One day my grandmother will pass away, and that day will mark a distinctly dark time for my family. Grandparents tend to be the meeting place where older and younger generations gather for food and good times, especially during the holidays. My grandmother is no exception. Cooking on more Sundays than I can count. Hosting for just about every holiday. I’m not sure what will happen once she dies.
Being the family glue requires time and effort, an amount most of us don’t showcase. We get so used to seeing the same faces at various functions. We take the relationships, however meaningful or insignificant, for granted. See you next time, we say, parting ways.
But what happens when we don’t?
What happens when so-and-so gets into a car crash or so-and-so goes to prison? Suddenly, life turns upside down in ways we never could have predicted.
Beyond taking the existence of our relatives for granted, many of us today find our families dissolving, often before we’re old enough to realize. Take one look around, perhaps a look in the mirror, and you’re likely to find someone who comes from divorce, a blended family, a single-parent household, someone raised by a grandparent instead of a mom or a dad. We see all around us people sprung from less-than-ideal families.
And then they, we, produce our own less-than-ideal families. The cycle continues so on and so forth.
Even within families, there’s a disconnect between the generations. The older adults treat the younger ones as though they are still children, neglecting to listen or give the same respect that they expect. Younger adults don’t look after the elderly as was once custom in the culture. And the children, our children, are unable to socialize well with anyone, even other kids. They’re stuck on their devices, preferring the company of a phone to a person.
There are so many barriers to producing and maintaining a family, especially in the way God desires.
Do any of us ever stop to wonder, how should we treat our relatives? Does anybody wonder what the ideal family looks like?
I don’t pretend to have all the answers or even present myself as someone who has a strong relationship with family. What I can say with certainty is that Scripture admonishes us about how we ought to treat one another, how we ought to treat our families. These words of wisdom can be edifying if we allow them. Let’s look at these six guiding verses about family relationships:
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How to Treat Spouses
“Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord, because the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church. He is the Savior of the body.” (Ephesians 5:22-23)
“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her to make her holy, cleansing her with the washing of water by the word.” (Ephesians 5:25-26)
Scripture outlines in such detail how we should treat one another that little is left to the imagination. We may not always understand the why behind God’s tenets, but He gives us clear direction. In summary, as believers, we submit to God in faith. That submission determines how we treat other people. Likewise, when we marry, we submit to our spouse and treat them in a godly fashion.
Where our marriages struggle today is the lack of submission to one another. Instead of a covenantal union, we opt for something more akin to a business partnership. People get married with the idea of forging a 50/50 relationship so that they aren’t taken advantage of by the other person. Yet, the scorekeeping makes us more likely to find ‘evidence’ of just that. The end result, as many of us have experienced, is divorce – the death of a marriage.
We can escape this trend by changing how we treat marriage and the dating process that precedes it. With a focus on serving our spouse, we will cause the marriage and, as a result, our children to flourish.
How to Treat Children
“Start a youth out on his way; even when he grows old he will not depart from it.” (Proverbs 22:6)
Society ends without the creation of more children, as do family lines. We as individuals benefit from children too. They humble us, make us laugh, and even cry. They have an uncanny ability to point us back to God as our creator and provider. As great as they are, societal trends are encouraging adults not to become parents. Aside from the atrocity of abortion, young people are being encouraged not to have children at all. Lifestyles like SINK (single income, no kids) are glamorized on social media.
There’s no doubt that having children comes with challenges, the expected and unexpected variety, but when we find ourselves single, and everyone else is tucked away with their spouses and children, we could find ourselves in bad shape, especially as we grow older.
For those of us who have children, we must remember that raising them in a God-fearing way doesn’t equal incessant coddling, nor does it mean acting as a micromanager for their every decision. We’re called to teach wisdom, and adhere to the same wisdom we give. There’s no point in telling them to socialize and not be on their devices if we ourselves don’t know how to communicate. How else can we be role models? Living by the ideology of “do what I say, not as I do” is a clear sign of hypocrisy and not worthy of emulation.
How to Treat Parents
“Honor your father and your mother so that you may have a long life in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.” (Exodus 20:12)
Culturally, our treatment of the elderly has taken a nosedive, probably because how we treat our parents has significantly changed. The increase in divorce and broken families has not led to children having more respect for their elders, but less.
Part of the solution is for our elders to set a better example, but ultimately we can’t control them. We can only control ourselves and use the insight God has given us on how to behave. What He says is to honor our parents. There are no explicit caveats to the commandment. Honoring our parents is a display of gratitude both to them and to God. The end result strengthens our family bonds and gives our children insight into how to treat us.
Admittedly, following this commandment can be difficult. Our parents aren’t perfect, and sometimes, maybe often, their idiosyncrasies annoy us to no end. Sometimes they hurt us. But as believers, do we envision God wanting us to live in such a way where we have no contact with family just because they bother us? Or can we instead set boundaries that protect us and still allow us to have an honoring relationship?
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How to Treat the Elderly
“Listen to your father who gave you life, and don’t despise your mother when she is old.” (Proverbs 23:22)
Wisdom comes with experience, and the elderly often have experience. Maybe grandpa needs help setting up a Facebook account, but he knows the importance of marriage and hard work. Young people, myself included, take for granted the wisdom held by older generations. The temptation is to look down on them for being physically inept or socially unaware. Phrases like “Okay Boomer,” give us a good laugh, but what exactly are we doing to show appreciation to those who came before us? Our answer to that question should inform how we can expect the younger generations to treat us.
How to Treat the Youth
“My dear brothers and sisters, understand this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger.” (James 1:19)
As a society, young people usually get a bad rep for not listening. They see themselves as having all the answers, but ask none of the questions. This is the critique by teachers of their students, and parents of their children, whether as kids or adults. There’s truth to this. Ignorance is bliss, and younger folks are more likely to be ignorant, depending on the subject. However, what society and families don’t grapple with as much is the lack of listening older folks offer to younger people.
Being older does not automatically make you wiser. Everyone grows old, naturally. There’s no effort we put in. Our bodies simply age. Wisdom comes from experience, first-hand and second-hand. Parents and other older adults do themselves and their relationships a disservice when they decide not to listen, figuring that there’s “nothing you can tell me” or “I’m X years older than you.”
This does not mean everything a young person says is valid – we know that is not the case. But every word a young person says shouldn’t be readily dismissed just because a young person said them. And every word spoken by the elderly is not true simply because they spoke it.
Nobody’s perfect, and therefore no family is perfect. The ideal family simply doesn’t exist. Yet, despite the fact that we will never be as immaculate as Christ, we are still called to emulate Him. That same dedication to growth and positive change should be what we give to our families. Broken marriages and broken homes don’t have to be the norm. As a society, we make that determination.
As a society, we set the rules for how we engage one another. We can choose to care for and adhere to the wisdom of older generations. At the same time, we can respect and acknowledge the worthiness of younger adults. We can be positive examples of communication for our children, showing, not just telling them, that in-person human connection trumps anything you can garner from a device.
We can do this every time we get together, at every function, with all of our relatives. Maybe that’s the ideal family.
Sometimes I still imagine my Nana will live forever, maintaining the same level of gray on her head, wrinkles on her skin, and tolerable health issues in her body. I imagine her being around even after I’m gone, still serving those delicious home-cooked meals to relatives and people from church.
The truth is, she will leave. She will die. But until that day comes, I will continue trying to love her as I believe Jesus would have me, not taking her existence for granted but cherishing her. May we all learn to do that with all of our relatives, redeeming the time afforded to us. Day by day by day.
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The views and opinions expressed in this podcast are those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of Salem Web Network and Salem Media Group.
These verses serve as a source of renewal for the mind and restoration for the heart by reinforcing the notion that, while human weakness is inevitable, God’s strength is always available to uplift, guide, and empower us.
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Originally published Thursday, 21 September 2023.