THE FUTURE OF THE FAMILY SERIES
HAPPY OURS – HOW TO MAINTAIN A HEALTHY, BALANCED FAMILY
APRIL 20, 1996
Every time my wife goes to the grocery store, she always buys a dozen eggs. If you grocery shop with any regularity, I am sure you do the same thing. What is the one thing that you do before you put the carton of eggs in the basket? You carefully open it up and inspect the eggs because you want to make sure that you are purchasing twelve, healthy, robust, fresh, farm eggs. In today’s session we are going to do the same thing with the family. We are going to open it up and inspect it and look for twelve healthy traits of a balanced and well-functioning family.
It is paramount that we understand what a healthy family looks like because a lot of us are spending large blocks of time, money, spiritual and emotional stuff helping our families. Many here are not sure if they are doing it in a balanced fashion. So I want you to think about the family you grew up in and also the family that you are establishing now and, if you are single, the family you will establish as we address this issue.
You know eggs are pretty fragile, aren’t they? They are fragile, they break. Look at this. I can just drop one and it will break. I have always wanted to do this. The eggs are breakable and so is the family. The family is as fragile as these eggs. Especially the twelve traits of a balanced family are fragile. So let’s jump right in. You will see in your bulletin that there is an insert entitled, Happy Ours – How To Maintain a Healthy Balanced Family. If you have a pen or pencil, please follow along with me as we talk about these twelve traits. I am going to challenge you to do something at the end of our session today, so make sure you follow along and fill in the blanks.
The dynamic dozen. The first trait of a healthy, balanced family is that it shares a common passion for Jesus Christ. This is the most important, foundational principal we can think about when we talk about the family unit. And, again, look back at your family of origin and look at your family today. Did your family of origin or does your family today really share a common passion for Jesus Christ? You see, in today’s world we don’t need a mild dose of God, we need the full treatment. What if I had an opportunity to interview your family members. If I said to your kids, “Does your father value a personal relationship with Christ, does he have a faith that is alive? Does your mother have a faith that is real? Do you worship together regularly or is it something you kind of talk about?
What if our band decided to play from three different sheets of music. You wouldn’t have harmony, you would have dissonance. What if a home builder decided to build and construct with four different sets of house plans. It would be ugly. It would be atrocious looking. What if the Texas Rangers decided to play by the rules of fast pitch softball not the rules of the Major League. It wouldn’t be a very good game to watch. Well functioning families that face the future in a godly, Biblical sense are always reading off the same sheet of music, building off the same set of plans and they are playing by the same rules. They are living out the transcendent values from God’s word within the context of the family unit.
The second trait of a healthy, balanced family is that they love one another unconditionally. If I am right with God, if I have a personal relationship with Him, then I am going to also get involved in this second quality, I am going to love other family members unconditionally. How do you do that? Here is what John said in
I John 3:1. “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us that we should be called children of God.” How do you love family members unconditionally? You fall in love with the God who loves you first unconditionally and then you live out that love in the family unit. You love your family members unconditionally. This kind of love can cause a twenty-one year old college student to look back on his family and thank God for the thousands of acts of love; for the loving embraces, for the Karate lessons, the Little League, the birthday parties, the sleep-overs, the camping trips. As he thinks about this list of all these acts of love, his self-esteem rises and his appreciation and thankfulness to God increases.
A family of love can cause a twenty-five year old daughter to look at her little baby and say these words. “You know, I want give you the kind of love that was given to me by my Mom. I grew up in a single parent household yet I was valued and loved. I want to give you this kind of love which is not performance or achievement oriented. I want to give you the kind of love which comes from God.” Do you have love going on in your family?
I believe the family should look like a filling station. A couple of months ago LeeBeth, my nine year old, and I were driving in my car. We pulled up to a Mobil station. She asked to pump the gas. I showed her how to pump. And I thought about the home because the home should look like a filling station. Our love tanks are low when we go out into the world, out into the marketplace. We are running on fumes as we come home to the family unit. We need some fuel. We need some love fuel. The family should look like a true service station, taking care of our vehicle and pumping in love. Each member of the family should do that for each other. The second trait of a healthy, balanced family is a family that loves one another unconditionally.
The third trait of a balanced family is one that communicates in truth and love and listens to one another. Ephesians 4:15 tells us to speak the truth in love. Parents, do you speak kind words to your spouse? Parents, do you listen lovingly to your spouse? You set the tone for communication in the household. If you don’t talk, if you don’t listen, if you don’t love, if you don’t really connect, then how in the world are your kids going to do it? Where are they going to learn it from? Beevis and Buthead? Or ER? Or maybe an episode on Friends? Don’t hold your breath. They have got to learn it from parents.
The Bible says this in Proverbs 12:15, “A wise man listens.” Speaking is only part of communication. If you heard a conversation from our dinner table, you would say that the Young household can really communicate. Well, we speak a lot because we are the loud family. We all talk a lot. We are vying for time. There is no dead time. Speaking is only part of it. Another part of it is listening. We listen with our eyes. One day my son, EJ, told me, “Daddy, listen with your eyes.” We listen with our eyes, we listen with our ears, we also listen with our entire bodies. Every time you connect and you have eye contact with someone in the family unit, you are building up the self-esteem. You are saying to them that what they are telling you is important. Some of the stuff that toddlers, children and even teenagers tell you, parents, doesn’t seem like a big deal to you but it means a lot to them. If you listen to what they are saying now, they will talk to you when they hit 18, when they hit 28, and 38, and 48, and 58. Speak the truth in love. Listen lovingly. Parents, we set the pace.
The fourth trait of a balanced family is that they reconcile differences rapidly. You see how fragile these traits are. I love what II Corinthians 5:18 says. This verse applies only to those in the family of God. I know we have many here who are seeking Christianity and if you are seeking, this is the place for you. This verse, however, is only for those who know Christ personally. “God has given us the ministry of reconciliation.” Is that powerful or what? You see Jesus Christ reconciled us to God, something we did not deserve. Once we receive Him, we receive the ministry of reconciliation. If we are true followers of Jesus Christ we can’t stand for parties to be apart. He can’t stand for there to be a chasm or a wedge in a relationship. Especially this holds true in the family unit. So we need to reconcile differences rapidly. Again I ask you, how in the world do children learn this?
I sometimes hear people say, “You know, Ed, in the family I grew up in I never heard my parents argue. I never heard them disagree.” They believe that to be some kind of noble thing. But I am thinking, “Man, you have got a long life ahead of you.” Parents, we should not argue all of the time in front of our children, but we need to disagree now and then in front of our children. Why? Because we model how to argue and then, more importantly, how to reconcile. You disagree in front of your children, you reconcile in front of them. The Bible says not to let the anger fester. Reconcile differences rapidly. Before you see that beautiful, majestic Texas sunset, you better be reconciled. If not, it will get bigger and bigger and bigger and one day you will dump the whole carton of eggs out.
The fifth trait of a healthy, balanced family is that it encourages and supports each family member. Harvard just completed a 35-year study which concluded that those children who were encouraged and supported in the family unit lived healthier lives physically when they hit their 50s and 60s. Is that wild? This study said that they have less of a chance for a heart attack or hypertension just because they were valued in the family unit. Question. Did your family of origin support you and encourage you? Question. Are you encouraging and supporting your family members.
I talked to a friend of mine I have know for fifteen years. Her name is Laurel Walters. Laurel told me something that was beautiful about her family. She said, “I knew back then and I know today that I could do anything, fail, mess up, try something creative and my parents would still love me and applaud my uniqueness.” She went on to illustrate that every Tuesday night from the time she was nine years old until she left home, she could make any portion of the meal she wanted to. Her mom would serve it and everyone would eat it and comment on how creative and good it was. That takes guts, doesn’t it? Today, she is a gourmet cook and also a top fashion designer. Then she went on to say. “You know what my brother does? My brother is a mechanical engineer and my sister is an all-American polo player.” Now how different is that? You see our agenda in life, parents, is not to crank out a bunch of cookie cutter kids. There is Johnny and there is Suzie. They look alike. They dress alike. Suzie wears a dress and Johnny obviously wears pants but they are alike. They go to the same school. They are into the same things. You see a family that encourages and supports one another can allow for different and unique pursuits in the various children.
The sixth trait of a healthy family is that it teaches responsibility. It is important to know that we are worth something. Self-esteem is something the Bible talks about time and time again. But we also need to know that we have to do something. We are something but we have got to do something. Parents, it is our responsibility to teach and train our children to do something. A good self-esteem will not put bread on the table, it will not put money in the bank. Wise parents train their children. They expose them to many different avenues artistically, athletically, domestically and they help their children find their niche. I believe you can start out with the responsibility thing when a child is one and a half or two years of age. When you teach them simple chores, making the bed, cleaning up the room, putting away all the Power Rangers after they have fought, you can build on those values. When they are ready to leave for college or ready to hit the marketplace, they have a value called responsibility that was modeled and taught in the family unit. Paying your bills on time, living within your means financially, keeping your commitments; these things have to be taught. Parents are the pace cars.
How many of you have ever been at the Indianapolis 500? One of the most important aspects of a race is the pace car. The pace car starts the race. It gets the cars going. Right before the field of Formula One cars breaks the starting line, the pace car pulls off. Then we kind of forget about the pace car. Mom, if you are a single parent, Dad, if you are a single parent, or Mom and Dad, you are the pace car. You are making sure the field is ready. You are making sure the engines are revved up. You are teaching responsibility. You are teaching self-esteem. Then right before you launch your children off into life with great velocity, you peel off and there they go. If you are not setting the pace, there are going to be some problems, some flat tires, some mechanical failures. The pace car does something else, too. When there is a crash, and there ill be crashes in the family unit, the pace car comes and sets the pace again and gets control of the track. Teach responsibility.
Number seven. A healthy family develops a sense of trust and loyalty. We have to be loyal to each other. Again, I hit the husbands and wives on this one. Do you build each other up in front of your children or do you rip your spouse apart? When I go into a household for a home visit I usually sit down to have a cup of coffee with the husband and wife. From time to time the wife will say that she is glad I am there because her husband had not been to church for the last two months. The poor guy is turning red. Then she starts to rip into her husband in front of me. That is not loyalty. Now I understand that the motivation and desire might be to help the husband but tearing him apart publicly will not help. If there are problems, deal with them privately. If more help is needed, seek Christian counseling. But you have got to remain loyal. We are not loyal to anything these days, to our universities, our high schools, our families, our spouses. It is so popular to write books that share all the dirt in families, in corporations, in professional athletic teams. Parents, you model loyalty and your kids will catch it and they will have trust and loyalty for their whole lives.
Number eight. A healthy family promises never to abuse, shame or control other family members. When it come to a soul-shattering contest, abusive parents take home all the trophies. I want to talk to you about abuse. This is a painful subject for many here. What happens in your family when you looked to your parents for nice and kind words but instead you were raged over? What happened when you looked to your parents for a loving touch but instead you were slapped? What happened when you were just discovering the mysteries of your sexuality and in the middle of the night a parent showd up at the foot of your bed with an agenda that makes the angels in heaven shriek? What happens? Oftentimes somebody gets broken so severely that they can’t be repaired unless they go through years of Christian guidance. Healthy families recoil at just the mention of abuse, shame or control. How about it? Did it happen in your family of origin? Is it happening or could it happen in your family? You have got to make a promise, you have got to avow never to let this occur.
The ninth trait of a healthy family is that they value service to one another. Jesus said, one day, if you want to be great, become a servant. And here is my definition of servanthood. Servanthood is doing an unselfish act without worrying about the pat on the back. Now I sometimes mess up in this realm. Let’s say, for example, we have had dinner and the dishes are dirty on the table. I will just start taking the dishes to the kitchen. I kind of play a cruel joke on the family. I start singing this song as I serve. “He is a servant, watch Ed Young serve, he is an ultimate family member. Watch him serve. Watch him serve. He will serve the family.” My wife, especially, requests that I not sing the song. LeeBeth and EJ concur. That is not true servanthood. Servanthood would be taking the plates off the table and taking them to the sink without singing. I do have that song copyrighted so don’t try to steal that song.
I am going to challenge you to do one act of service a day for a family member without worrying about a pat on the back or a high five. What if Andre Aggessi decided not to serve? What if he decided he would not serve, he would just volley. Do you think he would win? Tennis is a game, for the most part, won or lost on the serve. Families are oftentimes won or lost depending on the service. Dad, serving is not saying, “Well, I bring home the money and I put bread on the table. I have to relax when I come home. I can’t change a diaper. I can’t get up in the middle of the night. I can’t take the trash out. I can’t do the yard work.” Oh, no, that does not hold Biblical water. Oftentimes you have got to take off the corporate hat and put on the servant hat once your hit your home.
Number ten, and this will seem kind of odd, a healthy, balanced family establishes and celebrates traditions together. Do you do things special for Christmas? Do you do things special for Easter? Do you do things special for birthdays. Around the Young household at least once a month we will have a You Are Special plate at someone’s seat. The one getting the special plate might have gotten a good report card, preached a good sermon. Sometimes Lisa will just put out the You Are Special plate just for herself and I love that. Now and then I will even do it. That communicates something to our family. We have done this special thing in the past, we will do it today and we will do it in the future. The same thing holds true with looking at Christmas lights each year, eating the same food around Easter, having the same people over. But listen to me, young families, and don’t misinterrpt what I am saying, I will try to make myself as clear as possible. You set your own agenda for the holidays. It is so tempting to acquiesce to your family of origin. Lisa and I had to make that call years ago. Lisa’s parents live in Columbia, SC, 1003 miles away from Dallas. My parents live in Houston. Both families are close-knit and they would each want us to come visit them. Finally we said, we have children. We love you guys so much, if you want to celebrate with us you can come to our home. It is fine to welcome family members in, don’t misinterpret what I am saying but set your own traditions. Now the day after Christmas, if you want to go somewhere, that is cool.
The eleventh trait. A healthy family has a sense of humor and a sense of play. You poll adults in this congregation and they will tell you, 90% will tell you something like this. “The most memorable time in my childhood was the time we went camping on Lake Wiggiewagga and the humidity was 110 and Dad tried to set up a tent. The tent collapsed during the night and a pack of raccoons ate all of our marshmallows.” And they will go on and on and on. What is going on here? Recreation and a sense of humor and a sense of play. We have got to do this regularly in the family unit. If you are not, you are messing up. Your family is fragmented. When my family looks back on the times we played together, I am sure one of the impressions that will never leave their mind is the time last August when I drove back from our vacation, forgot about the luggage racks on the top of the suburban and took off the top portion of the garage.
Number twelve. A healthy, balanced family recognizes problems and seeks help when needed. There is an old Chinese proverb that says, no one in the family can hang up a sign that says, Nothing Is The Matter Here. You can never hang that sign up. The Young family has its problems. We have our bad days, our good days, our relational sticking points just like you. Proverbs 13:10 says, “Those who seek counsel become wise.” Past generations did not seek counsel, for the most part, when they had problems. The father, in past generations, could be a drunk, intimidating everyone. The mother could be the classic controller even controlling the dog. The adolescent could be clinically depressed and the child could be bouncing off the walls with hyperactivity. Yet when Sunday came rolling around, everyone would get sobered up, psyched up and dressed up for another hour of public deception. When someone would say, in past generations, “How are you doing?” We would say, “Everything is fine.” Then we would go back and get into our cars and chaos would start again.
Thankfully, things are changing. Families are seeking help. They are talking to their small group leader. They are talking to pastors. They are seeking Biblical, Christian counseling. Many of you here, and I will say this unapologetically, need some Biblical counseling. You do. The problem is, most of the situations that we deal with are so far down the road that headway is difficult to make. The damage has been so severe, it has gone on for so many years. Seek help now. If you want a list of counselors, we have a list here at the church. But talk about these things. Don’t wait. Do you see how fragile the family is. Don’t put it off.
Now some of us feel like we can never change. I know that little voice in the depth of your being is saying that you can’t change. You can’t run with freedom and live out the twelve principles of a healthy, balanced family. But if you are a child of God, that is a lie. And I will show you how it is a lie. This Monday I went to a ranch outside of San Antonio. I have been to this ranch many times. A friend of mine owns it. This particular ranch has 5,000 acres and probably has more exotic animals than any ranch in North America. As I was being toured around the ranch with a friend of mine by the person who runs the operation there, I was looking at the different types of zebra, the greater kudu, the lessor kudu, the herds of giraffes, I was thinking it was unbelievable. It was like the Lion King or Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom. We were taken to the rhino area. There was a fence around the rhino area which covered hundreds of acres. Some food was poured in a trough and suddenly a male and female rhino came running out of the brush. They were 10,000 pounds each. “Ed, come up to the fence and watch them eat.” I am standing behind the fence which seemed kind of flimsy compared to the rhino and I could even smell their breath. I watched for awhile and took some pictures. Then we left. I asked our driver if the rhino could break down the fence if he wanted to. “Oh, yes, it is just like thread.” I said, “You have got to be kidding. You mean they could have come and trampled me?” “Oh yeah, if they wanted to, but you were safe because they don’t know they could. They don’t know how strong they are.” Then she went on to explain that they had been in the same pen for fifteen years and it is just the memory that keeps them hemmed in. Hey, are you believing the lie of the evil one that says you don’t have the power and the strength to break out of the fence, to break the threads, to break the chains? Are you like those rhinos? “I can’t get out of this. I can’t really soar. I can’t really run. I don’t really have freedom.” If you know Christ personally, if you are following these twelve steps, you have the strength and power of a 10,000 pound rhino. So the choice is up to you if you want to break or not. So many families here need to break out of fences that have you limited and chained in.
Now, take your outline very quickly and listen to me. I want every family to have one outline at least. Hopefully it is filled in correctly. You will see six blanks on the bottom. If you have a family of six, like our, use six. If you have a family of three, use three. Everyone sign their name. Then take the list home this afternoon and discuss each of the traits. I am not talking about four or five hours. Just say, “How am I doing?” No one here in the house, if you are honest, will score a perfect twelve. After you discuss these values, here is where it gets fun. I want you to take the list to a prominent place in your household, the refrigerator. Put it on the front. It will be visible to all. Perhaps the fourteen year old will say, “Dad, number eleven says that we need to have a sense of humor and a sense of play. We have not played together as a family for two months.” Or maybe your wife will say. “Honey, we need to reconcile this difference. It has been two days. We have not gotten it right yet.” It gives everyone permission to point to these traits. We can live them out. I’ll tell you something. This list will serve you well. So if you are in the family of God, if you can obey these principles, the future looks bright. If you are not going to worry about them, if you are just going to toss the principles aside, take a look at the future. But again, we are creatures with freedom of choice. God says, “I can’t force it on you, you have got to decide on your own. But, do it My way, you will be glad that you did.”