The Toughest Job
My friend David Dykes reminded me of a funny story about a man who rushed into a toy store late one evening to buy a Barbie doll for his daughter who had a birthday the next morning. The saleslady said, “Well, you have several to choose from. This is the Tennis Barbie; it’s $20. The Ballet Barbie and the Beach Barbie are also $20 each. We have a new item called the Divorced Barbie, and she sells for $265.” The man said, “Why is the Divorced Barbie so much more expensive?” The saleslady said, “Oh, because she comes with Ken’s house, Ken’s car, and all of Ken’s furniture!”
We hear a lot on the news about endangered species. Of course, the commentator or scientist being interviewed talks about some kind of animal. It is far more likely that the most endangered “species” in America is the family, especially a Christian family. In fact, the toughest job I know is building a successful family.
I used to watch “Family Feud” when it was a game show on television. It was off the air for many years but has recently returned. The show is based on the ability of contestants to guess correct answers from a survey of the general population.
One Pastor surveyed families in his church and came up with habits which make a family strong. I would like to share five of those habits with you in this month when our thoughts naturally turn to families. If these are not happening in your family regularly, then your family fun may turn into a family feud, not just a game show on television but a real nightmare.
Number five on the survey said, “Children are disciplined with love and consistency.” Someone observed, “Firm but loving discipline keeps order in the home. There is much chaos when the kids rule the house!” Another one wrote: “Boundaries are established and consequences are explained. Then choice making is taught as a skill. Children are allowed to suffer the consequences of bad choices. Mother and Father do not disagree concerning discipline in front of the children.
Most of us agree that discipline is a necessary part of life. If we live a disciplined life as an adult, none of us attained it naturally. The truth is, we were then and children still are today born with a stubborn, rebellious nature, and they are by nature sinful.” Parents have a choice, either raise your children as God expects or one day reap the results of undisciplined children who think they are adults. Discipline does not have to be cruel, harsh or without boundaries. Discipline’s first and greatest lesson may be as simple as learning the meaning of “No.” Number four on the survey said, “Money is managed wisely and discussed openly.” This answer was number four on the survey of healthy family life, but failure to manage money well in the home is the number one reason any couple seeks marriage counseling in our country.
“Money problems can tear a marriage apart.” I see this from three sides. One is a matter of ownership. One family wrote, “There is no ‘his money’ or ‘her money.’ It’s ‘our money.’ Actually we realize that it’s all ‘God’s money.’” When a person releases the tight hold on finances and sees all of life as a stewardship of what God has given, it takes some of the tension our of financial matters. It is much easier to make them a matter of prayer and discussion. Then there is the matter of communication. It has been my experience working with many families with financial troubles, that they have poor communication skills about money and other things. Everything about money should be in the open between husband and wife. A third problem area occurs when there is a breach of trust. Not only are money expenditures not discussed, sometimes commitments about debt are violated or purchases made which the family does not need. I suggest to couples I counsel to have limits on amounts to spend unless both agree and to avoid the use of credit as much as possible. It is the best means I know to avoid the debt trap.
Further, I urge couples to follow a “10/10/80 financial plan. God the first ten percent, save the next ten percent and develop the discipline to live on 80% of income.” “These families teach their children about the importance of giving their money to God. They want their kids to know they tithe, and that one reason they may not have as many ‘toys’ as some of their friends is because they are giving to God.” Most importantly, I have never had a family in counseling for financial reasons who were following this plan.
Number three on the survey said, “learn to cope with adversity.” It can’t be avoided. Sooner or later every family, including the finest church-going Christian families will face adversity. Problems are not a sign of sin, but rather, that we live in a fallen world full or troubles. “It’s how a family deals with these problems that makes them stronger.” One family wrote: “Our child’s illness has taught us not to take time or anything for granted. Consequently, we try to have fun as we go and realize that each stage of our life is special and cannot be regained. The adversity of her illness has made all of us more sensitive to others and strengthened our relationship with God and each other.” Sometimes trouble is the only thing which brings us to our knees. Furthermore, it may become a powerful witness to someone else experiencing adversity if we learn from it and find comfort in our Christian faith. With Paul we can proclaim that God’s grace is sufficient even for our most difficult hours.
Number two on the survey said, “Each person is treated with respect and kindness.” Actually, these are just synonyms which describe the word “love.” Successful families practice love at home as well as in public. Kindness should permeate the atmosphere of a Christian home. There is no place for speaking disrespectfully to each other as husband and wife, nor should children be allowed to speak disrespectfully to their parents or other family members, including siblings.
Did you know our word “courtesy” comes from the behavior of people who used to live in the king’s “court.” “There was a code of conduct for the courtesans that included kindness and helpfulness. Men stopped and took off their hats and bowed when approached by a lady. They never let a lady open a door for herself.” Their protocol of kindness gave birth to our word “courtesy.”
An old man got on a bus one February 14th, carrying a dozen roses. He sat beside a young man. The young man looked at the roses and said, “Somebody’s going to get a beautiful Valentine’s Day gift.” “Yes,” said the old man. A few minutes went by and the old man noticed his young companion was staring at the roses. “Do you have a girlfriend?” the old man asked. “I do,” said the young man. “I’m going to see her right now, and I’m going to give her this Valentine’s Day card.” They rode in silence for another 10 minutes, and then the old man got up to get off the bus. As he stepped out into the aisle, he suddenly placed the roses on the young man’s lap and said, “I think my wife would want you to have these. I’ll tell her that I gave them to you.” He left the bus quickly. As the bus pulled away, the young man watched as the old man walked into a cemetery.
It’s true that “dead noses smell no roses.” Be sure to tell your family members “I love you” every single day.
The number one answer on the survey said, “Jesus is the glue that holds the family together.” Every response mentioned several things relating to this key habit. “Families worship together, they pray together, they have family devotions together. Jesus is not just a welcome guest in the home; He is the Lord of the home.” Note that these responses were in the present tense, not just some occasional events in the past or just for Sundays. Christ must be the hub around which the spokes of everyday life revolve. Don’t be fooled into thinking that such a home life is only possible for some very few special families with no problems or stressful schedules. On the contrary, it takes discipline, faith and dedication to make such a home life possible. But the rewards are beyond description. No home is perfect, but with Christ in the center, your family can thrive and be happy.
“Take a moment and reflect on these five habits again. You can have all of the first four, but if Jesus is not Lord of your life and Lord of your home, then the few years you enjoy as a family on earth will be the extent of your family time together. On the other hand, you may be lacking in a few of the others, but if Jesus is the Lord of your home, then your family can thrive and be effective.” Having a successful family may be the toughest task you will face on earth. Satan will test you at every turn. But never forget, God has made available to all of you the necessary equipment to navigate it safely.