What do you do with family?
Just the word family contains a lot: a lot of emotion and a lot of history. Some hopes and dreams and wishes. Probably some fears and a few hurts.
For some of you, the word brings up considerably more positive reactions than negative ones. Others of you are simply trying to break years of destructive family cycles and build a better foundation for your children to launch from.
God designed us to live and grow in families, so it’s no surprise that families also encompass many of our most difficult relationships.
Living with Family
Living close to family can cause one set of issues, while living far from them can bring other problems to the forefront. ~Carrie Daws, from Beyond Warrior’s Bride: Your Extended Family
The Bible gives us lots of instructions on relationships. That tells me that God knew we would struggle with this part of our lives.
Let’s face it. As much as we may try to do otherwise, we all tend to think selfishly.
- It’s my birthday (or Mother’s Day or anniversary or you name the special day), and everyone should make me feel special/wanted/loved/appreciated.
- I work so hard for other people, sacrificing my own time to make sure their needs are met. Does anyone care about my needs?
- I take the time to send hand-written notes or well-thought out emails. Why isn’t a kind note ever in my mailbox?
- When I shop, I look for little gifts that will show the other person I’m thinking of them. Why doesn’t anyone ever surprise me with something?
- I rearrange my calendar to make sure I’m at every family event, even when it’s inconvenient to me. Why does everyone else’s calendar take precedence over mine?
The Bible Chimes In
As with most topics important to life, the Bible does have something to say about relationships. Okay, it says a lot
Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many. Hebrews 12:14–15
Make every effort? Seriously? Even with . . . Oh. Who just came to mind? We all have that one person. Or two. (Dare I count higher?)
Whether or not you live in the same town as your family, various struggles are normal for all of us.
- Unwanted advice.
- Interference in decisions.
- Frequent (or infrequent) visits.
- Presence at momentous occasions.
What’s Really Going On
In the scenarios above, I see three problems with our thinking — all easily correctable. Oh, the solutions may not be popular with us or the people in our lives, but putting a couple bits of knowledge into our heads and a couple bits of routine into practice will take care of most of the problems in the situations above.
1. Learn the Love Languages
Many years ago, Pastor Gary Chapman realized that many of those with whom he counseled struggled with similar problems. He began paying closer attention, and eventually wrote a book on his findings: The 5 Love Languages.
The description says, “Whether your relationship is flourishing or failing, Dr. Gary Chapman’s proven approach to showing and receiving love will help you experience deeper and richer levels of intimacy with your partner—starting today.”
The best part is that this book doesn’t just apply to married and dating couples. By learning the languages that most fill your heart, you discover why some actions make you feel appreciated or hurt. You can also learn to recognize the languages of those around you and understand when those people are showing you love even when it isn’t in a way that your heart easily perceives as love.
2. Practice Healthy Boundaries
Somehow in America, we’ve equated love with always being available to others. Whether this is a byproduct of instant access available to us through email and cell phones or the guilt that travels along with a too-busy lifestyle, the truth is that this thinking often feeds anger and bitterness.
Instead, as John Townsend and Henry Cloud share in their book Boundaries, “Having clear boundaries is essential to a healthy, balanced lifestyle. . . . Often, Christians focus so much on being loving and unselfish that they forget their own limits and limitations. ”
Setting boundaries on ourselves as well as with our family and friends is not just healthy. It’s biblical and solves a lot of relationship issues.
3. Check Your Expectations
Oh, this one is hard. Well, okay. Boundaries aren’t exactly easy, but at least they get easier with practice. Checking your own expectations for relationships . . . ugh!
Let me give you a simple example: I ask my son to take out the trash. My expectation is that he gets up immediately from what he is doing and takes care of it. Or at least that he responds that he’ll get to it in just a minute or two as soon as he finishes whatever it is he’s currently doing.
I can guarantee you that 98% of teenage boys who just got asked to take out the trash by their mother have very different expectations. Like maybe she meant that the chore needs to be done before the end of the day. Or maybe that the can doesn’t actually need to be emptied — it just needs squished down so it’s not overflowing.
How much simpler it is for the relationship between my son and I when I say, “Will you please take a moment right now and take out the trash for me?”
Or even, “Will you please make sure the trash can is emptied at some point today?” And then I walk away and let him have the entire day to do what I’ve asked him to do.
Now, Put It All Together
The best news of all—if God called you to do it, then He will help you succeed in it. Ladies, you are not alone. God stands with you. ~Carrie Daws, from Beyond Warrior’s Bride: Your Extended Family
What if we take these three principles and apply them to other life situations?
- Sacrificing your time for others could be a quality time or an acts of service love language. Hand written notes could be words of affirmation, and seeking out the perfect gift is likely a gifts love language. Who most easily speaks love to you? Do you see where others are speaking love in a way you didn’t recognize before? Can you value their love language even when it’s not your preferred method?
- When you rearrange your calendar for the benefit of others, why do you do this? Is it because they expect it of you? Or because you expect it of yourself? Is someone pushing the limits of healthy boundaries, or are you refusing to draw good boundary lines yourself?
- Have you communicated to your family that it’s your birthday (or Mother’s Day or anniversary or you name the special day), and you want them to make it a big deal? What does a special day look like to you?
Do you see the difference a few small tweaks to your thinking can make?
So, Tell Me . . .
I want to know what you think!
- Did this post make you think a bit to make sure you’re on track with God? Write ‘Yes’ in the comments below.
- Does this motivate you to make some changes in your life? Write ‘Changes Ahead!’ in the comments below.
- Do you need to think about it some more or figure out what God wants you to do? Let me know you are ‘Still Thinking.’
- Anything else come to mind? Share it below! Your comments encourage me to keep writing, no matter how insignificant you think your thoughts about this post are.
If you want to read more from me about relationships with extended family, check out my ebook in the Beyond Warrior’s Bride series. It’s not just for military spouses, and it’s only $0.99!
Family. They can be one of our biggest blessings and one of our biggest stressors. Family members that don’t understand the military system can complicate your life, and sometimes the best-intentioned relative can undercut everything you are trying to build with your husband.
Living far away can also be hard if you have a medical emergency. Deployments and high ops tempos give loneliness and depression the opportunity to take over. Are there really any practical answers? What does the Bible say about dealing with and living apart from family.