It doesn’t require us looking too far to recognize that the family is under attack in America. There are many potent and evil forces vying against the stability and well-being of the family.
Here are some eye-opening statistics to consider:
• 40% of first marriages, 60% of second, and 73% of third marriages end in divorce. (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 2006)
• Almost 20 million Americans—about 10% of the U.S. population—are currently divorced. (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 2006)
• Among adults who have been married, one-third (33%) have experienced at least one divorce (Barna, 2008). That means that among all Americans 18 years of age or older, whether they have been married or not, 25% have gone through a marital split.
• More than 1 million children are affected by divorce each year. (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 2006)
• Born again Christians who are not evangelical are indistinguishable from the national average on the matter of divorce: 33% have been married and divorced. (Note: The Barna 2008 survey did not determine if the divorce occurred before or after the person had become born again. However, previous research by Barna has shown that less than two out of every ten people who accept Christ as their savior do so after their first marriage).
• Divorce is a major health risk of American adults and children.
• Mental health problems
• Adults who experience divorce more than double their risk of earlier mortality.
• On average, adults who divorce and children who experience a parental divorce have their life expectancy shortened by an average of four years, (according to a 51 year longitudinal study).
• 43% of marriages today in America involve a second or third (re)marriage.
• 68% of re-marriages involve children from prior marriages.
• 70+% of remarriages involving children end in dissolution within 5½ years.
• 2,100 new blended families are formed every day in America.
• Single-parent families rose to an all-time high to 37% of families in 2005. (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 2006)
• 30% of all children in the U.S. will be in a step-family at some point in their life. (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 2006)
These are heart-breaking statistics. Sadly, even within the church we often struggle to keep our families together. Christians are certainly not immune from familial conflicts and struggles. It’s part and parcel of living in this world.
So how can we go about building (or restoring) family unity and strengthening our family units? I believe there are at least five important keys to consider, each of which begins with the letter “C.”
1. Commitment. It seems these days that marriages and families are frequently viewed as temporary—even throwaway—conveniences. There’s little loyalty. Selfishness and self-centeredness can easily get in the way of harmony and happiness in the home. Whether we’re a spouse, parent, child, or sibling, we need to think long and hard about how committed we are to our family’s basic physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being. What level of sacrifice are we willing to make for our family units? Family should walk in when the world walks out on us.
2. Compassion. Why is it we tend to hurt the ones we should love the most by our unkind words, envy, angry outbursts, and bitterness toward each other? To demonstrate compassion in the home means to develop a genuinely caring and considerate heart—one that sympathizes and empathizes with the various struggles, fears, and difficulties we each possess. And it is more than just something we feel; it’s what we do. We must show mercy and kindness to one another, patience and understanding, but—most of all—forgiveness.
3. Communication. To communicate effectively means more listening than talking, more concentration than jumping to conclusions, more clarification rather than condemnation. We must take down our defenses and open our ears and minds so we can take in what our family members are trying to get across to us. Listen with your heart and speak with honesty and humility. Reflect back to the other person what you have grasped from their words to give them the opportunity to clarify any misconceptions.
4. Compromise. Now I’m not talking about compromising the truth or our moral values in any way. What I do mean is that everything—within reason—should be open to negotiation in our families. A healthy family will be characterized by give and take. Some spouses seem to adhere to the idea that “It’s my way or the highway!” Certain parents are like cantankerous ogres who never consider their children’s legitimate wishes and desires. On the other hand, some children act like spoiled brats who operate with a sense of personal entitlement for whatever they want at whatever cost to their parents. We’ve got to strike a balance in our families so that wisdom and fairness prevails.
5. Christ. Jesus should be the very cornerstone of our family life, and our homes need to be built upon him as our firm foundation. Our ultimate purpose in our families ought to be to bring glory to God. Psalm 127:1 states, “Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.”
Family relationships are precious. Let’s never take our families for granted! We must work harder to make them stronger and long lasting. There’s so much riding on it.