Finding the Path to a Happy Family
One of the greatest blessings of a happy, fulfilled life is a loving family. Nothing seems better than coming home to a household filled with love, children and a happy marriage. Although we may have a great job, without a successful home life we will realize a great void in our lives.
In the broadest sense our family includes not only our spouse and children, but parents, uncles, aunts, cousins, nephews, nieces and others—all members of our extended family. Enjoying a good relationship with all one's family is a wonderful blessing.
To discover how can we make our family relationships work, let's see how the institution of the family began.
Shortly after God created the first man, Adam, He said, "It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him" (Genesis 2:18). Adam was incomplete. So God created a woman, Eve, to be his partner in life. God created men and women to complement each other, not compete with each other. He created them to work together, within marriage, to form families and populate the earth.
Keys to happiness
God didn't create the family relationship and then leave us to stumble blindly trying to find the best way to make it work. The keys for family happiness and success are revealed in the Scriptures. When we follow these instructions, much of the strife so often found in families is eliminated.
One of the keys God gives is that marriage is a life-long commitment. When asked about divorce, Jesus Christ responded: "Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning 'made them male and female,' and said, 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'?" (Matthew 19:4-5).
Jesus showed that marriage was designed by God as a sacred contract, a covenant between a man and woman (Malachi 2:14)—an agreement not to be violated.
Happiness comes not by accident. We are most satisfied when we are doing something we believe is important. Such is the case with the family. God created this institution so we could learn many lessons and attain our potential in His family (2 Corinthians 6:18; Hebrews 2:10-11; 1 John 3:2).
God gives instructions on how a family is to function. In the Fifth Commandment He tells us, "Honor your father and mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the LORD your God is giving you" (Exodus 20:12).
We are always to honor our parents. In our youth we should honor them by respectful obedience. When they are old we should honor them with visits, regular communication and respect and by seeing that their material and emotional needs are met.
God promises a special blessing for people who obey this commandment. Notice the reward for honoring our parents: "that your days may be long upon the land which the LORD your god is giving you." In Ephesians 6:2 the apostle Paul describes this instruction as "the first commandment with promise."
Another blessing that comes from having a family is children. Psalm 127:3-5 tells us: "Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb is a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are the children of one's youth. Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them . . ."
Whether first-time parents marveling at the miracle of life, a grandmother proudly holding her first grandchild or a grandfather playing catch with his grandchild in the backyard—all discover children to be a God-given source of joy.
It is easy to forget that children are a blessing from God. Too often we think of having fun as visiting an exotic vacation spot, meeting exciting people or witnessing a spectacular event. Yet we eventually learn that life is much more fulfilling when we take time to notice and appreciate the simple things around us.
Happiness begins at home
Sadly, our modern way of life tends to separate families. Grandchildrenoften live far from their grandparents. Youngsters are separated from their aunts, uncles and cousins. Frequent visits and phone calls can help shorten the distance and keep us in touch with other members of our family, but those measures are not always adequate.
Building happy, stable, extended families takes effort. Galatians 6:7 explains that we reap what we sow. A properly functioning family requires a lot of work, just as it takes effort to start a career, build a house or plow a field.
We usually reap rewards in proportion to the effort we put into something. If we start to build a house but don't make use of good-quality materials and good workmanship, our house will not have much value. Our families are the same. If we put effort and care into them, then we can reap the benefits of healthy relationships. On the other hand, if we don't invest much time and effort in our families, we cannot expect much in return.
Let's consider some investments we can make to create the most positive environment in our families.
Time: a precious commodity
Spending time together is important for people in any profitable and proper relationship. The many pressures and demands on our time tend to pull our families farther apart rather than drawing them together. Some parents find it difficult to spend more than a few minutes each day with their spouses and children.
It is common to hear people complain about their lack of time. Yet we seem to find time for the things that we really want to do.
How important is your family? How high a priority is it to you? When we ask ourselves this question, we may see a need to rearrange our priorities. You may have to make time for your family.
When family members live in the same area and share the commitment to obey God's commandments, they have a special opportunity for spending time together while worshiping God. The Fourth Commandment instructs us to "remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy" (Exodus 20:8). As one of the most ignored laws of God, the Sabbath command, when observed, affords families many opportunities to come together. (To learn how to find time in your week to consider godly spiritual values, you need to learn more about God's weekly Sabbath. Be sure to request our free booklet Sunset to Sunset: God's Sabbath Rest.)
The Sabbath commandment is more important today than ever because of our busy schedules. It is a day on which family members should have dinner together, perhaps take time for a walk and above all, worship God together. Investing time with your close relatives on the Sabbath can enhance your relationships with them, teach them the values of God and bind your family together through eternal spiritual principles.
In addition to the Sabbath, other times and activities provide ways for family members to spend time together, such as trips, vacations and holidays. Such occasions provide opportunities for parents to talk with their children, to find out what they are thinking about life and learn of their hopes, dreams and frustrations. It is also a time for children to start asking questions of their parents about life. When a family is together in a car for many hours traveling, parents can take this time to communicate with their children, thus bringing their families closer together.
A source of support
There are always times when things go wrong. When rough times come, the family can provide powerful support. Ecclesiastes 4:11-12 points out the advantage of support: ." . . If two lie down together they keep warm, but how can one be warm alone? And if one can overpower him who is alone, two can resist him. A cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart" (New American Standard Bible). What better physical, emotional and even spiritual support can one have than a loving family that comes to the aid of a stricken member?
Paul exhorted the congregation in Thessalonica to "comfort the fainthearted, uphold the weak, be patient with all" (1 Thessalonians 5:15).
Assistance from the family is the first source of help when problems arise. If a family member falls ill or loses a job, a supporting family can help. Family members can encourage him not to give up or become overly discouraged.
A problem during Jesus' earthly ministry was nonsupporting families. Christ chastised the Pharisees, telling them they needed to take care of older, needy family members. "All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition," He told them. "For Moses said, 'Honor your father and your mother'; and, 'He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death.' But you say, 'If a man says to his father or mother, whatever profit you might have received from me is Corban'—(that is, a gift to God), then you no longer let him do anything for his father or his mother" (Mark 7:9-12). He made it clear that family members have a responsibility to take care of elderly parents.
One way to support elderly parents is to stay in regular contact with them. Letters and phone calls to see how they are doing are a good first step. Then one should follow through with help as needed. The principle of assisting also applies to other members of a family when they are in need.
Traditions help families function and grow closer. We have already mentioned that obedience to the Fourth Commandment (to keep the Sabbath holy) can help make stronger families. Besides the Sabbath and biblical feast days, other traditional times to get together—such as anniversaries—offer important opportunities for developing relationships. (To understand the meaning of the biblical Holy Days, be sure to request God's Holy Day Plan: The Promise of Hope for All Mankind.)
Jesus Christ encourages us as well to extend hospitality to others outside our immediate families: "When you give a dinner or a supper, do not ask your friends, your brothers, your relatives, nor rich neighbors, lest they also invite you back, and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you; for you shall be repaid at the resurrection of the just" (Luke 14:12-14).
The need for rules
We live in an era that has cast off many of the rules—the standards and traditions—that once governed society. The result? Young people do not have the guidelines to help them grow and mature into responsible adults. Far too many roam the streets without rules to define proper behavior.
Children need boundaries and rules. They need to know what is expected of them. Proverbs 29:15 tells us that "the rod and rebuke give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother." Children and teenagers may not appreciate correction and rules when they are young, but when they are older they will see and be thankful for the wisdom of parents who gave them proper guidance.
Ross Cambell, M.D., understands the importance of rules in the development of children. In his book How to Really Love Your Teenager he writes: ". . . Teenagers at some level of consciousness realize they need guidance and control from their parents. They want it. I have heard so many teenagers say that their parents do not love them because they are not strict or firm enough. And so many teenagers express their thankfulness and love to parents who showed their care and concern by their guidance and control" (1981, p. 77).
Rules and guidelines are good for kids. They let them know what is expected of them. They identify proper standards of behavior.
Responsible parents who love their children will give careful consideration to the rules they establish. Dr. Cambell asks: "Should you make them fair, broad, and reasonable? Or should you be very strict? It is important to remember that the normal teenager will test—and sometimes even break—your limits or rules. Common sense, then, indicates that since it is in the makeup of most teenagers to challenge and/or break rules, no matter how strict or broad they are, the sensible thing is to make rules initially quite strict and restrictive" (ibid, p. 76).
Later, as children mature and demonstrate responsible behavior, the rules can be relaxed where and when appropriate.
The Bible tells us that children, too, have a responsibility. Paul wrote, "Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right" (Ephesians 6:1). Ideally, youths will learn from parents who teach them God's instructions.
Of course, children tend to test rules. At times they will decide they know better than their parents. When this happens parents should take time to explain why certain rules exist. For example, if a youngster or teenager has a tendency not to wear a seat belt when riding in a car, explain to him the reason for wearing one: Seat belts usually save lives and prevent serious injuries in case of accidents. If children are placed in seat belts when they are young, they will develop the habit of buckling up and likely not challenge it as they grow older.
Love: the lasting ingredient
Love is the most important ingredient in any successful family. If members of the family love each other, they will be more tolerant and forgiving, and they will be willing to support weaker members of the family.
The apostle Paul describes the characteristics of true love, the unselfish concern for other people: "Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things" (1 Corinthians 13:4-7).
Love is especially important within the family structure. It gives us direction when we wonder how to treat a family member. Love means applying discipline when needed. This kind of love requires parental courage and self-discipline—the same attributes we would like to see in our children.
Societal changes have seriously threatened the family. Some wonder if the family structure can survive. Many forces are at work that constantly threaten and undermine this basic building block of society.
There is much you can do to help make your family life work, to help prevent your family from becoming one of the casualties. You can help make your family a safe haven for its members, a harbor from the storms of life in a troubled world. To see your family life flourish, be sure to apply these principles and many more to be found throughout the Bible.
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