By: Jenni Walker
“But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of…” (2 Timothy 3:14a)
“Earthly families…are but copies of the heavenly one. They are signposts that point to a reality infinitely more amazing, more wonderful, and more eternal. God is all about family.” (Mary A. Kassian and Nancy Leigh Demoss)
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What requires the most discipline and effort often produces the greatest reward! In the context of family relationships, intentionally creating priorities and focusing on specific values will begin to occur more naturally with consistent practice. I think of it like a dancer learning a new step who has to practice, has to listen closely to the tempo of the song, and must be deliberate in her movements. This kind of intentional focus and effort eventually becomes more and more natural. At this point, it does not mean the dancer stops practicing, but when she hears the rhythm of the music, the required steps, muscle memory, and responses to other fellow dancers begin to hold even greater beauty and reward, both for the dancers and those in the audience observing the dance.
An Intentional Rhythm
All of us have a rhythm by which we live our lives. Of course, some of the elements of our family lives will vary from family to family. But many of them are emphasized in Scripture and must be prioritized, taught, and labored for as disciples of Christ. These elements of daily family life are not just for the purpose of making our own lives “better,” but they help to make the context of family a living testimony of the glory, grace, and goodness of God as we rely on Hin! “For God is my witness, how greatly I long for you all with the affection of Jesus Christ. And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more…being filled with the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.” (Philippians 1:8, 9a, 11)
This sounds nice, but it does require intentional, consistent, even disciplined practice. Disciplined practice? you might be thinking. I thought this article was about joy! Elisabeth Elliot wisely reminds us that joy and discipline often go hand-in-hand: “What is this joy which we feel in order and design?…Our joy is in the very discipline of the thing. The discipline doesn’t stifle, it gives power, it makes beauty possible.” (Let Me Be a Woman, p. 118) While the thought of daily disciplines may sound arduous or overwhelming, and the concept of joy may seem elusive, there are some practical ways to create this kind of rhythm of life for our families such as prioritizing daily routines, emphasizing family values, and even just being yourself. When done regularly and intentionally, these simple yet powerful tools can begin to foster a beautiful and God-honoring family rhythm of godly affection and “fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.” Stick with me as we take a look together at several real-life examples of wholehearted women who are doing just that!
Everyone “oohed” and “ahhed” as our little ring bearer and flower girl walked down the aisle of the wedding chapel. Even though it was my friend Laura’s birthday, she and her husband had graciously agreed for their oldest son to be a part of Bryan’s and my special day. But if we were planning a wedding today, we may have had to have four ring bearers. It is almost six years later, and Laura is now the proud mama of four young boys!
Laura and I have been friends since childhood, and although we now live states apart, she is still a dear friend to me. Her life is also one of the most beautiful examples I have observed of the power of God’s grace in our lives. (Click here to read her story! http://wp.me/P8h8cl-79.)
As parents of four boys, one can only imagine what Laura refers to as “the amazing chaos of our rowdy home.” But there is also a distinct rhythm that she and her husband have endeavored to create for their family. Laura writes, “Over the years we have finessed and redefined our priorities within our family life. In general, we focus being together as a family to the glory of God…” They have determined specific priorities that they don’t just talk about but live on a daily basis. How do they do it with four little men living under one roof? They have established some simple yet important daily routines within their family. Laura describes them as “specific touchstone activities that keep our focus on our family and our marriage to the glory of God and service of others.” She graciously expounds on some of those activities for us below:
1- Meal times: Our children are 8 years and under, so I expect this will be more challenging in the future. For now, our kids don’t have a choice. We eat our meals together, without media. This is time for conversation and reconnecting after our busy days.
2- Church: We strive to be active participants of our local church body. Our boys know Sunday is our specific day of worship. If I’m absent due to my hospital nursing job, my husband tackles that endeavor with our boys. It is both a point of connecting with each other as family in worship of our Savior, and important for us that they see our connection to the body of Christ at large.
3- Dates: Between my husband and me, and between parents and children. Because we are a largish family of 6, one on one time can be rare within our home! Our children are learning that relationships require invested time and energy, and one demonstration of that is giving them quality one on one “mommy dates” or “daddy dates”. Our weekends don’t always look traditional due to my nursing schedule, and planning for quality time and special activities allows our kids to feel their special importance in our lives.
4- Bed time: There are nights when everyone is fried and exhausted, and sleep is the best answer. Time for bed, everyone!! But most evenings, we take time. Time that is a sacrifice, but worthwhile. To help our active boys de-escalate, to pray, and to have some of the most special conversations. Bedtime serves as a key touchpoint of connection – distractions are minimal and it is focused time together in connection with each other, and in prayer and worship to the Lord. It is a time of unburdening, and some of the most significant spiritual conversations with our children have taken place in the dark quiet of their bedrooms.
Laura and her husband have chosen to implement these important routines and activities into their daily lives. Their goal is not to create a perfect family but to be intentional in the structure of their family time. “Clearly, your priorities, goals, and activities as a family may look very different from ours,” she explains. “We are all complex individuals, potentially married to complex spouses and raising complex children. There is exceeding grace extended to us as couples and families to work through the logistics of our family lives to the praise of Jesus. The Lord is glorified in our families not when we do it perfectly — that would be following the law, which is impossible — but when we reflect the truth of the gospel of Jesus at work in us, transforming and renewing our minds. To proclaim reconciliation to God through Jesus, to the praise of His name, is the holy and joyful work of our calling as daughters of God, being ambassadors for the Lord within our marriages, our families, and our world.”
I am one of twenty first cousins on my dad’s side. The oldest is a decade older than me, and the youngest was my flower girl. Somewhere in the middle are my cousins Amanda and Alexandra and me. We are all close in age and loved spending time together over the years at my grandparents’ home in Minnesota when we were all in town at the same time.
My cousin Amanda recently got married, and Bryan and I have been married awhile but do not have children of our own yet. Alexandra, however, now lives in Wisconsin with her husband and three young children. Their marriage and family life is an absolutely beautiful example of what I can only describe as relentless sacrifice. They graciously share their home with their three little ones, one of whom has special needs, with in-home nurses, with out-of-town relatives, and even with foreign exchange students. Their faith is of deep importance to them and is at the center of all that they do.
When I wrote to Alexandra about this article I was planning to write, I asked if she would be willing to give some insight into the values that they have chosen to orient their family around. She responded in the following way: “Oh Cousin, I am honored! You’re making me think…I don’t have time for a long response, but two things come to mind…”
The first thing she described is that she is “trying to live in the present moment — not get so busy planning or fretting.” Life is never going to be perfect, and the demands of family life often require flexibility. If you were to get a glimpse of the way Alexandra and her husband conduct their life together, you would see a couple who truly does endeavor to make the most of each moment. From singing songs around the piano together, to gardening in the backyard, from reading with each of their children, to being actively involved with their extended families and local church, they choose to prioritize living “in the present moment.” They find ways to be both intentional yet flexible, something that could seem impossible without their strong faith that anchors them.
In her e-mail, Alexandra also wrote about a second family value that she lives by, saying, “I am trying to pour myself out in love…I have very little time for just myself, but when I see how Christ died for me (giving everything) I remember that this is what it’s all about!” Rather than complaining or growing disheartened by the constant demands of raising her little ones, she has chosen to frame it as a calling to pour herself out in love. She and her husband have built their life together on the belief that because of the sacrifice Jesus Christ made for them, they in turn ought to do the same for one another as husband and wife, for their children, and for others. Their family is a beautiful picture for others of what it looks like to build all aspects of family life on values rooted in the love of Christ, which never fades and never fails.
Grammatically Correct Gnomes
“I’ll love you gnome matter what!” My sister-in-law, Annie, loves gnomes. It is not uncommon to see a pun like this posted on her Facebook account or a photo of my little niece dressed in a gnome onesie. In addition to all things gnome-related, Annie is passionate about grammar, excellence in special education, and her Greek heritage. She also was a competitive swimmer for a lot of years and is already helping my little niece to become comfortable in the water. She takes her civic duties seriously, as well, pushing a stroller as she walked to her and my brother’s polling place last fall. She is a beautiful reminder to me that just being you is so glorifying to the Lord and is an important part of the joy of family life!
I know that Annie’s humor and her convictions have been a tremendous support to her husband as he went through medical school. He is refreshed when he is with her because he loves the many attributes that make her uniquely her. These traits are not the foundation of her role as a wife, mother, and relative to extended family; however, they add a special kind of joy and enthusiasm to the rhythm of her family life!
When my niece was first born, Annie posted on social media under a photo of her and my brother holding their newborn: “May you may you be filled with the true, abundant life found only through Christ. May you always treat others gracefully and learn to rest in God’s boundless, unending grace. Welcome to the world, baby girl! We love you!” The rhythm of life that Annie and Steve have endeavored to create in their home comes naturally through the foundation they have chosen for their home and the natural way in which that is modeled. God’s grace can be modeled and taught through Annie’s discussions about education of children with special needs. Learning that we are “all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28) comes naturally when their Greek heritage is treasured and celebrated while other cultures are also respected. The appreciation and importance of what and how we say it can come through exploring the way words create meaning in books, puns, and in Facebook posts about correct grammar.
What we do in the context of family does not always have to be inherently spiritual or structured. When the focus of your family is on the Lord and His plans for the rhythm of our family lives, the elements of our personalities and interests will naturally add beauty to your family design to His glory. “As Christian women, we reflect God’s love when we love family, when we like, enjoy, and delight in our family members” (Kassian and DeMoss, p. 82)
Family is by God’s design! If you are a wife, throw yourself into it wholeheartedly! Be you to God’s glory and love your husband as only you can love him! If you are a mother, teach your children about the things that you enjoy. If you are passionate about hiking, go on family hikes together; observe God’s creation, encourage one another up those steep hills, explore. If you love to scrapbook, help them get their own little scrapbooks and spend the afternoon together with special photos, scissors, tape, and stickers; focus not on the perfection of each page but the memories contained in each one. Was your mom’s “special spaghetti sauce” from a can? Teach your kids about resourcefulness and time-saving strategies as you open those cans of sauce together and doctor it up a little like your mom would with some fresh herbs! Some of the best teachable moments are unplanned and come from doing things together that we enjoy.
Are words of affirmation important to you? Send some snail mail to your grandparents, a great-aunt, or a cousin! Do you love to play games? Invite extended family members over for a game night! Do you love coffee? Take your mom or dad out for a cup of coffee and a heart-to-heart talk just to connect with them. Do you like to show love through acts of service? Bake some cookies or help clean the house of an elderly member of your church. 1 Corinthians 12:27 reminds us that we “are the body of Christ, and members individually.” Be you, find joy and delight in your family members, and “through love serve one another” (Galatians 5:13b). We are all a work in progress through the work of Christ in us (Philippians 1:6); just being you as you incorporate some of the unique elements of your personality and interests into the rhythm of your family life can be honoring to the Lord and is an important part of the joy of family life!
Point the Way
Kassian and Demoss remind us that the “meaning of family is based on God. He is the great original. Earthly families and fatherhoods are but copies of the heavenly one. They are signposts that point to a reality infinitely more amazing, more wonderful, and more eternal. God is all about family” (Interior Design, p. 66). Ladies, the roles that we play in the context of family are holy callings from our Heavenly Father. A dancer whose movements seem effortless has put in countless hours of dedicated practice. This kind of dedicated focus and effort eventually becomes more and more natural. In the same way, let’s be intentional about the rhythm of our family lives. As we have looked at together through the examples of Laura, Alexandra, and Annie, great ways to do this are through prioritizing family time and certain daily routines, reinforcing specific family values, and just being yourself! Whether you are married, single, have children, or do not have any yet, there should be a certain rhythm to your daily family life – not rigidly, but in a way that it is guided by godly principles and affection. Our God is all about family, and He is in the business of creating true “joy by design” in our families in ways that bless us and that point others to Him!
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(This article is a continuation of Joy by Design, Part 1 – Family: A Living Display of God’s Glory and Grace. Read the article here: http://wp.me/p8h8cl-6E.)