Continued from Act I: Slow Down: On Your Mark
If you haven’t heard or read the latest statistics on the North American family, here is breaking news: the North American family structure is crumbling! We live in a culture that no longer subscribes to getting married first, beginning a family second, and then living happily ever after. Our culture has flipped this equation to being happy first, starting a family second, and getting married last, if at all! The alarming news is that families in the Christian church are not immune to this cultural change.
Families within the church are all similar at the basic level. Here is the similarity: we have all grown up in a family system (insert your own definition of family), whether that family system was dysfunctional, or functional in matters of mental, spiritual, financial, physical, or emotional stability, we have learned many of our relational patterns from that family system. Likewise, what we have learned from our own family of origin, we bring into every other relationship.
Murray Bowen, a marriage and family therapist coined the term “differentiation of self’”, which means
“the capacity to think and reflect, to not respond automatically to emotional pressures, internal or external” (Kerr, M., and Bowen, M. 1988. Family Evaluation. New York: New York).
When it comes to family and ministry, I wonder how many times I respond automatically to the external emotional pressures, let alone the
internal emotional pressures. How many times am I able to think and reflect rather than automatically respond? One way I manage these automatic emotional pressures, is to view my family experiences as simply that—experiences. Each experience has meaning, positive or negative. The meanings we create either push (+) us towards what we want, or they pull (-) us away from what we want.
Positive meanings make life easier, and, you guessed it, negative meanings make life more difficult. Whether positive or negative, the more I believe these meanings the quicker they become automatic responses, or belief systems.
So what do experience, meaning, and belief systems have to do with ministry and family life? They have everything to do with it! Imagine for a minute that you have grown up in an alcoholic family where your father drank to relieve his personal emotional pressures. He is an angry drunk and you are the focus of that anger. No doubt you have created a meaning around your father, around alcohol, yourself, and perhaps, God. Suppose the meaning you created around yourself was that you “deserved” the anger your father showed and basically became a “runner” when faced with any situation that involved conflict.
Now it is 20 years later and you find yourself in ministry with your own family. How do you suppose ministry looks like to you? How does your family look? (After all, we know there is never conflict in ministry or in families!). What do your family relationships look like with your spouse and children, especially when conflicts arise? This is just one example of how we have created meanings (positive or negative) in our lives and how those meanings kick into gear as autonomous belief systems.