Yesterday was my Grandmother’s birthday. She passed away over 20 years ago, but I still cherish the memories I have of my time with her. She was a woman of quiet dignity, gentle wisdom, and deep love for her family and neighbors.
While I was still in my late teens and early twenties, my Gram started getting me interested in genealogy. She had amazing stories that had been passed down through several generations, but she was unsure how many of them were “true” and how many had devolved into legend and half-truth. Her stories became the first framework I used to research our family’s roots. Over thirty years later, I have books and charts and databases filled with names, dates, stories, photos, mysteries, dead ends, twists and turns, surprises and more. I have traced my own family, my husband’s family, related families, possible connections to famous people in history, and mapped out many of the locations where our families lived over the centuries.
God created and instituted families, and I’m so grateful for mine. In spite of the many tragedies and skeletons I’ve found along the way, one thing is clear. God’s design for families is good and leads to hope, security, and fruitfulness.
All families are unique, but the design for families– the traditional family model–has been pretty consistent throughout the centuries and even across cultures. It may not always be the “nuclear” family of a mother and father and two or three children in a single household. Sometimes it is made up of multiple generations or nuclear groups sharing a house or living communally, and there have always been blended families, or single-parent households, but there is a consistent expectation of being able to trace one’s mother’s family line and father’s family line through at least two or three generations– knowing their names, where they were born, and when they lived and died.
As technology is advancing to make this kind of genealogical research even easier, society is pulling away from the traditional family model and making it harder and harder to find one’s “roots.” Children live with a series of adults– “aunties” and “dads” who bear no biological relationship and no lifelong commitment to them. Children whose fathers are nameless, faceless DNA donors, or whose parents left them to chase a career, or be with a new lover or a consuming addiction. Grown children rebel and leave their families behind to mix and mingle with other free-floating adults, never desiring to continue a legacy of family ties. Many people look upon this as “progress”– changing the definition of family…ironically, they use the term “relative” when talking about values and definitions, even as they redefine what it means to be a “relative.”
God doesn’t love us less if we don’t come from a traditional family– certainly, He is the God of the orphan, the fatherless, and the widow.
Psalm 68: 4-6: (NIV, courtesy of biblegateway.com)
Sing to God, sing in praise of his name,
extol him who rides on the clouds
rejoice before him—his name is the Lord.
A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows,
is God in his holy dwelling.
God sets the lonely in families,
he leads out the prisoners with singing;
but the rebellious live in a sun-scorched land.
God wants us in families– He wants us to grow and be fruitful. “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree,” is a phrase often used about family members being alike in their thinking or actions or habits. And so it is with families who grow and live together. We may “fall” away from our birth families, and move miles away, but we will produce a new tree with the same fruit– fruit that nourishes communities and societies and new families.
However, when we lose the pattern of families as God set them up, we lose a lot of other good things:
- A sense of belonging–sure we all belong to the entire human race, and we shouldn’t become exclusive and tribal at the expense of our neighbors and others, but there is a point at which we want to know where we “fit” in the scheme of things.
- Support and encouragement–I love my family; and I even like most of them! But I recognize a bond that cannot be broken lightly, and it keeps pulling us together in good times and bad. We are there for baby showers, funerals, weddings, house-warmings, graduations, and reunions. As our family has grown, we can’t always be at every event, but I will never be without anyone. There is a horrible epidemic of people who ARE living and dying alone– no family to visit or be visited; no family to talk to, or argue with, or share memories. This breaks my heart, and it breaks the heart of the God who made us to be “relational.”
- History and legacy–My life has a purpose and fits into a plan. I am uniquely “ME”, yet I am also a daughter, sister, wife, step-mom, grandma, aunt, and cousin (and second-cousin once-removed, etc.). I didn’t just appear out of thin air, and I won’t disappear without leaving a trace. The choices I make don’t just impact my life. This is important regardless of my history–I am the one who can change a bad legacy into a great heritage, or ruin a heritage and leave a legacy of pain for those I leave behind.
- Role models–Having roles within a family prepares us for having roles at work and in our communities– we learn to speak out, and to listen; we learn to ask for and offer help; we learn to respect others and earn the respect of those around us. We don’t learn these lessons perfectly, because there are no perfect families. But families provide a structure and pattern for teaching life lessons that is time-tested and approved. Busy parents are aided by grandparents, uncles, and older siblings and cousins in modeling good behavior, correcting bad behavior, and answering questions ranging from “the birds and the bees” to how to braid hair or tie a necktie. When that structure is missing, young people fall through the cracks in ways both small and crucial.
- Seeing how God’s love works through the ages. God doesn’t just love in spurts and impulses. God’s love is eternal, and meant to be shared from generation to generation and spread from family to family.
I pray today that, just as my grandmother encouraged my love of family, that I will leave a legacy of love and faith for others in my life– those who are family by blood, and those who have become the family of my heart. And I hope that others will pray for our families to stay true and strong and fruitful, too.