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Posts Tagged ‘Healthy Family Relationships’

My wife, Kelly, and I will celebrate our 27th Wedding Anniversary on August 27th.  There are couples who have been married a lot longer than we.  Many couples we know have not been married as long but are working hard towards it.  Other couples ended their relationships long ago for various reasons.  All of us will testify to the fact that marriage relationships are hard work, especially good ones.

It seems that God has a sense of humor. When he instituted the idea of marriage between a husband and wife, he could not have picked a more odd way to bring people together in such close, intimate proximity to one another.  Never mind all the issues surrounding the differences between the sexes in how the think, process reality, respond emotionally, communicate, and build relationships.  There are also all the various personality differences to deal with too: introvert versus extrovert; saver versus spender; externalizer versus internalizer; task oriented versus people oriented; verbal versus non-verbal; emotive versus non-emotive; and this list goes on.

What was God thinking? Of course, dumb and numb with overwhelming passions and longings, most couples don’t even consider these issues until it is too late.  This should be reason enough for seeking good premarital counseling before marriage.  Even then, attempting to get two hormonal driven humans to stop and consider reality from an objective point of view is quite the challenge to any premarital counselor.  After all, the couple is thinking, “Our love will conquer all.”  They are too inexperienced to recognize the fallacy of that Disney storyline.

So, hurrying through the preparations for the “big” day, often the real issues of what makes marriage relationships successful are left for a later date. It is a guarantee that, ready or not, that day will come.  And most unprepared couples are left stewing in separate rooms asking themselves, “What now?”  It is then that they realize that it will take more than loving feelings and passions to get through the rocky places of their relationship.

It seems to be part of God’s great plan for marriage to use it as a way to transform individuals. He takes two – or perhaps more correctly, we take two – highly selfish individuals and throws them into the confines of a relationship where they must beat the selfishness out of each other.  Anyway, that is the way it seems to happen.  Then, just about the time that they think they are unselfish and more loving, along comes someone who is the epitome of selfishness – a baby, who then becomes a toddler, who becomes a child, then a pre-teen, and then finally a teen-ager.  Each stage of growth only seems to be intended to increase the self-focused nature of the child to scrape any last remaining scraps of selfishness out of the parent.

White House, Washington D.C., Spring 2010

White House, Washington D.C., Spring 2010 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

Perhaps this is one of the only ways God realizes that our sinful and selfish natures can adequately be dealt with – in the context of intimate relationships. It is not the stranger or mere acquaintance that drives me nuts.  It’s my family.  How many children have declared, “I’m not a part of this weird family!”?  Or, wished that they had been born of different parentage?  Alas, it is too true – you can pick your friends, but you can’t pick your family.

So it is also in the marriage relationship – the most intimate of all human relationships. The very one that we often are passionate about and with – yes, that very same one – becomes the very one that drives us mad with frustration and anger.  How many couples have looked at each to realize, “We are not on the same ‘page’ are we?”  It is not unusual for couples at some point in their relationship to wake up some morning, look across the bed at the person sleeping beside them and think, “I really do not like him/her right now.”  All of these are the attempts of our selfish nature to exert itself over us and our relationships.  The only way to defeat it is to allow the relationship’s challenges to transform us.

Marriages that transform individuals and couples help them discover that the “we” is more important than the “me.” They realize that the strong emotions that conflict brings does not mark the end of the world or the end of their relationship.  They know that time and determination are on their side.  They embrace the fact that they cannot change their partner but can only change themselves.  They act so that their feelings will follow because their commitments cannot be determined by ever-changing emotions.  They choose to see the potential in their partner.  They remember what character traits attracted them to their partner in the first place, even though those same traits may today be driving them to distraction.  They recognize that their relationship problems cannot be blamed on either party but that they are common problems that each must work on separately and together.  They grow comfortable with the fact that every relationship will experience times of drifting and times of intimacy, that there are different seasons for each stage of life, and that how their relationship began will not be how it appears in the end.

In short, not only will the relationship be transformed over time, but each partner within it will also be changed for the better if they are willing to allow their personal transformation to take place. It is when one or both of the partners in a relationship determine to hold on to their selfishness that unclimbable walls and mountains are created.  This is often when we hear, “I’m just not happy anymore.”  Or, “we are so incompatible with each other.”  A relationship that was designed to do away with all selfishness only becomes the cause for greater selfishness in these individuals.  This usually results in the most selfish of acts: relational suicide.  This brings about the self-destructive acts that become self-fulfilling prophecy that affirms the relationship was doomed from the start.

Want to change your life? Go ahead; get married.  It will surely transform you.  You certainly won’t remain the same over the years.  Further, add children to the mix and it is a sure-fire way to get rid of the last vestiges of selfishness.  Are you single and think, “Ha!  I don’t have to mess with any of that anyway.”  Yes you do.  You have family that will do that for you unless you safely remove yourself to some distant land.  And even then, you have close friends, unless you become a monk or nun of some order that disallows communication.  It seems that God intended all along for our closest relationships to transform us by beating the living selfishness right out of us.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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The Guilted Parent

Life offers us very few guarantees. We would like to thing, for instance, that all our efforts at our career would guarantee us success and wealth.  Or, that the time we invest in spiritual pursuits would insure us against troubles and pain in this life.  Or, that the investments we put into the lives of our children would promise us perfect kids who become perfect adults and in return raise perfect grand kids.  But there are no guarantees.

The problem lies in our constant search for those guarantees. We want a secret formula: put this into your life or your kids and this will be the result.  We want magic talismans: quote this Bible verse, pray this prayer, do these spiritual things and this will be what you see.  So, we run from book to book, conference to conference, in an effort to find the magic bullet that will kill our fears about the future.  While self-education and awareness is wonderful, there is no formula, talisman or bullet that will guarantee us against failure and disappointment.

No where is this more evident than in the frantic efforts of many Christian parents. Believing that a child enters the world tabula rasa (with a clean slate) upon which the parent can determine the outcome of a child, these parents go through all sorts of spiritual and mental contortions to do so.  The problem arises when a child does not “turn out” as expected.  This places a considerable amount of guilt upon the parent (and sometimes the child as well).  The rest of the Christian community looks upon the wayward or prodigal child and blames the parent for doing something wrong or not doing something right.  There is not a lot of grace or mercy available for parent and child.

It is faulty think that says the parent can always produce the child. It is a lie that guilts a parenting into believing that good “christian” parenting will produce godly children.   There are instances that we are all aware of where even under the best parenting and spiritual guidance a child has self-determined to go his or her own way completely contrary to how they were raised.  At the same time, there are plenty of instances where a child has come through and come out of a background that is filled with all kinds of social and spiritual problems and obstacles to be a success materially and spiritually.  This defies the psychological determinism that plagues so much of our Christian philosophy and theology about parenting and families.

It is the lie of psychological – or spiritual, in this case – determinism that has produced all the Christian formulas and programs available today. They each offer their own guarantees to raising successful kids as if child-rearing and child-training were a trouble-free, risk free endeavor.  In a B.F. Skinner-like approach, a Christian parent can produce godly children as if they were planting a garden or training a family pet.  One only needs to throw in a few well-placed Bible verses.

Thus, Christendom has produced the guilted parent; an impossible weight of legalism towards the parent-child relationship. It is as if the Bible was a parenting manual filled with formulas and spiritual laws that, if carefully followed just right, would produce guaranteed outcomes.  Thus, if the child did not turn out “right,” then it can only mean that the parent screwed up somewhere and did not follow exactly the prescribed formula or spiritual law.  The guilted parent syndrome is not helped by the “testimonies” of successful and winning parents who have raised obedient, respectful, compliant children who live faithful Christian lives with no missteps or disappointments.

Edsel, Cool Desert Nights, Richland, Washington, June 2010

Edsel, Cool Desert Nights, Richland, Washington, June 2010 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

I have known parents who have carefully read and faithfully followed all the advice of Dr. James Dobson and Focus on the Family. Yet, despite all their frantic and careful studies, they had a child(ren) who seemed determined to live a life completely opposite of their parents’ values and lifestyle.  I have other friends who systematically followed all of the rules from Growing Families International and their Growing Kids God’s Way curriculum with seeming success, until one of their children did not seem to respond to their carefully crafted efforts.  Both of these parents were at a loss and suffered under a load of guilt and shame for the outcome of their kids.

It is interesting to note that even in Scripture, some of the most successful people of God were followed by ungodly children. At the same time, some of the most wicked characters in the Bible produced righteous children who did incredible things for God.  Finally, if one were to measure God’s success as a successful heavenly Father based upon the actions and activities of all of his children, by the measurement of the material commonly marketed to Christian parents today, he would be a failure!

This has been our experience within my family. My wife, Kelly, and I are well-educated (both with Masters Degrees).  We have read the books, watched the videos and listened to the speakers.  Despite having our home full of books and constantly reading to our children, we have two children out of our four who had a very hard time learning to read and so don’t like to read.  Imagine this from a child who has a father with a personal library that numbers over 3,000 volumes.  Doesn’t make sense according to the formula we were given about helping our children become “readers.”

We also have always been involved in church, spiritual pursuits and openly talked about spiritual things with our children. We read the Bible, prayed around the dinner table, regularly included prayer for missionaries and surrounded our lives with very spiritual people.  We have not done this perfectly, but we have done it to the best of our capability and knowledge we had at the time.  Nevertheless, we have one child who has chosen to live a lifestyle with a set of values that are completely contrary to how he was raised.  Again, this doesn’t make any sense according to what we have been told all these years.

As with so much of our modern Christianity, and much of humankind’s approach to God in general, we have reduced life with God to a formula rather than faith. Like the legalistic religious rulers of Jesus’ day, we have made our own set of laws about parenting that are too heavy for many to bear.  We leave those who are not able to perform according to these rule and regulations outside “the ark of safety” to drown in their guilt and shame.  But Jesus came to introduce a different way.

Living according to these “Christian parenting laws” only proves our failure. The apostle Paul reminds us that “the Law brings death” – and that can apply to just about any spiritual law or legalistic religious system.  Only faith in what Christ has accomplished in his death and resurrection can bring life to parents who have children who are spiritually and morally wayward.

  • It is a faith that believes that his grace is sufficient for all our sin and their sin.
  • It is a faith to believe that the Holy Spirit of the risen Christ is still able to work in their lives and return them to the heavenly Father’s household of faith.
  • It is faith that believes that God graceful and merciful intervention can make up for all of my – or anyone’s – parental mistakes and short-comings.
  • It is faith that believes that the spiritual seeds that were planted at one time in a child’s heart will one day mature into a harvest of righteousness despite what fruit or weeds might be apparent there now.
  • It is faith that believes that God’s love as heavenly Father is greater and more abundant than my earthly parental love.
  • It is faith that believes that God accepts me even as a mistake-ridden and faulty parent to my children.
  • It is faith that believes that just as God’s unconditional love accepts and embraces me; it will also accept and embrace my child no matter where they may be on their own spiritual journey.
  • It is faith that believes that the same God who is our righteous and holy judge is also our merciful and loving counselor.

It is time to set the guilted parent free. It is time to replace formulas with faith.  It is time to reject psychological and spiritual determinism with a trust in God’s power to do what we ourselves cannot guarantee; which is children who worship and serve him.  Let the guilted parent be set free.

These thoughts came about as I finished reading “The Myth of the Perfect Parent” by Leslie Leyland Fields in Christianity Today (January 2010, Vol. 54, No. 1).  There is a follow-up interview with Donald Ratcliff by Katelyn Beaty that the reader may want to see.  Some of the terminology and ideas that are in my Blog came from Leslie Fields article.  Follow the link to see the complete article.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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Marriage and Family: The Selfishness Eliminator

Following Biblical principles and precepts over our own feelings is a much needed message in our world today. This is especially true in marriage relationships.  A recent post by a friend, Cindy Holman, got me thinking about this whole issue.  I have witnessed too many couples break up because one or both “just want to be happy,” regardless of the instructions and commands of Scripture.  I often thought that this is what Jesus had in mind when he wondered aloud, “When the Son of Man returns, will he find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:8).

When I mentored young couples preparing for the own marriages, I always emphasized the apostle Paul’s instructions to husbands and wives in Ephesians 5 to them. I required nine sessions before I performed the wedding ceremony of a couple. The content of these sessions grew mostly out of the things I wish someone had discussed with me about before I got married! A big part it was starting with a theology of marriage and the marriage covenant.

A Christian’s marriage and the Christian marriage ceremony is more than just a pretty party put on by the bride and groom and their families (mostly the bride’s).  It is the act of making a covenant before and with God.  God is not just a spectator but a participator in the act of the covenant ceremony.  He is not simply another witness of a ceremony between two people.  He is an third agent in the covenant made before the human witnesses in the room.

Breaking up a marriage is more than just a dissolution of a contract.  It is the violation of a covenant persons have made with God.  Yet, how many couples break their covenant with only consideration of their own personal interests and not the interests of God in the relationship?  Marriage is treated more as a contract between two people than it is a tri-part covenant between the each of the individuals and God.  Thus, God enters into and has an active part and interest in the outcome of the covenant relationship.

Because every couple is unique and their relationship is unique, I don’t believe that there is a “cookie cutter” approach to healthy marriages. What works for one couple and their family may not work for another.  Every human relationship has a certain amount of dysfunction in it by fact that spiritually fallen human beings are involved.  I think every married couple has looked upon the relationship of another married couple with a certain amount of amazement at their ability to “make it work.”  This is why God’s covenantal involvement is so important.

Viewing the marriage as a covenant before and with God as a couple helps to solemnize and solidify the relationship, I think. Also, discovering how each individual in the relationship, and so each relationship, is unique is also important.  The uniqueness each person brings to the covenant will shape that relationship and make it a unique one.  This is not a bad thing.  I rather think it is a good thing and reflects the incredible creativity and diversity of God’s work in humanity.

For instance, my wife, Kelly, and I could not be more different as persons. It was soon after leaving college that we realized that the only thing we had in common was college!  This, of course, has led to an interesting journey together. Right now, what we have in common is our children!  Surely God has a sense of humor.  We often look at each other and ask ourselves, “How in the world did we ever get together?”

I like jazz and rock-n-roll. She likes classical and opera. I like comedy – admittedly sometimes twisted and weird. She likes the more serious and straightforward approach to life. I see a lot of grey in the world. She sees it as pretty much black and white. I like the rugged outdoors and to backpack and hike. She likes camping but prefers the convenience of a bathroom and shower. I like to be actively involved in sports. She does not care for rugged physical activities for the most part. I like reading histories and biographies.  She likes reading mysteries.  I like American history.  She likes European history.  I like modern art and decor. She likes early American and antique styles. My relationship with God has always been very personal yet dynamic. Her relationship with God has always been highly communal yet distant. I like discovering and playing with new technology.  She likes the stability of things remaining the same and struggles getting around the computer and internet.  Well, you get the picture. And, yet, we’ve worked hard on our relationship, through it’s ups and downs, getting off the “same page” and then back on the “same page,” through “thick and thin.” I am certain that we are not the only couple like this. Nevertheless, this year will be 27 for us in August.

Purple Starfish, June 2003

Purple Starfish, June 2003 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

Many couples like to promote a particular practice as THE  key to THE success of a lasting healthy relationship.  I am not certain there is one outside of a vibrant personal relationship with God that each person in the relationship must have for himself and herself.  For instance, I am not certain that “doing devotions together” is necessarily the magic bullet to a healthy marriage relationship. I am certain it can’t but help! Nevertheless, too many couples find themselves on different spiritual paths. Their approach to God and Scripture is too different to be able to come together reasonably.  The promotion of this idea as the ideal only ensures that couples who do not do this or are unable to do this are made to feel guilty and condemned.  It misses the point all together.

Having a vibrant personal relationship with God that is daily plugged into the Word and His Spirit is what is important. Kelly and I have devotions and private times but have rarely done them together. We have many interesting discussions. We will at times share and pray together. We often pray together as a family or lead our kids in prayer for specific family needs and concerns. One of our family practices is to include praying for missionaries when we prayer a prayer of thanksgiving before our meals.

It would be nice if we could share this together.  However, my approach to “daily devotions” is so much different than Kelly’s and vice versa. How we think spiritually, how we relate to God and His Word, how we process with another person present, and what is meaningful to each of us is so different that we found we get more out of our time separately than together!  Our attempts only led to feeling guilty, condemned and useless because we were trying to meet someone’s expectations of what we were supposed to be doing.

Someone once said that marriage is God’s way of beating the selfishness out of us. He puts two selfish people together and watches them beat it out of each other. Then he gives them kids! Marriage and family is a humbling endeavor to say the least. Yet, it is an important part of shaping us even into our adulthood. If we invite God into the process and humble ourselves before Him, our spouse and our children, He will use that very process to form in us his nature and character. That, afterall, is His ultimate goal.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr (2010)

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