Who's In the Center of Your Family

By Marjorie Foerster Eddington

Christmas is usually a time spent with family and close friends who feel like family. Hopefully, this time is filled with joy. Sometimes, though, the Christmas season can be filled with tension.

  • Maybe family members don't get along, and you wish you could have picked your own family.
  • Maybe family members have recently passed on or are not able to be with you, leaving you alone or the "odd man out."
  • Maybe your family includes so much diversity, due to time and distance apart, that getting together always feels like a chore instead of a treat.
  • And maybe you're happy with your family and love them, but wish that some things could be better.

Regardless of our unique situations, we all can have a better understanding of what true family is. We all can improve our relationships with family members (or with friends who we think of as family), even if they are already pretty good. If we, individually, strive to make our interactions with our family more harmonious, we will have a positive affect not only at Christmas, but throughout the year.

Identifying what we want from our family is a starting point. What do we want from our parents, siblings, relatives, and friends? Don't we want to feel loved by them, to have a place where we can be ourselves, to feel encouraged and appreciated, to be able to talk with them and be understood? Don't we also want to love them and give back to them?

Then we must do for them what we want for ourselves. We must love, appreciate, listen, and understand our family members. We can't afford to wait for someone else to make the first move. If everyone waits, nothing will happen.

Let's determine what really makes a family successful. Here are some qualities:

  • Unconditional love -- love without any strings or conditions attached to it
  • Happiness and harmony that eliminate fighting or arguing
  • Good communication, which starts with good listening that enables family members to share ideas, concerns, dreams, and feelings without having to feel defensive
  • Respect for each other -- respect for parents, siblings, children
  • Encouragement and appreciation, which helps each one be his or her best self
  • Structure and discipline that provide a moral foundation with guidelines
  • A safe environment that allows each member to explore his or her unique individuality, to make mistakes, to grow, and to share
  • Teamwork, which encourages doing things together as a family unit and allows the family to get through challenges together
  • Laughter and having fun together
  • A spiritual foundation based upon trust in God, which also gives us a knowledge of what family truly is

Putting God at the center of our family is the single most important action we can take to make our family harmonious and healthy. Trusting in God completely, even if His directions seem counterintuitive to us, will help us bring the rest of these qualities into our experience.

The Christmas story reveals how trust in God established a family who would change the world. Joseph, Mary, and Jesus faced and overcame many significant challenges with grace and confidence and provided a model for us to follow. (The story is found in order in the two gospels: Luke 1, Matt. 1, Luke 2:1-20, Matt.2:1-23, Luke 2:21-38, Matt. 2:13-23, Luke 2:39-52 which tells of Jesus in the temple at age 12.)

Listening to God's voice, to His angels, enabled Joseph, Mary, and Jesus to become a family in the first place. Mary and Joseph were engaged, and as moral individuals, had not yet had sex. So when an angel told Mary she was going to have a child by the Holy Spirit, Mary was surprised, to say the least (Luke 1:26-35). While most of us would flip if we were told that, Mary, who had devoted her life to God and trusted God, listened to the angel's words: "Do not be afraid…. For with God nothing will be impossible" (KJV Luke 1:30, 37). These ideas must have given her courage, for Mary expressed humility and graciously accepted the responsibility that would go along with giving birth to a child whose fatherhood was completely divine.

Joseph also listened to the angels and obeyed their directions. When Joseph discovered that his fiancé was pregnant, he knew the child was not his. Before he took any action to correct the situation, an angel told Joseph to marry Mary because her child was conceived by the Holy Ghost. What trust it took to believe and obey the angel's message (Matt:1:18-25)!

Listening to God, being humble, and following God's directions also protected them and saved Jesus' life. An angel told Joseph to take his family to Egypt to save the child from Herod, who wanted to kill him (Matt. 2:13-15). The family lived safely in Egypt until Herod died, and an angel again directed Joseph to take his family to Nazareth (Matt. 2:19-23). Because Joseph and Mary put God in the center of their lives and followed God's guidance without debate or argument, they were blessed.

How many of us can say that we listen to God at all times and do what He tells us without any doubt? Yet, that's exactly what we need to do, especially if there's a problem communicating with a family member. When we turn to God, we need to expect to hear God's message. Then, we need to do whatever God advises, even if the answer surprises us. Just as God is communicating to us, we can trust that God is communicating to others, too. An angel talked both to Mary and Joseph separately. There's no reason to limit God by thinking that God only communicates to us. Remember that "with God nothing will be impossible."

In addition to trust, love supported this family. When Joseph found out that Mary was pregnant, he had every right, according to the laws of the time, to make her a "publick example" (Matt. 1:19). But "Joseph, chagrined but noble, determined to take care of things quietly so Mary would not be disgraced" (The Message Matt. 1:19). Joseph was thoughtful and respectful of Mary. He was kind. Though he thought his fiancé had cheated on him, though his pride was hurt, he would not ruin Mary's reputation. What respect, what love he had for Mary! Joseph also did not act rashly. He took time to think things over carefully. He must have prayed, for the angel talked with him and guided him. It was a good thing, too, that he expressed love and respect and put her needs above his own. Who knows what would have happened otherwise!

Being willing to put the needs of another before our own needs is essential in ensuring happiness and harmony in a family. So many times someone else in our family needs help. Often the timing is not the best. We may be right in the middle of something very important. But it's probably not as important as our brother, sister, mom, or dad. Yes, we might miss the end of a TV show; yes, we may have to hang up the phone or get off of the computer; yes, we may have to stay up late to finish homework. But caring for the needs of family members is really what family is all about. Love is the lubricant that will oil any creaky, relational joints. It may take effort to love our family members, or it may be quite easy. It's amazing how the littlest things make a difference! It's also helpful to remember that expressing love blesses the one who does the loving.

The family atmosphere which Joseph and Mary created was one based upon trust in God and love for God and each other. They listened to God and followed His lead. They worked as a team. They stayed together because they prayed together and individually. In this God-centered atmosphere, Jesus and his siblings, grew. Jesus, too, listened to God's voice and obeyed not only God, but his parents. At the age of 12, Jesus stopped off at the Temple by himself while the rest of his family started to leave for home after Passover so that he could talk with the religious teachers. When his rather distressed and worried parents finally found him, Jesus responded:

"Why were you looking for me? Didn't you know that I had to be here, dealing with the things of my Father?" But they had no idea what he was talking about.

So he went back to Nazareth with them, and lived obediently with them…. And Jesus matured, growing up in both body and sprit, blessed by both God and people." (The Message Luke 2:49-52)

Obedience played an important role in Mary and Joseph's lives, and it played an equally important role in Jesus' life. Jesus knew that God was his real Father. Joseph, though, had been an incredible dad. Being obedient to his parents was one way of showing his love for them and for God. Jesus' obedience to his parents did not hinder his growth as an individual. Rather, it gave him practice. Jesus' obedience to God enabled him to do God's will, fulfill his mission, and bless the world.

Sometimes it's hard to be obedient to our parents, especially when we'd rather do something else. But unless what our parents are asking us to do is morally wrong, then obedience to them will make it easier for us to be obedient to God. We want to be obedient to God, for we know the great results of listening to God and obeying his direction.

The blessings that have come to the world as a result of this family -- Mary, Joseph, Jesus, and some of Jesus' siblings -- are priceless. Their family was founded on absolute trust in God. That trust has revealed to countless generations the power of God's love. When we make the commitment to express the qualities that make a family successful, then we will experience the blessings of God's love and feel His tender care operating daily in our relationships with our family members. As a result, our families will be strong units able to withstand difficult challenges.

When harmony and peace have become important aspects of our own family, then we can help bring peace to other families -- to the whole human family. At this time, our world desperately needs peace. We can't wait for someone else to be a peacemaker. We must take the first step to make our own homes harmonious. The song by Jill Jackson and Sy Miller sung so often at Christmas is an active prayer, reminding us that we, as an individual in God's family, have a vital role to play:

Let there be peace on earth,
and let it begin with me.

With God as our Father,
brothers all are we,
Let me walk with my brother
in perfect harmony.

We can feel the presence of the angels as we make the commitment to see all of humanity as one family with one God and to love our family unconditionally.