Family is very dear and precious to my heart and I am certainly sure it is also to Christ.
The family is the primary agent of socialization where values and beliefs are instilled, the self and traits are nurtured and one’s worldview is established. It is an environment behind closed doors that either provides a safe place for growth, experimentation and learning with secure parent-child attachments or a place of fear, despair and confusion which thwarts cognition and produces unhealthy behaviors. According to Albert Bandura’s social theory (1977), children internalize and mimic the behavior in their environment; ‘what monkey see monkey do.’ Thus it is imperative that parents be positive role models to their children. However, what about parents who themselves were raised in atrocious environments? Can the vicious cycle be broken? Taking culture into consideration, I will attempt to integrate a biblical view of developing a healthy Christian family despite previous hurt a person may have experienced in their upbringing.
Relational aspect of the Trinity & Personhood
Ideologically embedded within some cultures is the highly individualized self that is autonomous and determined distinctly from the other; the perception of ME, MYSELF and I. The acknowledgement and understanding of the Triune God, however, automatically uproots that very misconception of personhood. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are distinct but never separate from the other; an intimate dance and fellowship of coequals united in love and harmony. It is within this beautiful relational portrayal that God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness” (Gen 1:26-27). Therefore, “If God is a communion of persons inseparably related, then…it is in our relatedness to others that our being human consists” (Cunningham 1998, p. 19). Reflecting the Imago Dei, self must be undifferentiated, that is, the process of maintaining a separate identity while simultaneously remaining connected in relationship, belonging and unity (Balswick & Balswick 2014, p. 4).
I will examine four characteristics that embody the Holy Trinity and how these can be integrated into family life to promote healthy relationships. (These sub-headings are taken from Stephen Seamands (2005), Ministry in the Image of God, p. 48-52).
The scriptures reveal Trinitarian equality, for example, in John 5:18, Jesus was not only breaking the Sabbath but was also calling God his own Father, thereby making himself equal to God or in John 1:1, “The Word was with God and the Word was God.” In a family setting, equality does not mean equivalence but “a healthy respect for and valuing of the various members of the family and recognition of their full personhood” (p. 48). This occurs with the implementation of healthy boundaries that determines the family’s structure, roles and responsibilities of members as well as acceptable patterns of communication, behavior and interaction. With this understanding there is mutual respect for the authoritative parents as well as room for exploration and experimentation of growing children in search for self. This will avoid triangled or enmeshed relationships where over emotional involvement and dependence curbs growth and development. Reiterating Bandura’s Social Learning Theory, children will only practice healthy communication styles and behaviors if consistently demonstrated by parents. Even though with the joining of marriage, two shall become one, it is imperative that an undifferentiated self is established and clear and unimpaired boundaries for growth and change are also set. This will foster a flourishing relationship between spouses and a unified parenting style for nurturing their children. Validating and valuing each member’s role in the family is essential.
Scriptures that vividly depicts submission is God the Father sending His only Son to redeem humankind and Jesus who humbled himself by becoming obedient even to death on a cross (John 3:16, Hebrews 10:7-9, Philippians 2:8) and who after His ascension prayed to the Father to send another Paraclete/Comforter” (John 14:16,26). These verses depict glad submission to the will of the equally divine others within the Trinity. Recipients of such extravagant love should compel us to also practice selfless and sacrificial love for one another in the family unit. Such understanding should break cultural barriers of the man as the absolute rule and authority of the home and women alone subservient to the husband but rather promote a loving submission one to the other in the family in reverence of Christ (Ephesians 5:21).
If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is the Father who glorifies me (John 8:49)
This implies a high distribution of responsibilities and power in the home where everyone has the opportunity to participate. Inculcating a culture where all members are given a voice, encouraged to freely and comfortably share perspectives and opinions without being ridiculed, emulates mutual deference. It dismantles the patriarchal deep seated ideology as the man as perfect and in absolute control since he is the more rational and intellectual being. Rather “there is a willingness to defer to one another based on wisdom, experience and the nature of the situation at hand” (p. 49). Structures and roles are flexible and empowering individuals in the family rather than maintenance of power by one is the goal.
“The Father and I are one; the Father is in me and I am in the Father” (John 10:38, 38). The beautiful interplay and unique intimacy of knowing and being knowing is portrayed in the Trinity. For the purpose of this blog, I will not focus per say on the married couple but this tenderly affection displayed within the family unit.
In an environment where unconditional love is experienced and appraisal of an individual’s strengths as well as acceptance of the individual’s weaknesses occurs, persons are valued. Members are not fearful of sharing thoughts and opinions and can enjoy each other’s company even in silence. Communication is not only heard but also demonstrated through the love languages of touch, acts of kindness, shared experiences, receiving of gifts, words of affirmation. When a family celebrates and acknowledges a Heavenly Father who saw it fit to redeem mankind by sending His only Son, a Christ who was obedient even until death to demonstrate his selfless love to mankind and who did not leave us alone after His ascension but left the Holy Spirit, our comfort, they are able to integrate such integral interactional patterns in their daily living. If individuals enjoy sweet intimacy connected to the true vine, they are able to extend such self-sacrificing love to other family members even when faced with challenges or hurt. As the family practices the agape love of God in their household first there would be an easy unified outflow of love and compassion for others.
The concept of self is shaped first by our vertical relationship with the Holy Trinity. There are times when we experience unfathomable pain from our family members or even persons close to others. While we may seek help from social services or mental health practitioners, God is our ultimate Healer, the Great Physician. He restores the shattered self to reflect the glory of His image. When we are committed and able to love the Lord with all heart, soul, strength and mind and experience pure love, intimacy and healing, we are then enabled to appropriately have horizontal relationships, loving our neighbor as our self.
Sandy-Joy BasdeoMaster's Student at the Pentecostal Theological Seminary
David Cunningham, These Three Are One: The Practice of Trinitarian Theology. Oxford: Blackwell, 1998.
Balswick, Jack O. & Balswick, Judith K., The Family: A Christian Perspective on the Contempory Home (Fourth Edition). Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2014.