The first task for Family development matches the first task for Personal development. It is an identity task. So we turn to a passage of Scripture that has as its focus our primary “family” attachment, the book of Galatians. The reason we start here is that much of parenting today has to do with behavior modification or control. It is as if all we want is to make sure our children “behave” rather than developing a disciple of Christ. Parenting is essentially discipleship. This is why you can’t parent as a Christian without developing as a Christian yourself!
I recently had a dear friend make this comment: “I will be happy if she makes it out of high school without getting pregnant or being on drugs!”
This comment reflects a partial approach to parenting. Now I know my friend wants more for their child than this, but often this statement reflects our parenting style. It is insufficient. Now don’t get me wrong, I want my kids to behave. I disciplined them so that they would behave. But as they grew up I had to teach them how to live, not simply how to behave. This is why parenting must have as it’s highest priority the issue of identity. It changes the focus of parenting from “control” to “empowering”. There are three areas in which we transmit, pass on and affirm identity: Trust, belonging, sharing.
- Identity is transmitted through relationship, trust.
- Identity is passed on through a sense of belonging
- Identity is affirmed through sharing.
Behavior and Purpose in life is a direct result of identity, fruit of the Spirit; gifts of the Spirit.
Trust. Belonging. Sharing.
Here are some things to help us create an identity creating atmosphere in our families.
Trust is a by-product of two factors: faithfulness and proximity. In order to develop trust you must be present and you must be regular. It is a very simple principle: trust comes when I begin to rely on a particular behavior. Regular, repeated, positive, and affirming behavior develops trust. As you can see from this definition – a quick fix exercise will not develop trust. Trust is developed over time with regular behavior. Develop a routine with your family. Make sure you are spending time with your family. There is no replacement for regularity and time. Large quantities of time is especially important for younger children.
Belonging is a belief that I am a part of a whole. Belonging is achieved when we have confidence and security. Belonging is communicated to a child by removing doubt and fear and establishing a peaceful and secure environment where they can live and move. Assurance, encouragement, affirmation, are all characteristics of the home where belonging is a value. Belonging is also achieved by role definition where we find that we have a critical place in the home. It is the crucible of determining strengths and gifts which catapult our children into the world where they find purpose and meaning in their contribution to the whole.
Sharing communicates unity, which is critical to identity. We share space, provisions, resources, wealth, heritage, lifestyle. Identity is affirmed in this sharing. My children drive my car. Sharing affirms trust; I trust you in my car to handle the liability and responsibility. Sharing affirms belonging; the car is not mine, it is ours. We belong to one another.
Passing on identity is much more of a by-product of having identity and living out of the strength of identity than it is a program. Here is how it works:
Individuals who are healthy have a strong sense of identity. They are confident in their physical, spiritual, emotional, and relational make-up. “Settled” is a good overall term for this state of being. From this vantage point of settledness, individuals are able now to make a contribution in a marriage and a family. A settled person is not seeking a wife to make him whole, she is not seeking children to fulfill her. These things may occur, but they are not the driving force to the relationship but the result of the relationship.
Two individuals who are healthy, or settled, when joined together in marriage are well positioned to create a healthy family and pass on identity to their children. A settled couple will operate out of a set of shared values as they are equally yoked to borrow the Pauline description in Corinthians. A settled couple will recognize that their children are unique individuals who need direction, not simply control. The misbehavior of children is not taken as a personal affront or failure, rather an opportunity to teach and train.
Families who have their being in this foundation of strong identity exhibit a strength and attractiveness that embodies the true nature of “family”. These families are not perfect but they deal well with failure and the family is a healthy place to experiment and challenge. Values are clearly defined and rationally founded. They are not capricious or random. Children who grow in these families exhibit confidence, strength, acceptance, and achievement.
These three areas (trust, belonging, sharing) are applicable in the individuals process to identity, a marriage identity, and a family identity.
In my personal life I must begin my identity journey by trusting Christ. I am then adopted into a family where I belong to Christ and to His body. Then I share in the benefits of the family inheritance. My contribution is a by product of these three things. I function within the body according to my giftedness.
In marriage we begin the relationship by learning to trust one another. This trust is epitomized in the vows that we share. We live together and affirm that we belong to one another in the relationship consummation and priority. We share all things in common as we have adopted a one flesh attitude in all that we do.
These three arenas are affirmed in the family unit as we expand and welcome new additions. Trust, belonging and sharing are practiced and established in the home as expressions of the new identity personally and in my marriage.
Read the book of Galatians, especially 2:15, 16, 20; 3:7, 28-29; 4:4-7, 9, 19; all of chapter 5 and 6. Look for how Paul links the Christian life (walking in the Spirit) with a new identity.