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Marriage and family life have changed

Back in 2003 President Bush officially designated September 22 as national Family Day but Johnie and I have always observed July as the right time of year to celebrate our family. This July we saw three significant events: several of our extended family members gathered to honor the death of my brother, Dale, I had another birthday, and we observed another wedding anniversary. Our culture has certainly changed in the decades since Johnie and I were married in a simple ceremony in the First Baptist Church of Warner, Oklahoma where I was pastor: Marriage and family life has changed:

From simple ceremonies and life-long marriages to elaborate weddings and many divorces.

From large families living in one area to small families scattered across the nation.

Even the nature of the family has changed from a husband and wife and their children to include single parents as well as unmarried couples with children.

If America’s families are the foundation of the nation, without a doubt the foundation has begun to crack and crumble. Surely, we can do better. In his Family Day proclamation message President Bush stressed the positive results of a functional family. His power points were:

— “Children thrive in loving families where they are taught, nurtured, and comforted.

— By spending time with our children and stressing the importance of making the right choices, parents and other family members help them develop into confident, successful individuals.

— Families can help secure a healthy tomorrow for their children by providing guidance, staying involved, and serving as role models.

— Statistics show that children from two-parent families are less likely to drop out of school, end up in poverty, become addicted to drugs, have a child out of wedlock, suffer abuse, or become a violent criminal.

— Parents play a critical role in discouraging harmful behavior such as experimenting with alcohol, drugs, and tobacco. Research shows that teens often listen to their parents when it comes to decisions about harmful substances and risky behaviors.

— Regular family activities provide opportunities for parents to communicate important messages and enhance their relationships with their children.

— Families and all Americans can act together to educate our youth about the dangers of drugs and alcohol and help them grow into healthy, responsible, compassionate citizens. — As we work to educate our next generation about making healthy choices, we renew our commitment to the American family.”

The most dangerous change that has come about in the past fifty years is how we think about marriage and the family. Until the middle of the twentieth century the family consisted of a husband and wife and their children. The parent’s primary function was to raise their children to be honest, confident, hard-working citizens of a free nation. However, with the rise of the baby boomer generation a self-centered philosophy arose in which happiness through personal self-fulfillment became the purpose of life. Today we are beginning to see a gradual movement back to the values of the “greatest generation”.

A couple on the verge of divorce came for counseling. Each admitted to having had a brief adulterous relationship with someone outside the marriage. However, they both agreed to work on saving the marriage. We reviewed their three options:

1. They could get a divorce. The ability of the couple and their children to cope with life after the break-up would depend upon the age of the children and how the divorce is handled. The damage would effect every member of the family and last a lifetime.

2. They could agree to try and forgive each other for the sake of their two little children. This might work but is more likely to achieve only a temporary truce accompanied with a lingering lack of trust.

3. They could accept the Christian view that the purpose of marriage is, at heart, not for the married couple but for the sake of the Children. My job as a Christian counselor is to let them know that the purpose of their marriage is not for their personal happiness but to bring the children up according to the teachings of Jesus Christ. The healthy development of their children will depend upon which option they choose.

You will remember that Jesus said anyone who “offends” one of these little ones should have a stone tied around his or her neck and thrown into the sea to drown. There are many ways to offend little ones but none of the others compares to killing them in the womb or by breaking up the foundation of their lives through divorce. Jesus made it clear that whoever offends an innocent child is offensive to God himself.

If my couple seriously accepts the view that the purpose of their marriage and family is the wellbeing of their children the teachings of the Lord will guide them in their upbringing. If they commit themselves to serving the Lord they will earn the love and respect of their children. Also, at the end of the day they will realize that the personal happiness they were willing to lay aside has stayed with them all the way.

Jesus explained the paradox of self-giving to his disciples in these words: “If you try to keep your life for yourself, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for me, you will find true life.” Matthew 16:25 New Living Translation.