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How to Honor Family

Our family, whether the family into which we were born or a surrogate family, is God’s gift if it gives us both roots and wings. by Commissioner Phil Needham

Scripture for Reflection: Deuteronomy 5:16; Luke 2:41-50

Having allegiance to the family that raises us or the family we raise requires that we have some understanding of what God has in mind by placing us in families. Someone has said that parents have two gifts to give their children: roots and wings. That seems to me a good summary of the essential tasks of a family. When parents, or a parent, give children both these gifts, they have done well. When parents focus overwhelmingly on the rooting and discourage their children from forging their own paths, self-trust and confidence may become difficult as the child matures. On the other hand, when parents don’t provide direction and meaningful purpose, children may become trapped in aimless wandering from one pursuit to the next.

When I look back at my own upbringing, I can see clearly that my father wanted to see me well grounded in my faith; my mother trusted where my faith journey would take me. He didn’t want me to stray too far in my thinking; she didn’t want me to feel too confined. In some families, however, it’s the mother who gives the rooting and the father the wings. In still others, only one parent gives both, and in others little of either is given. 

We are not finished with our need for a family when we graduate and go off to a job or a college. We all continue to need relationships and groups that deepen our roots and strengthen our wings. We need mentors and support groups. So, we adopt new families, as it were. Some people don’t find a good family until they leave and find the nurture and grounding they didn’t get at home.

What does it mean, then, to have allegiance to our family? No family is perfect. We may idolize our family, but such a profile is seen only through rose-colored glasses. We can appreciate how good our family is only if we know its shortcomings, which makes its graces and its strengths stand out all the more. Some families are rife with dysfunction and abuse. Those who grow up in such families often reach out to surrogate parents or siblings and find the nurturing and companionship they lack at home. Perhaps over time they come to understand that their parents were fighting personal demons and were themselves victims of instability and abuse. 

Jesus had a high view of the family. Raised in a very good family himself, he was taught the ways of God and the life of godliness. He emphasized the importance of honoring our parents (Mark 7:9-13). But when his calling required him to abandon his carpenter work, he had to do so without their full understanding and support. His mother seems at first to have thought he was making a big mistake (Luke 2:48).

Our family, whether the family into which we were born or a surrogate family, is God’s gift if it gives us both roots and wings. Without the roots, we are lost and must find a grounding somewhere; without the wings, we are stuck and must find the courage to seek the unique calling for which we were created. The purpose of the family that follows Christ is for members to help one another be both grounded in Christ and free in Christ. 

As imperfect as our family may be, we owe them a certain allegiance, as stated in the fourth of the Ten Commandments (Deuteronomy 5:16), even if we had to find better families. And as perfect as we may consider our own family to be, it must not become an object of our worship. We worship only God, and among the graces he grants us are families who—more or less, but always to some extent or even in strange ways—are conduits of a measure of that grace. 

Loving God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—in the spaces between the imperfections of the families I belong to, help me to see undeniable touches of your grace and love, beautiful reflections of your threefold, perfect life. In the name of Jesus, Amen.

This is an excerpt from the book “Renewals” by Commissioner Phil Needham.

“Renewals” continues the spiritual journey of “Christmas Breakthrough,” “Lenten Awakening” and “Easter People.” It launches the second half of the Christian Year that some Churches call Trinity and others call Common Time. Trinity because the relationships of the Feather, Son, and Holy Spirit have so much to teach us about our own relationships and the living of our lives as God’s People. And Common Time because during these months we also search the Scriptures to find practical help in living our lives day to day as Jesus’ disciples.

“Renewals” explores how the Trinity teaches us to relate to all those with whom we have a close or distant relationship. All our relationships are covenantal: our personal relationships, our church relationships and our relationships with the world. They call for constant renewal. Because summer is a good time for spiritual renewal, one week is devoted to these resources. The book concludes by exploring the Beatitudes as very specific pathways to renewal.

More from “Renewals:” How to Support Your Church’s Calling Amid Imperfection

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