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Family with a Purpose

How to make the most of your time together—and have fun doing it!

It's not like I never set goals!

There was the night I stayed up til 3 a.m. drawing plans for a playhouse in our backyard. I used transparent overlays to represent phases of construction, colored pencils to indicate various building materials, and a black marker to pinpoint each nail. The good news is, my architectural masterpiece has been put to use: It's under my coffee cup, protecting the wood grain of my desk.

Then there was the time I planned to lose thirty pounds before summer. I lost five and discovered that you can really perk up the flavor of fat-free cookies with the simple addition of two scoops of Breyer's Rocky Road ice cream!

I've created elaborate plans to help me clean my house, motivate my kids, and improve my marriage. And what do I have to show for it? Elaborate plans to help me clean my house, motivate my kids, and improve my marriage.

Sometimes it's tempting to throw up my hands and let the tyranny of the urgent direct my daily path. What squeaky wheels need greasing today? How many fires can I extinguish before lunch?

And yet, there's no denying good things usually don't happen by accident. Setting goals, particularly goals in line with God's will for my life, is a wise thing to do. Sure, sometimes my plans fall short. But even if 60 percent of my goals are made in vain . . . wow! That means 40 percent of my plans have a good chance of bearing fruit!

You may already be setting little goals like "Joshua, you've got six weeks to bring your grades up to par," or "Honey, let's get a babysitter and have a date night once a week." But what if you sat down with your family and came up with a master plan? What if you instilled in each family member a vision of who you are, and what God might have had in mind when he placed you together? What if you crafted a purpose statement that summarized what you hope to accomplish during your years together under one roof?

I'm not talking about a 10-page document. I'm talking one paragraph that can serve as a ready reminder of important goals you don't want to lose sight of in the daily hurricane of activities and events called "life."

You might be thinking, But what good can a single paragraph do? Let me just say that advertisers don't shell out billions of dollars each year so station managers will send fruitcake at Christmas. No, they spend The Big Bucks because they know that exposure to even a thirty-second TV commercial can impact behavior. Over the next five to fifteen years, while your kids are still at home, repeated exposure to your family purpose statement will have an impact.

Hear ye, hear ye

Want to get started? Call a family meeting. Now, I understand that family meetings can rank up there somewhere between root canals and tax audits in terms of stress. To start off on the right foot, stock your kitchen table with favorite snacks as well as pens and paper for brainstorming. Pass around an empty shoebox and ask everyone to symbolically "drop in" any bad moods, sarcastic comments, critical mindsets, old grudges, apathetic attitudes, and sibling rivalry before you begin. Assure everyone they can pick up their poor manners when the meeting is done, but until then, the goal is to have fun and treat each other with respect.

Point out the following: "God could have selected any combination of people to place within this family. And yet he handpicked each one of us. Why do you think he put us together the way he did? Let's brainstorm ten goals he might have for us to accomplish as a family."

Why did God put us together? What goals does he want us to accomplish as a family? How can we get the most of our years together?

Undoubtedly, one of your kids will suggest that your family was created so that Whiskers, the family cat, would have a good home, or to give business to the pizza establishments in your city. That's okay. Write everything down. You're brainstorming, not writing the Ten Commandments. No idea should be criticized or dismissed. Don't take yourselves too seriously. Have fun. Be creative. Out of 10 suggestions, if your family comes up with a handful of thought-provoking insights, you will have been successful.

Now select several ideas to include in your statement. Here's a tip: Take any negative goals ("One of our goals is to fight less") and make them positive ("One of our goals is to live in harmony"). If possible, include a practical example of how that goal might be met: "Our goal is to live in harmony by considering each other's needs as more important than our own."

Consider this example: "Our purpose as a family is to provide a safe environment for children and grownups alike to learn more about loving and serving Jesus through the act of learning how to love and serve each other."

Is there a verse in the Bible that complements your purpose statement? Make it your family verse. How about a prayer that reflects your goals as a family? Have each person write down a paragraph beginning, "Lord, help me to . . . " Go around the table and read your paragraphs in prayer to God.

Throw a party!

Now that you have a purpose statement, look for ways to celebrate your new goals. One way is to enlist your family's creative gifts and abilities. Is someone computer saavy? Have him create a family newsletter or certificate that highlights your purpose statement.

Does anyone enjoy gardening? Select a flower or tree that represents some aspect of your purpose statement and include it in your backyard landscape (red roses might represent a commitment to try to always look on the bright side of life).

Bake a cake and write the family verse in frosting on the top. The point is, have fun and use your imagination. Meet one evening over popcorn and soda to show off your creative endeavors.

Paint a picture

When I was a girl, my family dreamed about one day owning a ranch. My sisters and I created a scrapbook filled with pictures of rugged landscapes and cowboys and livestock—everything we believed represented our dream. Of course, the best pictures were the Marlboro ads, which featured dusty cowboys in scenic settings. The cigarettes hanging out of their mouths were a problem, though. I can't tell you how many hours I spent cutting and pasting in an effort to camouflage those cigarettes!

Start a scrapbook and fill it with images that you and your family can take to heart. Perhaps you'll find a magazine picture of a dad in prayer, kids setting the table, or a mom and daughter enjoying a heart-to-heart talk. Maybe you'll come across an article about a family who spent Thanksgiving delivering turkey dinners to folks who would have gone without. Over the years, look for pictures—and words that paint a picture—to create positive images family members can emulate.

Practice makes perfect

How can we get our purpose statements out of our scrapbooks and into our lives? Here are some ideas:

  1. Write down twelve activities that put legs to the concepts in your purpose statement. Each month draw an activity from a hat and do it together as a family.
  2. Each week ask one person in your family about what he or she is doing that's in line with the family purpose.
  3. Remember, practice makes perfect! My three-year-old is struggling to learn obedience, while my eleven year old wrestles with godly communication. When an infraction occurs, I dole out the necessary discipline. Afterwards, we take ten minutes and practice making better choices. We even make a game out of it! I'll say, "Okay, Kacie, you go hide in the other room, then let's see how fast you can come when Mama calls your name." We'll do this three or four times, with me cheering and clapping like a maniac each time she gets it right. Or I might say, "Kaitlyn, how could you make that same request without whining?" or "When my answer to one of your requests is no, how might you communicate your disappointment without talking back or arguing?" We practice a few times, then celebrate with ice-cream sandwiches. It's fine to penalize behavior that conflicts with your mission as a family . . . but perhaps the best learning occurs when we practice making better choices in a relaxed setting.

Family life is wild and woolly, wacky and wonderful. It sometimes feels out of control . . . because it is. If we're not careful, we can ride the wave of daily chaos right into an empty nest without ever thinking about the big picture. Why did God put us together? What goals does he want us to accomplish as a family? How can we get the most out of our years together?

Of course, we'll never understand the depth of God's plans for us and for our families until we're hugging and kissing at that Big Family Reunion in the Sky. But if we dare to ask the right questions today, we might find ourselves enjoying a bit of heaven on earth after all.

KAREN SCALF LINAMEN is author of numerous books, including A Waist Is a Terrible Thing to Mind: Loving Your Body, Accepting Yourself, and Living Without Regret (WaterBrook).

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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