By: Albert Lee 李悅強
Houston, (You Know) We Have A Problem
There is a scene in the 1995 movie “Apollo 13” when the distressed astronauts are arguing in the doomed spacecraft, unaware at first that they are being heard over their radio by Mission Control – as soon as the commander (played by Tom Hanks) realizes the error, he immediately changes his tone to try to sound like he is in control of the crisis. Being a Christian husband and parent is a little bit like that – one may appear exemplary and in control in public but if you could snoop on what goes on in the home you will get a more accurate picture!
It all comes down to integrity, which I would define simply as “being the same in public and in private”. If you are married you probably have learned to smile and put on a good show in public only to trade barbs with your spouse as soon as you are alone. The same dynamic occurs all too often with children as well.
So while I will share some things I have learned from family life I will also add things I am still trying to learn as integrity is a work in progress.
Quantity Time, Not Quality Time
When I was nineteen I left home to go to university and I never looked back – so now that my eldest child is nearly sixteen I know that in a few short years he too may leave home never to return. Where has the time gone? Especially in Chinese families we like to say that our family is most important but the way we express this is often by our sacrifices – we say we have worked long hours so that our children can have a good education to secure their future.
The Bible tells us that “… where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Luke 12:34). While Jesus is teaching about our attitude towards material possessions, the “treasure” could just as easily be time. Men in particular tend to spend inordinate amounts of time working, whether in their vocation, repairing the home, or even serving in the church – anywhere but with their wife and children. To ease our guilt we have come up with the notion of “quality time”, as if by somehow making rare family moments more “meaningful” (usually by spending too much money on some big “experience” like a trip to Disney) we can magically hide the fact that we spend so little time with our little ones.
In fact the first time I took my family to Disney in Florida I asked my eldest son (then about seven years old) what was the best part of the “experience” – his answer was “going down the slide” at this little roadside parkette that was miles away and hundreds of dollars away from the theme park! Our families want our time; the activity is almost irrelevant. Simply being around gives a sense of stability and security to a family that special outings cannot match. If we spend too much time at work or even at church then we are feeding our public persona and starving our private family time – this is not integrity.
The Object Is The Lesson
At our church I am deeply involved in teaching children and I often find parents who tell me they are not gifted teachers and so are exempt from serving. Now not everyone should be a classroom teacher but every parent is a teacher whether they realize it or not. The Bible goes further, giving us an almost 24x7 teaching mandate: “These commandments that I [God] give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” (Deuteronomy 6:6-7). The good news is that every day there are so many teachable moments, unplanned times when something happens spontaneously that provides the perfect context for a valuable lesson, commonly called an object lesson.
I find that the car is just such a classroom. On a recent trip, one of my children exclaimed loudly that the other was not using a reading light to read in the backseat – definitely a no-no in my myopic household. However, the observation added an accusation that the infraction was because “he is lazy”. Without pulling over I was able to teach right then and there that the Bible expects us to judge without passing judgment - we are expected to point out error (i.e. to judge by God’s standards) but are forbidden to impugn motive (i.e. to presuppose we know why the error was committed). Only God knows what is in a person’s mind (see 1Corinthians 2:11).
Walk The Talk
It’s a good thing that parents are to teach all the time because children are learning all the time, mostly by watching and imitating. One of the most common practical tests of integrity is whether we “do as we say” i.e. do we follow our own teaching. The Apostle Paul dared to say “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). In fact, this principle applies equally well to the husband-wife relationship as it does to the parent-child relationship.
One important area for imitation is forgiveness. From the first time a child can speak he is taught to say “sorry” when a wrong has been committed. Instead, parents need to show children that asking for forgiveness is more important as it humbles the aggressor and empowers the victim to restore the relationship. Practicing forgiveness liberally in a marriage frees spouses from bitterness. Whenever I have erred with my children I try to identify the error and ask my children to forgive me. By showing others that we are not above correction enables them to receive correction in future. After all, parents and husbands aren’t always right, right?!
Put Your Hands Up
Finally if you’ve ever wanted to just throw your hands up in frustration over a difficult family relationship, you might have the right idea – if your hands are lifted up in prayer that is. Christians and especially Christian leaders can offer up some beautiful sincere prayers in a public church meeting; to exhibit integrity though requires us to pray just as effectively (and consistently) in private for our families, in accordance with the Bible: “… pray continually [or pray without ceasing]” (1 Thessalonians 5:17).
What do we pray about? How about starting with how we pray for people in the church or community – for salvation, for improved health, for protection, for guidance, for jobs and so on. In fact, what we pray about isn’t as important as who we pray with. When we spend time praying with our children (not just for our children) we teach them how to speak to God for themselves – after all, we won’t always be around – are we just going to leave them money or something more valuable? When we pray with our spouses, we fellowship together, sharing each other’s burdens, and encouraging each other to persevere because we put our trust and hope in God.
I pray that God would strengthen our family relationships – it all begins with integrity. We cannot be two people – how we relate to God will dictate how we relate to our family; if we have a good relationship with God, our family relationships will improve; if we don’t have a good relationship or any relationship with God, we have little hope of experiencing and building strong families.