Family life is a system of human relationships designed by God to provide man's needs. In the family, man finds companionship and sexual satisfaction and learns love, which is an attribute of God himself. It is in the family that children learn to become socialized. No other arrangement has ever been devised as a successful alternative. It is evident that Jesus was serious when he said, "What therefore God hath joined together let not man put asunder" (Matthew 19:6). That which God has provided, ordained, and authorized has always been a focus of attack by the forces of Satan. Today, the family system of life is a major issue in the Devil's warfare against God's design for a fulfilling human relationship. Many couples are asking themselves what is missing in their relationship with one another? Why don't parents really feel close to their children? Why doesn't the family have that warm, close feeling that families should have? Could anything change the situation and bring the joy back into family life? Increasingly, these are the questions being asked by all segments of our society, and for good reasons. For example, there is evidence that negative, unhappy family life is associated with mental health problems and juvenile delinquency. There is a higher incidence of divorce and marital unhappiness among persons who are reared in unhappy families.
The challenge of strengthening family life depends upon gaining knowledge about strong, healthy families. We might ask what can we learn from strong, healthy families that can be applied to our own family to strengthen it? Studies have demonstrated that strong families are characterized by five qualities.
Number one is the expression of appreciation. William James, one of the greatest psychologists America has ever produced, once wrote a book about human needs. Some years later, he commented that he failed to include the most important need of all--the need to be appreciated. We like to be around people who show us appreciation. Yet, how often we fail to express appreciation to our spouses and children. One study showed that only 20 percent of a family's time was spent in having fun or saying nice things to each other. To change this, a family must begin to look for each other's strengths. Try not to miss an opportunity to give each other a sincere compliment. It is important to let others know, "You are important to me; I care about you . . . You have many contributions to offer to the world."
An outstanding example of the expression of appreciation is found in the apostle Paul's letter to the Thessalonians. The first chapter of I Thessalonians is a hymn of praise and thanksgiving for the faith, love, and steadfastness of the Thessalonians. Paul certainly expressed his appreciation for these members of the family of God.
Second, an outstanding characteristic of strong families is the great amount of time they spend together. They work and play together. They enjoy being together, even if they are not doing anything in particular. Life today has become very much a "rat race." Family living can be improved by not allowing our lives to become overly fragmented. Strong families intentionally cut down on the number of outside activities and involvements in order to minimize fragmentation of their family life. When you find yourself becoming so busy that you are not spending time with your family, it is time to look at what you're doing that's taking you away from your family. You may find that some of those involvements are not so important after all. Try to keep you family "number one" in terms of how you spend your time.
Third, strong families spend a lot of time in family discussion and in talking out problems as they come up. There are quarrels in every family, but by getting things out in the open and talking about them, the problem can usually be identified and the best alternative for resolving the conflict can be chosen. Successful marriage and family relationships are characterized by positive, open channels of communication. It is not just communication per se which contributes to the strength of a family, but communication of a positive nature, marked by a frequent expression of appreciation toward each other.
The fourth characteristic of a strong family is a high degree of religious orientation. In addition to attending church as a family, the members pray together and read the Bible and other inspirational books together. The role that religion plays in strengthening families is much more than simply participating in religious activities. It is the knowledge that God is with you every day and is directing your life. Knowing God cares, that He is the greatest friend you have, and that He has a purpose for your life is a great comfort. The awareness of God's love makes the family more tolerant and forgiving. Christianity emphasizes values such as commitment, respect, and responsibilities for the needs and welfare of others. These values contribute to good interpersonal and family relationships.
Commitment is the fifth quality of a strong family. A strong family is committed to helping and making each other happy. Their actions are geared toward promoting each other's welfare. Time and energy are invested in the family. Individual goals are frequently sacrificed for the welfare of the family.
An action formula for strengthening your family can be summarized in these five steps:
1. Develop the art of expressing sincere appreciation to your spouse and children. Concentrate on their individual strengths.
2. Arrange to spend more time with your family. Plan more family activities that all find enjoyable. Learn to say "no" to outside demands which aren't really that important anyway.
3. Open the communication channels. Take time to talk with each other often and be a good listener.
4. Explore ways that spiritual strength might be added to your family life. Participating in church activities as a family, reading religious materials and family devotionals are only a few of the ways this might be accomplished.
5. Build a high degree of commitment toward your family. Make family life your number one priority. Invest your time and energy into the relationships with your spouse and children. The result can, and will be, a stronger, more fulfilling family life.
This essay was written by Tim McPherson, a gospel preacher and father of three children.