I have increasingly come to the awareness that we are placed where we are for a reason. The wisdom of God has arranged for us the very circumstances we need in order to step outside of our own self-absorption and sense of self-importance and develop a heart of intimate compassion for and with those precious beings that are a part of our daily lives. I am especially speaking of our family members.
Perhaps nowhere is the development of kindness and compassion more difficult than within the parameters of familial relations. The very proximity of husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, and even extended family often breeds not only familiarity, but also a sense of irritation, anger, and even downright loathing when those closest to us consistently step on our toes, push our buttons, or otherwise rain on our parade. Yet it is in this very cauldron of familiarity and conflict that we have our golden chance to become less of a monster and more of a saint. Moreover, unless we can incarnate patience, tolerance, love, and acceptance where we have been placed, all other aspects of our spiritual endeavoring are empty.
The demands of being a centered, caring spouse or incarnating divine virtues to our children should be goals for each of us. Too often, however, most of us tend to forget exactly what it is we are called to when it comes to fulfilling our roles as parents or marriage partners. The same is often true when it comes to being sincere believers who just happen to be children of parents that are less than reasonable. Indeed, my friend, it is so easy to forget what it is we are called to.
Put in general terms, we are called to give flesh to grace and feet to love. We are to forgive even seventy times seven and go the extra mile, whatever the situation might require or entail. These are lofty words indeed and they are standards that I cannot live up to, at least when left to my own devices. It is far easier for me to fail than succeed when it comes to manifesting a proactive kindness in my roles as a family member. Still, I am aware that I don't have to go it alone and further, God would have never given me the high honor of being a husband and a father if he didn't intend for me to succeed. In my moments of doubt and trembling, I know divine help is available.
Christian author Gary Thomas has written a couple of books that deal with these issues from the perspective of the spiritual journey. Sacred Marriage and the second book, Sacred Parenting, are written from the perspective that being a spouse or a parent is part of God's overall design to provide us with an environment where we can die and rise to a new life. Like all things in the on the spiritual path, it involves dying to self in service to others. Thomas tells us:
"Let's accept that both marriage and parenting provide many good moments while also challenging us to the very root of our being. Let's admit that family life tries us as perhaps nothing else does; but let's also accept that, for most of us, this is God's call and part of his plan to perfect us. Once we realize that we are sinners, that the children God has give us are sinners, and that together, as a family, we are to grow toward God, then family life takes on an entirely new purpose and context. It becomes a sacred enterprise when we finally understand that God can baptize dirty diapers, toddler's tantrums, and teenagers' silence in order to transform us into people who more closely resemble Jesus Christ."
As we begin to see that our function as parents is intimately related to our spiritual journey, this opens up the possibility of viewing family life from a wholly different perspective. For decades now, the dominant view in developmental psychology and especially in parenting has espoused the importance of "child-centered" parenting. Certainly being centered on the child is a positive thing, as long as it is not carried too far. If a parent becomes overly child centered, it basically does the child an injustice.
When I lived in China I witnessed an interesting yet alarming pattern in the raising of children. Briefly, the trend was to excessively dote on the children, especially the males, and do every thing you could as a parent for the child. This pattern came about largely due to the one child policy in China. Many Chinese children were "only children" and the parents and grandparents lavished this single child with anything he wanted. The result has been the raising of an entire generation of "little emperors," who are basically boys that expect their every need to be met and met immediately. These kids, some of whom are now beginning to reach adulthood, are impulsive, childish, dependent, and especially demanding. This is what happens when the philosophy of child-centered parenting is carried too far.
What Thomas is talking about is an alternative paradigm "God-centered" parenting. Our roles as mothers and fathers are carried out through a sense of reverence for God. Further, we recognize that our children are special gifts from God and have been entrusted to us for care, nurturance, and education. When we recognize that our duties as parents are a central part of our spiritual journey in general and our reverence for God in particular, our motivation changes. There is no longer a struggle between meeting the children's needs and fulfilling your own needs. It is, instead, a journey of respect and reverence for God and is also a matter of our own obedience to God and service to the person he has placed in front of us.
The same idea holds true for the marital relationship. In putting God first in our relationship with our spouse, our marriage becomes more God-centered. Our post-modern culture perhaps rails at this paradigm, but that doesn't make it any less viable. In my own marriage, I have come to the stark realization that I am being asked by God to "serve" my wife. I am to love her as Christ loves the church and this also means I am to serve her as Christ serves the church. Looked at from this God-centered paradigm, the whole debate about "submission" becomes moot.
I will close with another quotation from Gary Thomas. Although he is speaking here of parenting, the themes he addresses also apply to marriage. I would like to highly recommend both of these books by Thomas. As in the following passage, both books get right to the heart of the message:
"Christian parenting is truly a sacred journey. It invites us parents to purify ourselves, to use the process of raising kids to perfect holiness, and to do this consistently, every day, out of reverence for God. If we enter it armed with this understanding, each segment will gain new meaning and purpose even the difficult ones..We live in the midst of holy teachers. Sometimes they spit up on themselves or on us. Sometimes they throw tantrums. Sometimes they cuddle us and kiss us and love us. In the good and the bad they mold our hearts, shape our souls, and invite us to experience God in newer and deeper ways. Although we may shed many tears along this sacred journey of parenting, numerous blessings await us around every bend in the road."
The old adage about serving where you are planted is especially relevant to our roles as husbands, wives, mothers, and fathers. Go to God in prayer, expressing gratitude for the honor of being chosen for such a high responsibility and asking for wisdom, support, guidance, and love.
Dwight Turner is founder of LifeBrook Communications, a ministry which produces and publishes web content on a variety of faith-based themes. LifeBrook may be viewed at:
All material: (c) L.D. Turner/All Rights Reserved
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