In 1979 the Pittsburgh Pirates professional baseball team surprised many by winning the World Series. It was a close-knit team and, to reflect this, they adopted the popular Sister Sledge song “We Are Family” to describe their strength and unity. The phrase The Family was stenciled on the dugout roof and on signs, bumper stickers and T-shirts everywhere. Family became the team identity.
Similarly, the traditional family can also be described as a team—hopefully a unified, supportive team. However, we all know that some teams are not very good when it comes to working together during difficult times, and it is not unheard of for players to blame each other for ongoing problems.
Sadly, the same can often be said of individual families. What must we do to strengthen and sustain our families?
Marriage and family under attack
Dramatic shifts in the culture and in the definitions of marriage and family have impacted many people today. It wasn’t that long ago that marriage was widely appreciated as an institution uniting a man and a woman as a team to share the task of raising children. Bringing children into the world and teaching, protecting and providing for them was seen as the primary tasks of parents.
But dramatic societal shifts have changed the composition of many families. Commenting on the results of the 2010 U.S. Census, The New York Times reported that “married couples represented just 48 percent of American households in 2010. … This was slightly less than in 2000, but far below the 78 percent of households occupied by married couples in 1950. What is more, just a fifth of households were traditional families—married couples with children—down from about a quarter a decade ago, and from 43 percent in 1950.”
The impact on children is equally dramatic. The New York Times article continued, “W. Bradford Wilcox, the director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, argues that the retreat from marriage is bad for society because it means less security for children. ‘It’s troubling because those kids are much more likely to be exposed to instability, complex family relations and poverty,’ he said” (“Married Couples Are No Longer a Majority, Census Finds,” May 26, 2011).
Because of the frequency of divorce and the various “alternative” family structures, the concept of a strong marriage and family may seem unrealistic or unattainable to many children today. The State of Our Unions, an annual report on marriage and family in the United States by the National Marriage Project, reveals disturbing and profound changes in this dramatic cultural shift and its impact on children. The U.S. statistics reported in the National Marriage Project’s 2012 “Social Indicators of Marital Health and Well-Being” are shocking:
Strong, loving relationships
Loving connections between family members are a critical building block of the family. With healthy, committed relationships, the entire family is protected and strengthened. When challenges arise, as they sometimes will, the strong family will work together to endure or solve the problems.
The foundation for these strong families is love. The Bible describes love as something that is not provoked, thinks no evil, doesn’t envy, rejoices in truth and endures all things (1 Corinthians 13:4-7). A loving family shares dreams, hopes, possessions, memories, smiles, frowns, success and failure. It provides shelter from the storm—a friendly port when the waves of life become too wild. No member of such a family ever need feel alone.
The resilient family
But too many families today seem to reflect what comedian Robert Orben quipped, “Who can ever forget Winston Churchill’s immortal words: ‘We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills.’ It sounds exactly like our family vacation.”
However, a loving, committed family is resilient, and a resilient family will work together to “bounce back” from problems that might shatter other families.
Families can be inspired by the apostle Paul’s description of the resilience of first-century Christians who faced crisis: “We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4:8-9). Paul and these faithful Christians relied on God for strength and help to endure trials, and families can as well.