, which is not pleasant at the time for them, but that is because of our love for them - see also Hebrews 12! Another topic for another day!) I wish to protect my children (as much as it is possible, depending on me) from harmful attitudes, and many of my own memories of my own family situation remind me of just what I wish them not to know.
Again, I have turned to the Word of God which has everything that is needed to deal with the most crushing and painful situations. Christ Himself knew pain and rejection beyond anything I can imagine. He knew verbal and physical abuse and pain. He knew injustice. 1 Peter 2:21 reads, 'To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in His steps.' As Christians, we are called to suffer. Jesus said, 'I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world' John 16:33. Again I have marvelled at how some of the words of Scripture have been so perfectly apt, so encouraging and so reassuring, guiding me into a closer relationship with God, my perfect heavenly Father. And I have been thankful that whilst my biological family is characterised by deep hurt and broken relationships, that in Christ I am part of a wonderful family of believers.
Why do I write these things tonight? Where is the relevance to a blog focussing on living as a family wholeheartedly for Christ? Here are ten reasons.
1) To acknowledge one of the most painful areas in my life. Perhaps you also have an area which causes great sorrow, and it can be easy to read blogs where everything seems 'perfect' and where there is always the happy ending.
2) To remember that God knows our pain, and cares deeply. Jesus, being fully man, can fully understand our trials and sorrows. We can trust Him and pour out our hearts to Him.
3) That as long as we live in this fallen world, there will be pain. If you have walked through a trial, it may well leave scars. There may be times, even years later, even when you think you have 'dealt with' something, that you walk through a season of sadness again
4) To remember how far God has brought us. As a teenager, I knew no hope at all. Coming to know salvation transformed my life, and gave me a 'hope and a future' (Jer 29:11) I would never have imagined having the family I do now, having my own children, being able to serve in the community where we are, to no longer be labelled as the 'problem child'. Sometimes you just don't realise how far God has brought you until you stop and reflect
5) That through the darkest and most painful times, we see the wonderful blessings of God all the more clearly. Perhaps if I hadn't felt the rejection of my biological family, I might not be able to fully embrace the wonders of my adoption into Christ's family. Perhaps if I felt my own family were good enough role models, I might have missed the blessing of learning from all the wonderful people God has put around me
6) That we no longer need be defined by our past. Many of us do have things which we remember with sorrow or shame. But in Christ, we are new creations, set free for a new life.
7) That we can be freed from negative behaviour patterns. I used to be terrified by statistics that suggested that if you were abused as a child, you were significantly more likely to abuse your own children. Or that if your parents were alcoholics, you would be at much higher risk. I was afraid of having my own children and repeating the behaviours to which I had been exposed. In many places, the Bible speaks of how we are set free from the curses which may have previously bound us. And for this, I am entirely thankful!
8) That as parents we need to be alert to influences which might harm our children, and seek to minimise their impact. That sounds like an obvious statement, but I was a little taken aback to hear some of the attitudes of my own family towards my children described. I have not fully worked out how to keep a relationship open enough for restoration to be possible, and for reaching them with the love of God to be a priority, whilst not exposing the children to harm. However, we currently live 10 000 miles away, so do not need to work out the precise details right now.
9) That even if our biological families have not been as we would have wanted, that God gives us a wonderful family in Christ
10) And putting it round the other way, maybe your home is stable and loving, and you can welcome somebody from a broken home and show them what true family is.
I don't know what you might be experiencing right now, but I wish to encourage you that God knows the beginning and the end of the situation. His grace is always sufficient, and He is there to comfort us in any sorrows we experience.