It’s an exciting time for many people in my extended family. Three nieces are university students, preparing for careers in education or medicine. One niece, with BA newly in hand, has entered an intense one-year fellowship, halfway across the continent from her family and friendship supports. Two nephews are marrying this year. Others of that generation are starting new jobs or searching for employment, raising children or serving in international ministry.
They and their parents are facing changes to old ways of being family, and needing to create new ways of connecting. One mother had a 2,000-plus kilometre road trip with her daughter to get her to her new assignment, while her husband stayed home to care for the younger children. Another parent will be mother of the groom and officiating pastor at two weddings. A third parent will take a long airplane ride to a foreign country to visit children and grandchildren.
Healthy families are adaptive. Last month I wrote about the connection between diversity and family health. In this column, I take up the happy, necessary task of adapting. It’s a happy task because it enables us to stretch, evolve and grow into new perspectives. It’s necessary because it’s an essential part of life. An oft-repeated adage is that we’re either growing or dying. I’m not sure it’s that stark. I am sure that the urge to grow is woven into our very wiring, like my nieces seeking educational opportunities and my nephews sealing marriage commitments.
Likely you can think of many examples from your own life of how individuals change over time. These individual changes impact families as well. In a healthy family, the leaders recognize the need to honour and support such change.
If people resist changes in family life, they impede the growth of individual members and the family unit as a whole. My mother, a fervent lover of babies, would sometimes say she wished she had all of us—her eight children!—snug on her lap again. While I appreciate the nostalgia, the reality of such a fantasy would be quite unworkable, not to mention crowded!
Actually, my parents were wonderful examples of adaptability. They may have started family life with firmly set ideas for how it would unfold; my father had a tendency towards rigidity seasoned with strong religious beliefs. Life, though, served up many challenges to a pre-set plan. As they faced those challenges, they adapted, making space for the unique personalities and needs of their children, in addition to changes in work and living circumstances. They grew spiritually as well. In doing so, they modelled the way of adaptation and built a healthy family.
In one year, in the space of nine months, they faced three huge transitions. Their eldest child left home to begin college; they birthed their eighth and youngest child in March; and then sadly, 10 weeks later, they buried their second eldest son, killed in a car accident. I often think of that time as a testimony to their resilient spirits, grounded in Christian faith.
Was the Apostle Paul mindful of the need to adapt when he used the imagery of the body to describe the Christian church? In Ephesians 4:14-16 (The Message), he calls for a particular kind of adaptation: “God wants us to grow up, to know the whole truth and tell it in love—like Christ in everything. [Jesus] keeps us in step with each other. His very breath and blood flow through us, nourishing us so that we will grow up healthy in God, robust in love.”
Healthy in God, robust in love: good qualities in family life.
Melissa Miller (firstname.lastname@example.org) has a passion for helping people develop healthy, vibrant relationships with God, self and others.