Okay, I'll admit it. The Lion King is one of my all-time favorite movies. Even though I'm in my 50s, something about that animated Disney classic just warms my heart every time I watch it.
My favorite part of the movie is in the beginning where the family of lions gathers to celebrate the birth of baby Simba. King Mufasa and his wife proudly stand watch over their newborn prince. The identity and bonding among the beasts are obvious. Perhaps that is why a community of lions is called a pride.
As I've contemplated the realistic dynamics of love, security, rivalry, and jealousy portrayed in The Lion King, I've become convinced that a healthy definition of pride belongs as much in the human family as it does in a clan of overgrown cats. Family pride is an essential quality in surviving the jungle of life.
No, not all pride is bad. Perhaps you were raised in a family or church that convinced you that pride is a sin. And while it is true that an over-inflated view of yourself is an abomination to the Lord, it is just as wrong to underestimate your worth. That is true of individuals, families, and churches. The apostle Paul urges us to " . . . be honest in your estimate of yourselves, measuring your value . . . " (Romans 12:3, NLT). In terms of families, that kind of healthy pride can be a fortress of protection and foundation of love.
When Dr. James Dobson's children were young, he seized an unexpected opportunity to teach them about loyalty to one another. One day after school, a fight ensued between the two Dobson kids at home. Dr. Dobson called his kids into the living room. Pointing beyond the picture window in the living room, he told them the outside world is a mean place filled with bullies and people who do hurtful things. Turning to his children, he explained that their family needed to be a safe place where they knew they could count on being loved and accepted. And that meant getting along.
In addition to arbitrating a truce, Dobson was actually making a case for family pride. When siblings realize the treasure they have at home, they are more likely to make allowances for each other. The more pride family members have in the fact that they belong to something that is unlike any other, the more apt they are to willingly contribute.
When my wife, Wendy, and I began our journey through the jungle of parenting 21 years ago, we determined early on to celebrate our unique identity as a family unit. I found a large ornamental initial "A" that we hung on the wall in the den next to the fireplace. That single letter silently reminded our kids they were Asimakoupouloses. When we purchased a carry-top container for the top of our station wagon, I found some transferable letters and identified ourselves as "The A Team" along with the name of our town and state.
For years I've purchased personalized license plates for my car with some derivation of the word awesome. It's the word we use to help people pronounce our last name phonetically. But when we bought our first minivan, it seemed appropriate to get a license plate that was more than a pronunciation key. We opted for AHHSUM 5. It was a subtle (but fun) way to help our three kids realize they were indeed part of an awesome family.
Dave and Kristi Steven's three sons know that Christmas means more than just getting new gifts. Early in the couple's marriage, they incorporated giving one "thrift store" gift wrapped in newspaper to each member of their family the day after Christmas. Since December 26th is the feast day of St. Stephen, the unique custom provides a nice way to engender pride in their name while embracing a tradition most people don't. The day after Christmas is also called Boxing Day (a day to help the poor in many countries) so the Steven clan actually benefits the local charities by giving recycled gifts that were purchased at a Goodwill or St. Vincent de Paul. When the Stevens' eldest son got married, he insisted that his wife embrace a practice of which he was proud to be a part.
Meanwhile, Bill and Marilyn Meyer of Northern California have their own way of maintaining family pride. When their kids grew up and had kids of their own, they created a custom. Each year one of their grandkids would be invited to go on a special trip with them. It might be to a national park or a far-away city or a car trip to visit Bill and Marilyn's daughter in Alaska. Each year would be someone else's turn. And once the rotation was complete, it would begin again. The one-on-one time with Papa and Gram provided each of the Meyer cousins an experience that helped to bond them with the others. By virtue of having been on "the grandparent vacation," they knew they were special.
Once on a business trip to Atlanta, I looked for some little gift to bring back to each of my girls. In one specialty shop my eyes locked on a bin of beverage coasters that were shaped like giant U. S. coins. I had a brainstorm of sorts and purchased one giant nickel and five giant pennies. Upon returning home, I presented the coasters to my family at dinner. "I bought each of us a penny," I said. "This is a reminder that each of us is a unique individual with characteristics and talents given us by God that are unique to us." Then I held up the nickel and announced, "And our family is like a nickel. We are the sum total of all five pennies. Never forget that you are part of a family that makes you special and more valuable than you could be on your own."
From that day on I often referred to the fact that we are a nickel. When my two older girls were away at two different colleges, I reminded them on the phone that come Christmas break we'd be a nickel again. Each warmly chuckled, quite aware of what I meant.
Swede and Martha Roskam of Chicago worked hard to create a sense of family identity with their five children. Martha insisted they guard the priority of sitting together as a family in weekly worship. Although Martha was barely five feet tall, she cast a long shadow over the lives of her brood. Swede reminded them they were Roskams and helped them to understand (at times with discipline) that being a Roskam meant they behaved certain ways. When the five kids married, moved out, and established families of their own, the family pride with which they'd been raised caused them to look for ways to perpetuate it.
"With one of my sisters in Seattle, another one in Pennsylvania, one brother in Indiana, and another in Illinois, I was concerned about maintaining family pride," Dr. Steve Roskam of Oak Park, Illinois, says. "I realized given the miles between us, my kids and my siblings' kids wouldn't be spending much time together. I grieved over the fact they wouldn't realize what a neat extended family they belonged to."
With that as a motivation, Steve convinced his folks and his siblings to schedule and budget for a five-day family reunion each summer. Each August they converge at a Christian family camp in western Michigan to spend time, worship together, and share common memories.
Establish Family Nights
Lon and Marie Allison have for many years guarded Sunday evenings as "Our Night." In addition to a shared family meal (a valued experience given the amount of travel Lon does), the Allisons and their three children play games, share devotions, or watch a DVD together. It is something that outranks invitations from other families or friends. By guarding the sanctity of their family night, Lon, Marie, and their kids have succeeded in creating a commitment to one another that has resulted in the "safe place" Dr. Dobson envisioned.
According to the Search Institute in Minnesota, one of the ways family members communicate love and instill self-esteem in each other is through the use of nicknames. A pet name conveys the thought that someone is special enough to have a name that no one else uses. Wendy and I have utilized that fairly simple means of punctuating our alliance as a clan. We call Kristin, our eldest, "Krissy Nick" (based on her name Kristin Nicole). We call our middle daughter, Allison, "Ally Bug" (because she was a diminutive toddler who was as shy and quiet as a flea). We call our youngest daughter, Lauren, "Lor Lor" (based on how she attempted to pronounce her own name when learning to talk). As you would expect, these are names we only use within our family. But because they are, whenever they are used they are coded reminders that our family is a place where our girls know they have special recognition.
As if teaching our long Greek name to our girls wasn't a sufficient challenge (not to mention learning how to spell it), I decided to teach them how to say it backwards. Soluopuokamisa. I never knew how much that little trick meant to them until I picked up my older two girls from summer camp where they were both working on staff. One of their fellow counselors walked up to me and with a sense of accomplishment blurted out, "Soluopuokamisa." At that point it dawned on me just how proud my kids were to be from our family.
Greg Asimakoupoulos is a pastor and freelance writer. He is the author of eight books including Heroic Faith and Draw Me Close to You. Greg and his wife, Wendy, have three daughters and live in Naperville, Illinois.
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