The family gatherings my friends spoke of did not happen after the loss of our father. Birthdays and holidays were only acknowledged in a low key manner. If there was a celebration, you were in charge of creating your celebration and it was not a family affair. Those large Norman Rockwell gatherings were not part of my growing up after that first decade. Here we are all these decades later still not perfect, but with a deep and abiding love for each other.
Jumping from childhood to adulthood at an early age, my goal became my own "Perfect Family" with marriage and children. I set out on a course to create my own Norman Rockwell family. Extended family gatherings were a must--to the point of pushing myself and my family to the point of exhaustion on some holidays. Christmas was a mad rush of seeing two extended families in a twenty four hour period with our own nucleus family celebration crammed in the middle. Church was always a must--all perfect families go to church. Attendance at all activities and participation in PTA, MYF, BS, GS, YMCA, and every other acronym organization you could imagine consumed the time I had after a long day at work. And then there was keeping the perfect house, putting the perfect meal on the table, and above all keeping up appearances in all shapes, forms and fashions. It was not easy to be the "Super Woman" required to give the appearance of the "Perfect Family". Somewhere along the way--quality time spent individually with each child--was lost in the business of maintaining an illusion of the dream. My mistake was in believing outward appearances were more important than quality time. What looked perfect--was, at times, a perfect mess. And yet, I have wonderful memories of our family and all those years of raising children.
Perhaps I am wrong, but somehow I do not think Andy & Aunt Bee, The Cleavers, The Walton's, and even the Johnny come lately The Partridges really exist. It is an idol of perfection impossible to grasp in a fallen world. Our humanness gets in the way--and this side of eternity--there is no perfection. And yet, I yearn to have the "Perfect Family". My family may seem irreparably broken, but we are still doing the best we can while loving each other fiercely. There may not be a perfect family in my life, but there is a perfectly messy but greatly loving family.
While mulling this over, I remembered a story from long ago of a broken family--perhaps one of the first dysfunctional families. It is the old story of the prodigal son. A family broken by one son leaving the nest prematurely--taking his piece of the pie and fleeing for the good life. The father is left to mourn the broken family (I assume there was also a broken hearted mother) and the brother who stayed behind has to try and keep things together for them all while smoldering with resentment. This was certainly NO perfect family. Had the father set his family up as an idol? Did God intend to teach more than the lesson of welcoming a lost son back into the fold? Was God also showing us when we make an idol of anything--even a God ordained family, He will allow things to fall apart. He will allow no idols before Him--not even our family.
One of the things I learned as I have worked to recover from my own brokenness, was perhaps I had put things above God. I had made an idol in my quest for the appearance of the perfect family. As I have spent time reading and pondering this article, I have come to the conclusion, it was a family which occupied the top priority in my life. In striving for the happiness I thought was found in a whole family, I allowed family to become the dominant force in my life. Only when it was stripped away did I realize God always has to be first.
My favorite phrase about families comes from a dear counselor friend, "All families are a mess at best". THAT is a PROFOUND truth! We live in a fallen and broken world---BUT GOD--rules triumphant and one day--one golden beautiful day---we will all live in the eternal perfect family of God. HALLELUJAH! Until that day, I will continue to muddle along and do my best to love my family as God has first loved me.
But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness,
and all these things will be given to you as well.