Finding Yourself in Your Family

Psalm 127:1 

On July 21, 1983, 288 construction workers were waiting for the sound of the gun that would mark the beginning of construction on a house in Palmer, Alaska. They were going to be timed to see how fast they could build a house. They were encouraged by a crowd of 6,000 spectators and a country band. The record they set was incredible. In just 3 hours, 53 minutes and 59.49 seconds the lucky couple, Rocky and Pat Weldon of Anchorage, stood on the steps of their brand new house. The two bedroom house cost $80,000. To top things off, a furniture company then furnished the house in less than four minutes.

“Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain.” (Ps 127:1)

Scientists who know about such things say that if your parents didn’t have any children, you probably won’t have any either. Other than that everybody has a family.

Your family has changed over the course of your life. You began with parents and grandparents, you were joined by brothers and sisters. You had aunts and uncles and cousins. In time you got married and may have had some children of your own. Those children grew up and married and had children, so you find yourself a grandparent, maybe even a great-grandparent. Over the years your parents grow old and eventually die. Tragedies may have occurred and you lost a child or a brother or sister, perhaps even a spouse. Some of you have gone through the heartache of a divorce, but then married again and that brings blended family into your life.

In spite of the changes that occur and the additions and losses we experience, we always seem to come back to thinking of ourselves in terms of family. We are brothers and sisters, children and grandchildren, husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, and the greatest joy of all, grandparents.

Not all of those relationships may have been ideal. Not all of you think with fondness about your mother or father; some of you experienced the trauma of abuse or neglect or even molestation. You may have had a falling out with your brothers or sisters. Children may have disappointed you, spouses may have betrayed you. The fact is, relationships aren’t easy and so many things can go wrong, and so even family is a tough place to go looking for yourself, because that search may take us through swamps and minefields. It is a necessary part of the search though, because, for better or worse, we are in part defined by our family relationships.

It’s not easy sorting it all out. I’ve done a lot of marriage and pre-marriage counseling over the years, and I’ve found the most difficult issue to deal with isn’t money or sex, but the baggage we bring with us from our families growing up. Expectations, fears and disappointments fill the room and make it difficult to work through.

But in spite of all the difficulties and failures we may have experienced, God has still blessed us with such wonderful and joyous opportunities to experience real love and intimacy and fulfillment in the families in which he has placed us.

Let’s take some time this morning navigating that search to find ourselves in our family relationships.

Why did God put us in families? What did he hope to accomplish in those relationships that we couldn’t experience anywhere else?

Let’s begin with marriage. Most of us here this morning are married. Some of you are widowed, some are divorced, some are single and marriage may or may not be in your future. But for those of you who are married, you have some unique blessings and challenges in your life.

God designed marriage to be the one relationship where we can absolutely be ourselves – nothing held back, nothing hidden, and loved unconditionally. That is the definition of true intimacy. Intimacy has much less to do with the physical part of your relationship and everything to do with the emotional and spiritual part of your relationship.

God wants you to be in at least one relationship in your life where you can be loved, warts and all – not the ideal you, not the you you wish you could be, but the real you – behind all the masks you wear in public, all the things you’re afraid others might find out – the real you. And to the degree that you keep those hidden from your husband or wife, you are robbing yourself of experiencing that unconditional love.

God wants you to be authentic with each other. Now, don’t confuse that with brutal honesty, because that usually ends up looking more brutal than honest. So don’t excuse meanness and lack of sensitivity by saying, “I was just being honest.” Where you need to be honest is about yourself. Until you are transparent enough to be vulnerable you haven’t let your spouse deep enough into your life.

Until you trust each other with your worst side – your fears and embarrassments and shame, you don’t really trust and you can’t really experience true intimacy. And guys, I know that’s a word that scares you – like when you were dating and a girl said, “we need to talk” and she didn’t mean about baseball. She meant “let’s talk about our relationship” and you suddenly remembered you had a root canal scheduled with the dentist. Guys don’t like to talk about relationships and we certainly don’t like to talk about intimacy.

But I’m here to tell you – that was God’s central purpose in creating marriage. In Genesis 2 God said: “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” (Gen 2:24) And in that, God was sanctifying that sexual relationship between a husband and a wife, but when Paul quotes that verse in Ephesians 5, what precedes it is so important: Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. (Eph 5:25-28)

Guys, if you want to find yourself, you need to spend some time finding out who that woman is you are married to. You need to treat her with such tenderness and gentleness – as a precious gift from God. And she has a need only you can meet – she wants to know what’s going on inside you. And that means you have to open up and let her in.

And ladies, when he opens up and shares his heart with you, you can’t stick that in your ammo box for the next time you get mad at him and then load it in the chamber and blast him with it. And you can’t hit him with, “I can’t believe you think that (or feel that, or want that).” If you don’t want intimacy and communication to end right there, you need to value and cherish your husband. Paul told husbands one thing: love your wife; but he told wives two things: submit to your husband and respect your husband.

If you are married, it is so important in your search to find yourself that you discover what it means to be one with your husband or wife. If you have made that lifetime commitment of marriage to that person, they are integral to knowing yourself.

Let’s talk about kids. Right after Solomon said it is the Lord who builds the house, he said, “Sons are a heritage from the LORD, children a reward from him. Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are sons born in one’s youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them.” (Ps 127:3-5)

If children are a reward, they are also an enormous responsibility. They don’t come with instruction manuals. You have to have more training and licensing to drive a car than raise a child, but they are far more complex and needy than any car. You can’t just bring them home, park them in the garage, give them a little fuel and wash them now and then and expect them to turn out alright. Just the accessories alone will make your head spin.

If you have been blessed with children, you are in for the long haul. They are a journey in and of themselves. When you bring them home from the hospital they are small and helpless – and they are all yours and it delights you and terrifies you all at the same time. You learn how to change dirty diapers (without gagging), what their different cries mean, you watch them learn to smile and crawl, then stand and walk and talk and pretty soon they’re off to school, and then graduating from high school, and you find out in reality what everyone had always told you in theory – they grow up way too fast.

But God gives you just enough time to do everything you need to do. But that time isn’t going to happen after you’ve done everything you want to do, it happens now – not later. They are an incredible blessing, but they must be a top priority. Make the time to be at their school functions and their ball games and music recitals and help them to get a good start in figuring out who they are. Make sure you have them in church and in Bible class – let them see you reading your Bible and praying and serving. Raise them in the Lord – they are God’s children before they are your children and he is entrusting them to you to raise them to love and serve him.

So make sure you have time for the important things – the things that will make a difference in their eternity. Talk to them about their relationship with God and how much he loves them and wants them to walk with him.

There comes a time down the road when you will have an empty nest. It may not take the first time – they just seem to keep coming back – but keep nudging them out the door and eventually they’ll get the hang of it. Seriously, being a parent never ends. But the real rewards come when they become adults, because you begin to develop an adult relationship with your children, and you get to really enjoy the fruits of your labor. And if you’re lucky enough, they start rewarding you with grandchildren. And then the fun really starts.

Some parents treat children as if they are a hindrance or a detour in their journey to finding themselves. But the opposite is really true – you learn more about yourself by being a parent than anything else you will ever do. You discover resources you never dreamed you had. You learn patience and compassion and perseverance and flexibility that you never thought you would need. You learn selflessness and sacrificial love. You learn how to hold them tight, and then you learn how to let them go. And in the process you find more than a little bit of yourself.

Let’s talk about one more dimension of families: Your relationship with your parents. That’s also a long term journey.

Early on, you think your mom and dad know everything and can fix everything. But there comes a moment when you realize they are human with their share of failings and shortcomings. And for a few years you think your parents are hopelessly flawed and incapable of raising you right.

You might be in the middle of that, and if you are, God has a word for you. The apostle Paul wrote, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother”—which is the first commandment with a promise— “that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.” (Eph 6:1-3)

Give your parents a break and cut your parents some slack. They’re doing the best they can and want desperately to give you the best life possible. When Paul says, “Honor your father and mother,” he doesn’t qualify that with “if they deserve it” or “if they are perfect parents.” Your parents aren’t perfect and they will make mistakes, and you will no doubt survive their imperfect efforts. You are to honor them – and that means show them respect and love – unconditional love.

It’s interesting how your relationship with your parents changes over time. You begin by being dependent upon them for everything. As time goes by you watch your parents age and eventually they become dependent on you. What goes around comes around. You find yourself worrying about taking care of them and making sure they have everything they need.

Part of that journey to find yourself takes you through that evolving relationship with your parents, and if you want to find yourself, you’d better spend some time getting to know your parents. There will come a day when you wish you had more time with them – a time when you wish you could pick up the phone and ask them a question. So cherish that relationship with the ones who love you more than life itself. And realize that you are more like them than you would care to admit.

In addition to weddings, I also tend to do a fair number of funerals. And at funerals, we don’t talk about how many awards a person has received or how many committees they were on. We talk about family – about husbands and wives and children and moms and dads and relationships – the things that really matter. And so many times the conversations have to do with how they wish they had spent more time with each other, told them how much they loved them, let them know how important they were in their lives. If it will be a regret then, it ought to be a priority now.