The strength of a nation lies in the homes of its people. (Abraham Lincoln)
Families are in need everywhere. Broken relationships, hurting individuals and families, painful pasts, irreconcilable difference, breakdown in communication, absence of intimacy, and marital conflicts and violence are destroying families all around us. Families are in crisis!
There has been a sharp surge of family breakdown in our community in recent years. Divorce is growing at an alarming rate in our community and marital disharmony is common across cities and faith backgrounds. The lack of moral and spiritual values, changing gender roles, absence of adequate support systems in the adopted land, cultural differences, and poorer relational skills may be some of the causes of the fundamental breakdown of families in the Indian community.
Family is the smallest church. (Jonathan Edwards)
Families are stretched beyond their limits. Even a few years ago, we could not foresee what was in store for families. Demands of modern lifestyles, urban living, travel, stresses of the corporate world, clashing worldviews, and economic downturns, have only made things worse for marriages and families.
The Asian Indian community in North America has done exceedingly well academically, professionally, and hence financially, but relationally we are bankrupt. Some of it is our own making and some of it is due to our cultural baggage. Some people get thrown into unpleasant circumstances, while most others are unaware of what is undermining their relationships.
No doubt problems are complex in nature and how we handle them is even more perplexing. We choose to ignore, neglect, overlook or out rightly deny that problems exist; but we intuitively know that things could be much better on the home front. We are driven by shame – ‘what others will think of me if they find out.’ We continue to endure or hope things will get better automatically over time. Wearing masks are not helpful; band-aid approaches or ‘this is what we used to do in India’ remedies are inadequate.
In spite of the tightly knit family structure and, long cherished, strong family culture among Indians, today’s families have come under attack. The casualties are obvious and there is no solution in sight! Neither Christians nor churches are exempt from these trends among families. Often it is worse amongst Christians than the rest of the world!
Family is the most fundamental unit of any community, church and nation. When family ties grow weak, the whole society grows weaker. The weaker the home, the weaker will be the environment where future generations grow up. It is no wonder why children go on to build weaker marriages as well. Sadly, dysfunctionality is passed on from generation to generation.
A community or a church is only as strong as the weakest family. It is like a chain. When pulled apart a chain will snap along the weakest link. Similarly, when modern pressures of life mount in any community, cracks begin to surface along the weak unit of family and the weakest of them will break up. Many families are breaking up every day in our community, not to mention the cracks that appear in many families and future generations.
A family is like a thread in the fabric of society. When one thread snaps in the fabric, there is a small hole in the fabric. When many threads snap in a fabric, we call it a tear and when a piece of fabric contains many tears, it becomes useless. Similarly, when many families begin to hurt and fall apart, a society creates a tear, and if the trend continues a society will eventually disintegrate. Our future is at stake.
So what should we do? How can we build strong and stable families, societies and a better world? We need to start with ourselves. Each one of us needs to strengthen our own family bond – renewing our commitment to our own families. Do whatever it takes to build your own families.
The next best thing you could do is to help a needy family. It could be an old friend, extended family, classmate, neighbor, or colleague. You do not need any professional education or licensing to encourage, pray for or provide basic guidance. Share what you have learned from your own marriage, point to some resources and others who could offer further help. By helping other families you help yourself. By helping others you learn about mistakes others are making and will try to avoid them in your own marriage; you will research resources in marital topics and read beneficial material; you and your spouse might discuss the issue at hand, all of which could help your own marriage greatly.
Teach your own children about family values and help them develop relational skills. If you are a Sunday school teacher, youth leader, lay leader or pastor, make it a point to prioritize family before ministry. Doing ministry at the cost of your family can be disastrous. Include family themes in your lesson plans, bible studies, and sermons. Do not get weighed down by pastoral care needs and try to escalate counseling cases to expert counselors. Organize family seminars and retreats for the church.
Among all the institutions around us (church, school, charity organizations, business, government, etc.), I believe the Church of Jesus Christ is most strategically placed to impact the institution of family more than any other. A family is the smallest church and stronger families make a strong church, which in turn determine our witness and impact on the world. It is time for both of these institutions to come together to strengthen each other and leave a lasting legacy of Kingdom values in the world.
(This article first appeared on Meeting Point Magazine in Jan 09. Earlier version of this article was posted on www.UrbanIndia.org as well).Sam George