By David Hegg
Recently, my wife and I traveled to northern Idaho to visit our daughter and son-in-law. We had the best time eating in great little cafes, gazing at pristine snow-capped mountains, and just generally being together talking, remembering and laughing. So many of our discussions reminisced about years gone by and the special events and happy providences that make up the Hegg family lore. Turns out family matters, and family matters more than almost everything else in life.
Why? Why don’t humans follow most of the animal world and kick their youngins out of the nest, lair, den, or burrow after a year or two? The answer is both clear and complex, and worth remembering.
Both history and biology teach us humans are made for relationship. Further, we are made for a community relationship. While there are exceptions due to some sort of relationship failure, human babies are born into a group of at least two people, and most often into a group even larger. Dad, Mom and siblings create the first community, and it is in this relational community that we begin to learn how to do life.
It is in the family that we learn the essential disciplines that enable success in the bigger and tougher community called society. Here are just a few of the more important ones.
Perhaps the most important discipline is learning how to live under authority. Think about it. All of life is lived under some sort of authority. First, there is the authority of natural law. Cut yourself and you bleed. Fall down the stairs and you hurt. Act in anger and you’ll learn what regret is all about.
Second, there is human authority. It begins in the family and it never ends. Sure, we think when we leave home, we’ll be our own boss. But no matter how successful you become, you’ll always be under some regulations, laws, statutes, and societal traditions and standards. That’s why it is essential to learn how to live under authority, and it starts in the family.
It is in the family that we learn the value of hard work. Doing chores, picking up your socks, closing cupboards, setting the table, taking out the trash, and cleaning up after the puppy. When those in authority hold us responsible to do the right things the right way for the right reasons, it shapes us to do well in a world where hard work is still demanded if we are to succeed.
Also in the family we learn that decisions and words and actions have consequences. Throw a tantrum and get confined to your room. Break a rule and lose a privilege. Be a grump and grouch and lose friends. Tell the truth, clean up a mess, help someone else and be rewarded with praise, gratitude and a genuine feeling that you made something good happen.
Finally, my short list ends with what may be the most important thing we learn through the family experience. We learn that we’re not the center of the universe, and the world around us does not exist for our pleasure and happiness. In the family we learn that everyone makes mistakes, has off days, and may not really care how we’re feeling at any particular moment. And that simply prepares us for life in a world where everyone around us won’t be making us the focus of their attention.
The family is the laboratory in which new humans learn how to do life. At least that’s how it is supposed to be. But, as I look around, it is clear too many of the laboratories are failing to do their jobs. They’re turning out humans who are self-centered, thin-skinned, mouthy, arrogant, easily angered and almost completely useless when it comes to getting things done, working through adversity, caring for others and generally contributing positively to the society around them. And, to complicate the matters even more, these products of failing laboratories are opening their own laboratories and … well, you get the picture.
I still think there is hope for us. But it has to start in the family. It has to start with parents who decide to get over themselves, create loving but disciplined households, and coach their kids to tell the truth, work hard, appreciate beauty and extend compassion to those in need.
Family matters, and I can speak from experience. I grew up in a great family, and by the grace of God, my wife and I have formed a great family where love, discipline and hard work have fostered joy, purpose and more than our share of fun and beautiful memories.
So, next time you start thinking about what makes a country great, remember that the laboratory for growing great people is the family. The government may want our kids, to teach and train them, but the fact is God gave them to us first. Let’s be up to the challenge of making our families matter. Our kids deserve it, and our nation depends on it.
Local resident David Hegg is senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church. “Ethically Speaking” appears Sundays.