Will You Let Go of this Myth about Families?

clip_image001.jpgOne of the greatest myths about family is that somehow it is possible to experience a perfect family.  Some Christians believe that because they follow Christ that it is possible to be the perfect family.

Now some may know this and yet many of us spend much energy trying to project to one another that we have the perfect marriage, family, children, etc.  Perhaps you know people like this.  Someone asks, "How are your children?"  "Wonderful!"  Or they may ask, "How is your husband?"  "Awesome.  He is really doing well."  Those answers may be correct.  However, it may seem strange to continue hearing such answers when you know that the family is experiencing heartache with the children or the spouse.    Yet, they are always "wonderful." 

Is this reality?  Or, is this about image management?  Could it be that in order to protect their image, some people never really tell the truth.  Instead, they are content to settle for something superficial.

Some believe that the church is the place where all of the successful, happy, families gather.  No problems.  No heartaches.  No struggles.  Everyone has it all together.  Now if you view the church like this, you may feel somewhat intimidated by being a part of the church.  What if you are struggling in your marriage?  What if you are having financial problems?  What if you have come out of horrible home life?  You may wonder, "Is there anyone else in this church like me?"

When our children were growing up, I tried to be especially conscious of this problem.  I wanted them to grow up in a good home, where we loved one another and Christ was at the center.  Yet, I did not want them to think that they were supposed to project some sort of image about our family because I was a minister.  I did not want them to think that they had to be dishonest about life in our home in order to make me look good.

There are no perfect families.  They are not in the Bible.  They are not in the church today.  You may be a part of a really good family.  You may have a good marriage.  Yet, there are no perfect families because there are no perfect human beings. 

All families, like all people, are imperfect.

What would help so many of us is to get the right perspective toward our families.  Instead of being preoccupied with managing my image before others, I need to be focused on living with the intent of loving my family with a God honoring love.  Consequently, I am to love God and love others, especially my own family.  Such love is sacrificial, self-denying, forgiving and persistent.

On July 20 of last year, I heard a segment of NPR’s, "This I Believe" which especially caught my attention.  Listen as this speaker reflects upon his earlier years:

I don’t know why I came to the decision to become a loser, but I know I made the choice at a young age.  Sometime in the middle of fourth grade, I stopped trying.  By the time I was in seventh grade, I was your typical degenerate: lazy, rebellious, disrespectful.  I had lost all social graces.  I was terminally hip and fatally cool.

It wasn’t long after I dropped out of school and continued my downward spiral.  Hard physical labor was the consequence for the choices I made as an adolescent.  At the age of 21, I was hopelessly lost, and using drugs as a way to deal with the fact that I was illiterate and stuck in a dead-end job carrying roof shingles up a ladder all day.

But now I believe in do-overs, in the chance to do it all again.  And I believe that do-overs can be made at any point in your life, if you have the right motivation…

Yes!  This is what a family is about.  Families are not places where pretend we have reached perfection.  Families are places where human beings can struggle with life and even experience a do-over.  Christ-followers believe that God’s grace through Christ gives the ultimate do-over.

I am curious.  What have you observed about the myth of the perfect family in the churches with which you are familiar?  In what ways does this myth do damage to other people?

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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27 thoughts on “Will You Let Go of this Myth about Families?

  1. Thanks Jim, I appreictae this post, I think you’ve touched on a really central point in western church culture, and this attitude contributes to the feeling that church is a club more than a family, and that we want to ‘belong’ to a people without it costing us anything in emotional vulnerability. If people are open there is much compassion and prayer to had in a church community, in many ways, if the church was characterised by this vulnerability to each other it may be one of its most counter-cultural (in a good way) attributes.

  2. Jim,The kind of intimacy and spontaneity required to foster honest conversations isn’t available @ church. We "pretty up" our outsides, we are encouraged to "put all worldly cares aside" for this couple of hours, and the clock on the wall doesn’t allow real conversation.Most people can’t "schedule" real conversations — they happen spontaneously, in the interruptions of our lives. So planning a time to get together and "be honest" is beyond their experience.I’m dishonest at church because no one, including me, has the time for honesty on Sunday.Now, for your actual question: :)I think the myth of the perfect family discourages honesty and authenticity as much as our inflexible scheduling. If I believe I’m the only one having trouble, NO WAY am I going to bring it up before a crowd of perfect people. Conversely, though, if I believe my broken situation is the norm, I’m not going to draw attention to it either. I guess we need compassionate honesty about our flaws, along with a rugged expectation that this doesn’t HAVE to be this way — that in Christ we can experience substantial renewal and transformation and freedom even now while we await "the redemption of our bodies."Sorry its so long — I guess this struck a chord in me.In HIS love,nick

  3. Some of the experiences I made when I dared to share struggles our imperfect family faced, have shown me that people don’t wish to be burdened with my problems, they have enough of their own! At other times our family had already resolved a concern I shared and other people were still worrying about it because I had not thought to give them an update, lol! Another issue was that the person we shared our family’s imperfections with, turned out to be a gossip and enhanced and altered the details about our problems.  No wonder people keep trying to project a perfect image! I dearly wish that in the family of God we would all be open, genuine, deeply caring and supportive because no family, no individual is perfect. On the other hand, lately I’ve been asking myself if I’m loving the other person when I burden them with my ‘struggles’.  Any thoughts?   

  4. Wonderful thoughts.
    I agree that many in the church put on a "holy front of perfection" so as not to reveal what’s really going on.  The church should be the one place where we can love enough to help people deal with financial difficulty, abuse, and other "embarrassing" issues.
    Thanks for the heart of this post.

  5. To me, that’s one of the most important messages that the church needs to communicate: imperfection is welcome here! In our family life, our personal life, our spiritual life… we will strive for perfection, while recognizing that we’ll never reach it in this world.Grace and peace,Tim Archer 

  6. Thanks Liam.  I appreciate what you say regarding the importance of emotional vulnerability.  Fortunately, many people are a part of small groups or prayer groups where this happens.  In those groups we often learn that life is difficult for others as well.  We also learn that prayer and compassion is available as well.  My concern is more for those who are not having these experiences and relationships who may draw some conclusions about the lives of others that just aren’t accurate. 

  7. Liam– No problem with the typos.  I’ve done that too many times when in a hurry to give it a second thought when someone else does it.

  8. Nick,

    Thanks for for your words.  Sunday mornings, in so many churches, can often be very difficult places to experience real community much less intimacy.

    Maybe a larger concern I have, Nick, is what I see and hear from a number of young families who seem to think that there is some sort of perfection possible (in regard to marriage/family) and regularly feel defeated. Some retreat and even withdraw. While there are a number of issues at work in this, I think that the assumption that there is a perfection that is the norm sets families up for defeat.

     Thanks so much Nick.

  9. Tim, I like this: "Imperfection is welcome here."  Perhaps the place to begin is with myself.  In other words, am I the kind of person who communicates that not only do I see and confess my own imperfections, but imperfect come to feel a sense of welcome when they are in my presence.  Then perhaps this could become the atmosphere of our small groups and on and on. Thanks Tim

  10. Adam–Thanks very much for your words.  Interestingly, after we had children, I really began to think more about this.  My concern was what I/we might be communicating to them in our home?  Do they see someone trying to project a certain image that is unreal as to what they are experiencing in their home?  I hope not.

  11. This is so spot on, Jim. On the one hand, I believe many Christians are under much pressure because they/we buy into this myth. On the other hand, many outside the church look in and see either naivity or hypocrisy of Christians relative to this myth. As the son and grandson of hairdressers, who spent quite a bit of time as a young person sitting in a hair dryer pretending to do my homework while listening to mostly Christian ladies talk about their lives in an unguarded atmosphere, I can tell you stories that will both shock you to your core and break your heart. Thanks for this post!

  12. Karin, Sounds like you have had some rough experiences with this and some disappointing experiences.  There are, in churches, some very immature people and people with less than godly motives who are not safe people. At the same time, we probably learn as we stay with one congregation over a period of time, who can be trusted with the sensitive places of our lives.  Many people have found entire small groups where this kind of dynamic is present. As I mentioned in one of the comments above, my main concern is with younger families.  I am concerned that some have the impression that if their family/marriage is not perfect then it is not working.  Consequently, some either become very discouraged or they believe they must present another front to their friends, etc. Thanks Karin. 

  13. Bill, A great comment.  Thank you.  You are so right.  On the one hand, we put tremendous pressure on our marriages/families with such expectations.   As I mentioned in a comment above, I am very concerned about the pressure we are putting on these relationships. On the other hand, we would do well to take a good look at what we are communicating to the world with this myth.  Meanwhile they may be witnessing something very different. I can only imagine what you must have heard at this very young age.  My goodness!

  14. We are blessed with very loving and wise elders. Last year our elders decided we would dismiss the formality of Sunday evening service. Our Sunday morning attendance varies from 185-200 and we have a great mix of all ages.
    We started meeting in each others homes. Several couples volunteered up to be group leaders and sign up sheets were placed in the foyer. Each person/family could choose the group they wanted to meet with. If the group didn’t work out for whatever reason, then the person/family could move to another group. The groups are to be changed every six months. One group always meets at the building in case we have visitors. Each group can choose the time they will meet and how long they will meet. They can choose if they will have potluck style meals, snacks or no food at all. This has been a huge success and our families have really bonded and shared during this time. Most groups meet at least three hours, some two and some one. We have shared our lives in a very honest way and we have bonded with people we hardly knew before. We all love this and plan on continuing with this format.
    I think people are actually relieved when they realize that we are not ‘perfect’, yet we are trying to follow the footsteps of our Savior. When we can share our ‘real’ lives with each other it offers hope and encouragement and I believe imparts determination to “press on”.

  15. I’m not sure how church got to be the way it is in most places today.  Jesus was straight up honest and authentic with people just where they were – and none of them that I can think of were perfect, or in perfect families.  I’m thinking in particular of how he related to the Samaritan woman at the well.  Just a regular conversation about life and living water, then leading into the particulars of where she was in her individual life.  He showed enough respect for her not to pull any punches or pretend things weren’t how they really were – "you’ve had five husbands."  That kind of blew the "perfect family myth" to pieces, didn’t it?  Can you imagine a conversation like that in church today?!  We either become judgmental, or try to act like it’s all okay, or avoid the subject altogether if things are not "as they should be"!
    To answer the question of how this is damaging, it is damaging because it is totally contrary to how Jesus lived and related to people.  And we are called to live and relate to people like He did.  When we posture and pretend we are just missing the whole point!

  16. Thanks for this Jim.  As a parent of 2 under 6 year-olds I too have been thinking a lot about what kind of environment I want to foster in our home, and realised that I need to show my kids that ‘messing up’ is ok.  We all do, and we will all continue to do.  We try, really hard sometimes, but we still mess up (we’re broken, sinners, whatever you want to say).  Many of us have grown up in an environment where OUR parents have been quite heavily influenced (unwittingly I suspect) by the myth you are talking about – that it is possible and strongly desirable to have a ‘perfect’ family.  And of course, it is not.  Each night we pray with the kids that God would keep helping us to learn to love each other, forgive each other and do the same to others that we know.  I think when our children see the love of God pouring out through us, they see what is REAL.  And because they know about our frailties, they too can start to see that this God accepts them, as they are, no strings.What I find encouraging is that vulnerability and engaging with the struggle of reality seem to be rising to the surface of many Christians’ thinking these days – perhaps especially in evangelical/charismatic circles.  This gives me great hope.

  17. Connie,  I really like the way you come at this by simply looking at the way Jesus related to people.  The more I think about how he related to various people, the more I realize the absurdity of what we often see and experience today.

  18. John, Your children are so blessed to have a dad who is paying attention to what he is modeling before them.  What you are doing with them right now will bless their spouses and whatever children might be born to them in future years.  Your note is encouraging.

  19. Janice,What a blessing to hear of what is happening in our church.  Sounds like such an important work of God.  What is particularly encouraging is the body life that is taking place in some of these homes.  How wonderful.

  20. This is a great post.  Growing up as a minister’s child myself I often wanted to stand up in the middle of church and scream at the top of my lungs that things aren’t always the way they seem.  I blame legalism personally.  We have become a people who want to appear that we are keeping all of God’s laws perfectly but who never remind one another that it is not possible to do so.  I am finding in my personal ministry that when you try to remind people of that, even pointing out the fact that I, myself am a sinner, it does not go so smoothly.  Then again, Christ never said it would.

    • Thank you Dave. You know this all too well, even as a child. I was struck by the beginning of your fourth sentence. \"We have become a people who want to appear…\" That is it! We become far to preoccupied with what we appear to be rather than what we really are. Consequently, we are not dealing with reality but an image. Anyway—thanks Dave.

  21. i agree completely. Excellent, and would help tremendously if we really believed this, then put it into practice. Myth is indeed the right word.

    I like the looks of your blog.

  22. Hey there. I found your blog via Scot McKnight's. I agree wholeheartedly. I had a really hard time when I first had my son. I just didn't like staying home and I had a hard time loving the motherhood thing. And I was honest with folks about it. A lot of people thanked me for my honesty and others seemed to think I was crazy for admitting it. I know not everyone felt that way, but I would like to think that my honesty might help other women who feel a little claustrophobic by first time motherhood as I did. We can't help each other if we don't share our struggles.

    • Sara,
      I\'m glad you came to this blog. I appreciate in particular your opening line, \"I had a really hard time when I first had my son…\" I think many of us just don\'t realize how this perspective on family can make life even more difficult for those who are in a challenging time of life (or who are dealing with some issues that are particularly challenging. Yet, the words you voiced only reflects what many, many people feel at this time in life.