How’s your family? Like most people, you might give this bland question a bland answer: Doing just fine. But if your experience is like many modern families, this is what a more detailed, more truthful answer to the question looks like.
My government job is tedious, but I get a lot of time off and make decent money, even after taxes. It pays for the lease: a townhouse in a safe part of the city, shops and restaurants close by, no lawn to mow. I’m all set in the evenings with my premium cable and video streaming.
My kids? The oldest lives with his mother back east. I e-mail him every now and then. He needs a good job after college to pay off his student loans within 20 years. My oldest daughter graduates from high school this year. She’s out with her friends a lot. I’m pretty sure she’s staying away from drinking and drugs and sex; she’s usually a good kid, gets good grades. But her friends have pretty … “free” attitudes about all that. The stepson plays a lot of video games. His mom caught him on some bad websites a while back. I didn’t punish him much; at least he’s passing all his classes this year. Bought him a car; he’s out with his girlfriend a lot lately. I tell him to try and be responsible. Our youngest is always happy, still loves being with Daddy, always begging me to get the family together to go to the park or something. But we’re all doing our own thing these days. She loves school; I’ve even learned some things from her homework about our past, social justice, gender equality, sexual choice.
My wife is working her way up toward branch manager at the insurance office. She still helps the kids with their homework and goes to their activities and grabs us something quick from the supermarket. I think she indulges the kids more than she should with her money, but it’s her money. She and I are not as close as we used to be, but I guess that’s the way it goes: kids, life, whatever. Oh well, what can you do about it anyway?
My parents—almost forgot about them. Dad’s slowing down but OK; his prescriptions seem to be causing some problems. He worries a lot about Social Security and Medicare. Mom e-mails every week or so; I try to e-mail her back when I have the chance.
The rest of my family? Uncles and aunts and everyone? I don’t know. I think most of them live somewhere in the Midwest. I haven’t talked to them in about 10 years, so I couldn’t really tell you.
Family: Out of Order
This is the modern fragmented family: disengaged, detached and distant; each of its members holed up in his or her own compartment, orphans of all ages; each living a separate quest for self-gratification, yet none seeming to quite achieve it.
The purpose of the family is unknown. The purpose of its individuals seems to be insipid: learn to produce goods or services, receive a diploma, get a high-paying job working most of the daylight hours inside a building, provide little or no real value to anyone else, earn nothing in return but cash for rent, groceries and occasional pleasures.
Rather than a building block, family has become a pile of gravel: somewhat similar, loosely affiliated, eroded pieces not bound together, following no authority and pursuing no purpose. Its individuals are increasingly less dependent on each other spiritually, mentally, emotionally and even financially.
Multiply this situation by tens of millions. Fast forward through the monotony, the fights, the addictions, the disasters, the sicknesses, the debts, the bankruptcies, the pregnancies, the abortions, the divorces, the trials and errors, the disappointments, and the generally empty lives to a society that finally crumbles—and deserves to.
Some think they will pick up those pieces, blend them up and pour out a new, homogenized, utopian world where men and women are indistinct, children are fed and taught by the government, family is finally abolished, and everyone is made equal where the most important aspect of human life is concerned: income.
That world is a dystopian horror story. The state of the modern family is not far removed from it. And even those better days of yesteryear were themselves full of confusion, injustice and futility.
Family is not just an ancient tradition; it is part of what it means to be human. Nothing else marries. Nothing else has home life. You are and always will be part of a family: grandson, granddaughter, son, daughter, brother, sister, husband, wife, father, mother, grandfather, grandmother.
Yet as essential as family is, no one seems to know its purpose. The first parents conducted their family as they saw fit. It caused problems. Their descendants conducted their families the way they saw fit. It caused problems. Millennia later, their modern descendants say the solution is to get rid of family altogether and to operate more like machines.
They don’t realize—and perhaps we don’t realize—that we never went back and fixed the original problem. We never learned: You cannot conduct family the way you see fit. You must conduct family the way your Creator made it.
Fast forward a little further—to a time when families will live the way their Creator designed.
How’s your family? If your experience is like most of those future families, this is what a detailed, truthful answer to the question will look like.
How’s my family? Well, are you comfortable? Let me get you a cup of tea.
We are working! We are always occupied together on our 40 acres to dress it and keep it. This area has been in my family for generations.
Everything gets back to the land. The food you eat, every physical need, every kind of wealth comes from the soil. The home where your children are born; the gardens that feed you; the pastures that feed your animals; the workshops where you create; the trees for your lumber; the quarries and mines for your materials; the buildings for services, meetings, classes, galleries, recitals, research, festivals, harvests; the tools you use; the seeds you grow; it all gets back to the land. And the Creator made the ultimate in private property—land ownership—mandatory.
And God gives every family land, near their families. My brothers live along that ridge, my sisters are across the lake. My parents are in the house down the hill; the whole family eats dinner there every week. Dad has slowed down a bit, can only do the gardening and wood-splitting now, so I help with his livestock. Gives him more time to read and to spend more relaxed time with Mom; they like to hike around the land and teach the grandchildren about cultivation and wildlife and poetry and the stars and all sorts of subjects.
My oldest is a good hand; his workshop is as pristine as can be. We spend a lot of time talking mathematics when we’re out working; he’s starting to stump me every now and then when I don’t have my notebook handy. He’s my builder—can frame up an outbuilding in about a day with his younger brother’s help. Usually they talk about science: cloud formations, musical tones, chemical reactions, astronomical phases. He’s taken an interest in crafting instruments, so he has been teaching that to some of our neighbors down at the library in town. He’s my most productive child, creates a lot of value with his skills, and it can be tempting to devote all your energies to that. But I am proud that he has willingly learned the lesson I have taught him: that what a man produces with God’s gifts and his own private property is his to care for, whether it’s a violin or a strawberry or a piece of knowledge. But the greatest man is not the one who piles up a mountain of produce for himself; it’s the man who chooses to give it to others and who teaches them how to do the same. From each according to his ability, to each according to his need, you might say.
My younger son loves history, so he likes being with his grandfather and me. He is interested in people: what they did; what they discovered; what they created. My dad can really paint a picture, so he learns a lot of lessons that way. I taught him a big lesson last month at a picnic. I saw his eyes linger too long on one of the neighbor girls whose family lives across the creek. They spent most of the meal talking by themselves. I took him for a walk after morning chores and told him exactly where that leads, having a relationship based on your own selfishness. It was just a small thing, but I’ve learned fathers can’t shy away from being involved in their children’s lives, not when it comes to teaching right and wrong and real respect and real love. Both children took their correction well; I’m thankful for wise children who listen to parents who love them.
My daughters are my joy. The oldest is vivacious and warm. She’s the master chef around here, working as hard as any craftsman would on some intensive connoisseur braised dumplings or some such. She does it all: cultivating the herbs, preserving the figs, formulating the feed for the livestock, raising the fowl, tending the vines. She’s a skilled horticulturist; she raised a grape that is an original contribution to enology, at least in this part of the world.
Our youngest is just the same. She loves animals, so she’s always out there with them, reading books about them, asking my wife and me about them, taking classes on them. She is also the one most interested in planning events. She has had some good ideas for our family get-togethers, and she helped with one of the concerts at last year’s jubilee, so we’re volunteering her to help with festivals and classes in town so she can excel in that as she grows. We’ve also been emphasizing with her how to think of and serve others, so right now she is planning a bird-themed luncheon for an elderly lady she knows who lives in town.
I’m proud of my children, and I’m in awe of my wife. If I’m the captain, she’s the best first mate on the sea. She’s up before dawn, preparing for the day. She knows how to trade fairly for all sorts of things that make our house a palace. She can design beautiful clothes that perform well; she can keep accounts; she can manage the household while I’m in the field; she can teach any subject to our children; she can comfort anyone through anything; she can sing so beautifully I shed a tear. And this ebullient mind, this effervescent personality, this light heart, by her own choice, devotes her life to me. On this piece of ground, there is no greater person than her.
There’s a lot happening on our land. Producing what God intended, the way He intended it, takes work, character, responsibility and time. It takes faith in God and plenty of patience. It takes a family. It has taken generations of my family to cultivate and build what we have, to produce food, knowledge, music, joy for ourselves and for our larger family and our town. But that is why we are here; that is why we are a family—to give and to grow more and more into what our Creator made us to be.
This is just the physical side of our family life, but suffice to say all of us live each day knowing that the purpose of all this is spiritual: to help us build character and build our relationship with our Creator and with our fellow man. Because that is where family came from. We look like Him. The essence of being human, being family, came from Him. And it is after Him that the whole family is named. Understanding that is how you make family work.