I did a really dangerous thing a few years ago. . . and then I did it again.
I wrote a book about being a mom.
Am I NUTS????!?!?!?
Here’s the danger: We live in a culture — and particularly a church-culture — enamored with the false god of the “perfect family.” Magazines, books, blogs, and Pinterest feed this obsession of family perfection — ideal meals, fantastic activities, lifelong memories, problem-free relationships, etc. And tied into this is the pressure to be PERFECTMOM. To cook, clean, craft, parent, work, love idyllically. (It’s not a new pressure! Check out the family picnic instructions from an earlier era!)
So let me say, right off the bat, that my books on parenting (The Busy Mom’s Guide to Spiritual Survival and Faith-Filled Moments) are not — I repeat NOT, NOT, NOT — written from some perspective of me having it all figured out, doling out advice to PERFECTMOM wannabes. NO WAY. My writing is always about the journey — and I’m a fellow pilgrim on the road who trips up just as much as you. (Check out my bruised shins for evidence!)
So . . . this gigantic “disclaimer” sets me up to share part of the vision for my newest devotional guide Cherish Your Family. If your family is ideal and you’re PERFECTMOM, then you don’t need this book. But if you’re a human being — a woman who loves your family and has a dream to love them better even as you stumble along the way — then I hope this excerpt ministers to you.
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But . . . Family Life is Hard!
A happy Christian family.
What came to mind when you read these words? A family of perfectly-behaved children who pray reverently during nightly family devos? A couple with endlessly romantic love for each other—who frequently pray together, never fight, and have a problem-free, passionate sex life? Some idealized myth of a Christian family that’s forever out of reach? With some fairy-tale “perfect Christian wife and mom” who you’ll never measure up to?
Ideals can be good when they’re achievable goals to aim for. But idealized myths are dangerous—because they’re false! They make us feel dissatisfied with our real life rather than grateful for it.
In your journal, draw two big picture frames. In the first, doodle a cartoonish image of “The Happy Christian Family”; exaggerate their angelic nature and perfect relationships. Decorate it with phrases describing this idealized myth (like “never fights,” “romance,” “stress-free,” or whatever the “myth” looks like for you).
In the other frame, doodle a cartoonish image of “Our Real Family”—exaggerating both the blessedness and the messiness of realistic family life. Sketch scenes and words that are just plain honest about the hard parts (like bickering children or “exhausting,” or “misunderstanding”) but also draw and describe the real-life great parts of family life (like “laugh together” or “snuggles”).
Be light-hearted and honest with yourself as you draw. Isn’t it refreshing to get real and to kick dangerous, idealized myths to the curb?
The Bible certainly sets high standards to shoot for when it comes to family relationships (such as in Deuteronomy 6:1-9 and Ephesians 6:1-4), but it’s also absolutely candid about the brokenness, the sin, the dysfunction that touches every human family.
Review some of the biblical portrayals of messy family life below; as you do, create a running list of the issues these families dealt with. Also jot down notes about the emotions and problems associated with these issues you’ve listed. For example, for Adam and Eve in Genesis 3 you might write: disobeying God’s commands, deception, marital division, shame, blame.
Genesis 4:1-8 (Cain and Abel)
Genesis 9:18-28 (Noah and his sons)
Genesis 16:1-16 (Abraham, Sarai, Hagar, and Ishmael)
Genesis 19:30-38 (Lot and his daughters)
Genesis 27:1-45 (Isaac, Rebekah, Jacob, and Esau)
Genesis 29:14-30 (Jacob, Laban, Rachel, and Leah)
Genesis 37:12-35 (Joseph and his brothers)
Phew. . . and this is just Genesis! There are countless more examples of family struggles in Scripture. So how does it feel to know that God gets it? That God knows how difficult family life can be? God’s desire for your family is situated right in the middle of this sometimes messy reality. How does this give you hope?
Talk with God about your own family reality—bring to him the hurts, frustrations, patterns, dysfunctions, disappointments. Acknowledge the mess; wade with God through the tough stuff. Invite God to work within your family struggles—to heal, to change, even to work miracles! “There is no family situation so dire that God cannot intervene,” writes pastor Dave Stone. “No dynamic too dysfunctional, no past too painful, no depression too deep.” Ask God to help you have courage, strength, and grace as you choose to love and cherish your real, messed-up, wonderful family.
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You — IMPERFECT YOU — can love, can cherish, can treasure your real, imperfect family.