What do you think of when you hear the word family? Joy and security? Frustration and anger? Hurt and self-doubt? Longing and emptiness? Or perhaps a jumble of many feelings, some profoundly good and some painfully bad?
Scripture reveals a similar jumble of family scenarios. We see the first family created as a salve for human loneliness; we see love and loyalty; we see a spiritual legacy passed from parent to child. But we also see (major!) dysfunction: sibling rivalry so brutal it leads to fratricide, marriages torn apart by adultery, parents abandoning children, and many, many more ugly scenes that are a far cry from the seemingly idyllic family photos we mail out during the holidays.
Our human families showcase the very best of us—laughter, affection, loyalty, self-sacrifice, friendship, feeling known and at home—and the very worst of us—bitterness, cruelty, resentment, self-centeredness, spitefulness, feeling unknown and alone. I know my own little family experiences both my very best (my most deeply-felt prayers, my truest affection, my whole-hearted efforts and service, my undying love) along with my very, very worst (ahem . . . mood swings, irritation, impatience, resentment, frustration, self-centeredness, tears). It can get ugly, folks!
As I wrote in my book Cherish Your Family, “Family, in all our human frailty, is still God’s blessed idea and is yet God’s wonderful gift to us. In fact, even the tough parts of family life can be a blessing to us, providing us a training ground for spiritual growth and discipleship.”
The holidays provide ample opportunity for such training, don’t they? As we gather with loved ones for Thanksgiving meals and Christmas tree decorating, both the blessings and challenges of family relationships are magnified. In this issue of Today’s Christian Woman, we explore family relationships—both the tough stuff and the true gold.
All married couples have their struggles, but one extremely common source of conflict or frustration is in-laws. His mom or her dad can put a real wrench in an otherwise solid relationship! If you’re grappling with in-law challenges, look no further than “For Better, for Worse . . . for In-Laws” where Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott unpack some tried-and-true strategies for successfully handling in-law family dynamics.
In “No More Wicked Stepmother,” Charity Singleton Craig describes her own new family dynamic; after decades of singleness, she’s become both a wife and a stepmom. How can we navigate the tricky relationships of stepparenting? Charity shares some of the struggles and joys of the stepmom journey.
But family isn’t only about marriage and kids, is it? Family is just as crucial for single adults—the type of family that is found in a community of friends and also the ongoing relationship with extended family: parents, siblings, nieces, and nephews. In “The Single Girl’s Guide to Family Holidays,” Joy Eggerichs of Love and Respect (NOW) discusses how single adults can foster rich relationships with their parents and siblings—and can deal with the occasional challenges of family gatherings.
The idea of “family” can be particularly painful for children of divorce; even as grown-ups, the hurt of watching Mom and Dad split up and lead separate lives is an ongoing reality. In “When Your Parents’ Marriage Dies,” Brittany Bergman invites us into the experiences of adult children of divorce, providing an honest look at the difficulties of this family scenario and exploring ways to journey through it with hope.
Whether you’re single or married, with or without kids, have an amazing extended family or a severely fractured one, we all belong to another family: the church. God’s comparison of church to family calls us to a high level of commitment and sacrifice that’s far beyond just warm-fuzzy-togetherness moments. In “My Church, My Family,” Sharon Hodde Miller urges us to lean into our church relationships, upping our understanding of what it means to belong to our church family.
During this season of cookies and carols, fighting and frustration, discouragement and delight, embrace God’s gift of your unique family. Sure, it may be ugly at times. But even in that ugliness, our messed-up, imperfect families can draw out our fiercest love and most generous grace.
In his grace,
It Can Get Ugly
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