Thursday, November 11, 2010

Refuge and Healing

October 1994

St Michael's Monastery in San Christo, Portugal is perched high on a three hundred foot cliff.  You can only reach the monastery by a terrifying ride on a swaying basket that is pulled up by a single rope as several of the sturdy Brothers strain and pull together.  One American tourist got nervous about half way up the cliff.  He looked down and noticed something he had not seen when he had stepped into the basket.  He thought that the rope looked old and a little frayed.  So he asked, "How often do you change the rope?"  The monk who was in charge said, "Whenever it breaks."

The American home seems to be in that same kind of precarious situation!  The basket is swaying, the rope is frayed and pulling apart.  Down below we see a lot of wreckage from previous falls.  According to a study completed at the University of Rhode Island, the home is a dangerous place to be -- the most dangerous place to be outside of riots and wars.  This study indicates that no less than thirty percent of all American couples experience some form of domestic violence in their lifetime.  This helps explain why twenty percent of all police officers killed in the line of duty are killed while answering calls involving family fights.  Up to fifteen million women are battered every year in our nation.  No one knows how many children are battered and abused.  We just know the figures are on the increase (editors note:  and this was written in 1994!).

The crippling psychological damage is beyond comprehension.  The tragedy is that we tend to pass on to our children the very hurt and pain that we have received.  The abused child grows to be a child abuser; the child whose self esteem has been devastated tends to be the kind of parent who devastates and destroys the self esteem of his or her children.  It is clear there is a bondage to the negative that enslaves and embitters millions of children, youth and adults.  Many homes resemble a battlefield.

This morning I want to talk about some issues close to the heart of every parent.  The Bible tells us that God intended for the home to be a place of health and healing.  It should be a safe haven in the dangerous world.  It should never be a place of fear or the source of hurting.  Some of God's most explicit directives are intended to safeguard the institution of the home.  For example:  The command to honor your parents, and the command against adultery (Exodus 20).  Or the warning to parents about embittering their children in Colossians 3:21.  Or the warnings about failing to teach and failing to discipline our children - these and many more instructions represent God's intention to guard the home.

This morning we will look at God's intention for the home from two angles:  First, the home as a place of health, and second, the home as a place of healing.  If it is to be a healthy place someone must be in charge of healthy living.  If it is to be a place of healing, again, someone must have a strategy for healing the traumas we encounter.  In both instances, parents are given primary responsibility.

If physical health is a major concern, a strategy of prevention is the key.  Statistically the three most effective things you can do to live long and enjoy life are :  1) never smoke; 2) never mix drinking and driving; and 3) always wear a seat belt.  If you add to these three ingredients a good diet, exercise, personal hygiene and up dated vaccinations, you've done just about everything you can do.  You might want to throw in avoiding illegal activities such as drug running and drive by shootings.

If spiritual health in the home is a major concern, the three most effective things that should be done are for  parents to once again become responsible for:  1) the moral education of their children, 2) using the Bible as their curriculum, and 3) seeing the world as their classroom.

Moses instructed parents concerning God's commandments, "Impress them on your children" (Deuteronomy 6:7).  Solomon told parents, "Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it" (Proverbs 22:6).  Paul exhorted Ephesian fathers to "Bring your children up in the training and instruction of the Lord" (Ephesians 6:4).

The hard part is that the Bible does not allow believing parents the privilege of delegating the moral instruction of their children -- not to Sunday School teachers, not to Christian schools, not even to youth pastors!  You are responsible to be involved first hand!  The good news is if you get involved you will learn a great deal.

If Christian parents are the teachers, then the curriculum is the Bible.  You may have noticed, the Bible is a big book -- you will never master it, certainly you can't expect your family to do so either.  So what specific ideas are you going to etch into their minds?  You may need to concentrate on some main ideas.  Admittedly what I am going to share with you is subjective.  You may have your own list but these are three Biblical issues I feel are important.  I want my family to master these concepts:  1) Christianity is a relationship; 2) serving Jesus is the  most satisfying thing a person can do; and 3) obeying Jesus leads to a blessed life.  Just as a note, "blessed" does not always equal prosperous.

Too many people are confused into thinking that Christianity is a moral code with good habits such as church attendance.  No way!  It is a relationship with Jesus, filled with conversation and companionship.  Don't blow it here!  Christianity is a relationship with Jesus.  It is not a set of rituals and rules.  This kind of thinking leads to chronic anger and feeling that "I can never be good enough."  The second thing I would like to do is spare my family from wasting their lives searching for the one satisfying thing -- it is only Jesus, not awards, toys and thrills!  Finally, I want them to know that obeying God pays rich rewards.  I want them to know that the restrictions we find in God's Word have very good explanations.  If we hear God out, we discover that His commands come from His wisdom and His love for us.  They're not a way for God to throw His weight around.  Our children need to know God's commands are evidence of His love.

If parents are the teacher and the Bible is the curriculum - then the classroom is the world.  Moses said in regard to teaching God's Word to our children, "Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up" (Deuteronomy 6:7).

This is the same method Jesus used.  When He began His ministry, He called twelve men to follow Him.  He called them to "hang out with Me, ask questions, interact, challenge."  After three years of companionship He left them powerfully marked.

Jesus' method has never been improved upon.  If you have children hang out with you beyond the TV, they will see how you relate to God, use your talents and gifts, obey God and find satisfaction in serving Him -- or something else.

If you take responsibility for the moral instuction of your children, if you use the Bible for your curriculum, and the world for your classroom, you will have gone a long way toward insuring the spiritual health of your home.

But what happens if someone gets hurt anyway?  Even wearing a seat belt doesn't always prevent serious injury.  The best of homes experience close calls in parenting.  Perhaps exhausted and frustrated, a parent attacks a child's self esteem -- now what do we do?  What if the children just rebel?

Certainly, we must learn to ask forgiveness and bear each others burdens.  But beyond that the home needs three elements to bring healing:  1) attentive healers, 2) a co-operative patient, and 3) a helpful atmosphere for healing.

Attentive healers have first been healed by Jesus, then they have been trained in what to do.  Typically, in a crisis, parents feel unqualified.  But today there is an abundance of training material for parents to become qualified.  Dr Dobson's books Dare to Discipline, Preparing for Adolescence, etc are a good place to start. 

Besides being a lifetime learner, a good healer will be accessible.  Ephesians 6:4 warns ". . . do not exasperate or embitter your children."  What is it that embitters?  We might be surprised at what research is showing.  It would appear that right now absentee parents embitter more than anything else. 

A very surprising statistic is being studied by economists.  The fastest growing family unit in the USA is the single income home -- not the single parent home.  Statistics from the US Bureau of Labor indicate that women of child bearing age have been leaving their jobs and returning home in significant numbers.  The biggest change is among young, married women ages 20 to 24. (Barrows, Wall Street Journal, "Working Woman".)

The explanation for this is more complicated than we have time to go into, however, one commentator writes, "Boomer women (1946-64) saw their 50's moms trapped at home; Busters (1965-77) see themselves or their friends as victims of parental neglect; a whopping forty percent were raised by divorced or separated parents."

It would seem we have raised a generation of exasperated and embittered children, made so by absentee parents pursuing career and wealth.  An encouraging trend with the newer generation is that they value relationships higher than careers and material things!

That is good because if parents are going to have a part in healing trauma they must be accessible!  Certainly, there must also be a co-operative patient.  Why is it that some wounded family members refuse to step up for treatment?  Perhaps because of their immaturity they have a hard time putting feelings into words, or knowing that principles are more important than feelings.  Perhaps the issue is embarrassment:  Maybe they've tried and felt neglected.

Without becoming the Gestapo, parents need to find out what causes wounded children to stay away from help.  Eventually we may have to let go and learn to pray.

Finally, we must examine our home for regular opportunities for healing.  If your home were a trauma center, what are the office hours?  When can a family member comfortably step up and say, "I have a problem"?

In that regard:  It is important to have meals where conversation is unhurried.  Obviously not every meal, maybe not even every evening meal, but several meals a week should not be unusual to have the TV and phone off.  With younger children bed time should be guarded.  Take regular walks, bike rides, dates, (and my personal favorite) vacations -- long vacations!

We also need to be committed to the long haul.  Even a year or two of rejection does not have to be the last chapter:  Be patient, commit to the principles.

Families following Jesus will provide healthy homes, and even when trauma does happen, they will be places of healing, places where burdens are shared and bonds are built, not broken.

Homes can be healing places when:

          1) Parents learn Christian principles about the home
          2) They encourage openness, and
          3) They have regular office hours.

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