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« Seeing the Big Picture | Main | Your Relation Relationship: Jesus as Family »

Your Relation Relationship

(This is the next segment of the chapter on Relation Relationship in the book Hand-in-Hand: Deepening Your Relationship with Jesus Christ.)

Marriage and Divorce 

Through marriage, God created more than a utilitarian means for reproduction.  Deep and complex needs for humans—as opposed to the rest of the animal kingdom—required trust, stability, commitment and love both for the marriage partners and for their offspring.  Marriage satisfies these human needs.  At the outset, divorce was never in the picture.  Jesus said, “Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery.” Matthew 19:8-9. 

It is impossible to calculate the enormity of damage that today’s skyrocketing divorce rates have inflicted on marriage as an institution and the families who have suffered its ravages.  Scholars researching divorce agree that, while the participating parties may feel free and unencumbered, the effect on society has been negative overall.   

“The divorce of parents, even if it is amicable, tears apart the fundamental unit of American society. Today, according to the Federal Reserve Board’s 1995 Survey of Consumer Finance, only 42 percent of children aged 14 to 18 live in a “first marriage” family—an intact two-parent married family. It should be no surprise to find that divorce is having such profound effects on society.”  Patrick Fagan and Robert Rector, The Heritage Foundation. 

While the FRB no longer tracks these details, nothing suggests that the trend has reversed.  In fact, current data collection differs so significantly from previous decades that some conclusions are skewed.  For example, divorce rates seem to be in decline, but this doesn’t reflect the higher number of couples who have opted out of marriage for cohabitation.  No statistics exist that show how many of those arrangments fail each year, although some say that couples who live together before marriage are fifty to eighty percent more likely to divorce.  (    

Modern opinions about divorce posit that people just “fall out of love,” or that they simply grow apart.  Extreme cases of battering and abuse need to be addressed, but Christians should never accept the premise that divorce is normal or inevitable.  Divorce represents a failure of basic Christian principles like love, kindness, respect and forgiveness.  Dyfunctional marriages  invariably point to dysfunctional people.  Believers who strive to improve their discipleship find ways to work through and overcome potential marriage-ending conflicts.  A strong relationship with Christ by husband and wife will manifest itself in a secure marriage.  The wise man wrote: “Who can find a virtuous wife? For her worth is far above rubies.  The heart of her husband safely trusts her; so he will have no lack of gain.  She does him good and not evil all the days of her life.”  Proverbs 31:10-12.   

Christians view marriage as sacred.  As a decree from God and integral to their core values, they do not take any threat to their marital vows lightly.  When their relationship runs into trouble, they are willing subject themselves to a complete analysis of the breakdown.  Marriage is not separate from, but a vital part of their Christianity.  

Honor Your Parents 

Small children need their parents for sustenance, discipline and protection.  They outgrow these needs as they mature and they strive to become independent.  This transition can become problematic the closer children get to adulthood.  If it is not handled carefully, it can lead to conflict and lingering bitterness.  God knew that such feelings could destroy the family unit, so He gave this command to the nation of Israel: “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the LORD your God is giving you.” Exodus 20:12. 

The word honor has interesting connotations.  The literal meaning is “to be heavy.”  With regard to the relationship between a child and a parent, the sense is to make weighty, to consider important or to hold in high esteem. This creates a bond between the two generations that holds them together even after children become fully functioning adults without any real need to depend on their parents for the necessities of life.  This command remains in force regardless of the quality of the relationship.  Even though children do not love their parents, or their parents did not raise them with wisdom or prudence, they must still honor their mother and father for bringing them into the world and providing for their basic needs while growing up.   

Honoring one’s parents has two prongs: things one should do and things one should not do.  An adult child should show concern for parents’ welfare, especially during times of illness or weakening strength.  Communication, consultation, providing assistance when needed and staying responsive are all on the list.  By the same token, children should not abandon their parents, as it were, and virtually act as though they were ophans.  Neither should they talk disrepectfully to them or demean them in any way.  As was mentioned earlier, caring for the family name belongs to each succeeding generation.  Honoring one’s parents means to refuse to bring reproach on the reputation of the family, whether my actions or deeds.   

Finally, Tim Challies, author and blogger, points out one more way that children—especially adult children—can honor their parents:  

“We can best honor our parents by forgiving our parents. And this is actually possible, for we serve and imitate a forgiving Savior. In the Bible we see Jesus’s willingness to forgive the ones who had wounded him. In the very moment the nails were driven into his flesh, he cried out “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). Standing at the foot of the cross and considering such a Savior, who are we to withhold forgiveness from our parents? We honor our parents by extending grace and forgiveness to them.” 

Care for Siblings 

The relationship between brothers and sisters dominates the pages of both the scriptures and of secular literature. The protocols for this relationship lie deeply imbedded in the holy writings, in culture, in legal documents, in social customs, in family traditions and in the actual give-and-take of life situations. Love, hatred, loyalty, betrayal, treachery, devotion, fighting, tenderness—all these elements and many more characterize filial bonds. Even more, the concept of brotherhood and sisterhood transcends genetic ties and holds a general meaning for associations between people who share in the same cause or class. Yet, for all this, the dynamics of the sibling linkage remains largely mysterious. We would all add great richness to our lives if we developed a more complete understanding of what it means to be a brother or a sister. 

Then the LORD said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” He said, “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?” Genesis 4:9.  This is one of the intriguing stories of famous brothers and sisters of the Bible which include Cain and Abel, Jacob and his twelve brothers, Ishmael and Isaac, Jacob and Esau, Rachael and Leah, Moses, Aaron and Miriam, Hophni and Phineas, Absolom, Amnon and Tamar, Peter and Andrew, Martha, Mary and Lazarus, and my personal favorites, Huz and Buz (Genesis 22:21 ). The Bible has certain protocols by which we are to treat brothers or family members. (Deuteronomy 15:1-3, 11; 24:10.)  

Sibling rivalry basically stems from competition for limited or scarce resources among brother and sisters. In the natural habitat, siblings usually compete for food and will fight with each other until one of them manages to kill or drive the other out. The triumphant individual wins the exclusive use of the food resources available in that area. That this is indeed the case can be seen by simply looking at most families’ photo albums. Looking through these albums, one can see that there are usually many pictures of the birth and first year of their first-born child. For the second child, there are fewer pictures. And, from the third child on, one may have a hard time finding pictures of them in the album.  It’s as if they didn’t even exist!  

The role of a sibling is much more than most of us make it. Several important factors make this obvious. A finite number people in the entire world share the same parents. Blood relationship binds brothers and sisters together beyond any bond they have with others. While marriage changes the dynamics of that relationship in many important ways, marriage doesn’t destroy genetics, loyalty to parents and shared experiences of childhood. These precious elements of closeness will never be duplicated and must not be lost.  

As they grow older, many siblings do not communicate very well with each other, beyond superficialities. “Opening up to each other” means exposure, vulnerability and revealing hidden thoughts. That can be dangerous. Siblings can be too guarded, too sensitive and too obstinate with each other. Perhaps it’s because they continue to play out the petty conflicts they had growing up. In many cases, they still compete with each other, only instead of racing or wrestling, they compete with cars, homes, possessions, bank accounts, education, etc. Some still rival each other for the attention and favor of their parents. Old jealousies, spats and attempts to irritate each other stay alive. Adults siblings should accept that those days are over and they are no longer rivals.  

Carol, my eldest sister died suddenly on March 26, 2007 . I did not know it at the time, but her loss deeply affected me. I had many things that I wanted to and should have shared with her, but I just didn’t. I blamed it on the distance or my busyness, but the fact is that I wasted all the opportunities. I filled up my time with things that were way down on the priority list. Now that Carol’s death has taken her from this life, denying the enjoyment of a living relationship with her, the lost treasure of her life seems infinitely more pronounced to me.  

Past events tend to mold and shape present relationships. Interpersonal dynamics can be shaped by many things (e.g. words, acts, attitudes). Present behavior follows templates established long ago. Siblings may instinctively put up their guard around each other for these reasons. Instead of sharing their thoughts, they suppress them because of fear, rejection or ridicule. Tragically, suppressed feelings create unnecessary pain and forfeit potential fulfillment that ought to be experienced in the familial relationship. 

Brothers and sisters who fail to express love or approval for each other cause great emotional damage. This is actually a cruel form of manipulation. Here’s how it happens: Subconsciously, one of them acts in a way that says, “You must earn my love or approval. Giving it to you, however, may make you stop doing what I want you to do. Therefore, I will never give it to you.” Withholding love and approval force a sibling to keep working for it. Withholding love and approval may lead siblings to believe they are unloved and unworthy. This can develop painful emotions and creates baggage for life. How bad can it get? Heinous crimes or suicides often result from a sense of being unloved or unworthy.  

Many brothers and sisters use physical distance between their places of residence to bury unpleasant feelings and live a relatively stress-free life. It may insulate them against further hurt, but it is just managing or coping, not resolving. We shrink our souls into small boxes that leave out much of the beauty of life. These defense mechanisms really short-change our happiness and impoverish our lives. If siblings treat each other in such a way that they can’t be open and honest with each other, or if they are superficial or silent with each other, then they have cost themselves the benefit and beauty of having a brother or a sister.

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