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Growing Pains
May 11, 1975

St. Paul's United Methodist Church

MARK 10:17-22

Quoting from your favorite philosopher and mine, Erma Bombeck on this Mother’s Day, or as we call it in the United Methodist Church, the Festival of the Christian Home, “What do you mean you’re a participle in the school play and you need a costume? You be careful in that attic, do you hear? If you fall through and break your neck, you’re going to be late for school.  A drudge. That’s all I am. They’ll all be sorry when I’m not around to run and fetch. ‘So you swallowed the plastic dinosaur out of the cereal box. What do you want me to do, call a vet?’ Lunches. Better pack the lunches. Listen to them bicker. What do they care what I pack? They’d trade their own grandmother for a cough drop and a Holy picture. Of course, none of these things would bother me if I had an understanding husband. Mother was right. I should have married that little literature major who broke out in a rash every time he read Thoreau. But no, I had to pick the nut standing out in the driveway yelling at the top of his voice, ‘I am thirty-nine years old. I make fifteen thousand dollars a year. I will not carry a Donald Duck thermos to the office!’ Boy, he wouldn’t yell at me like that if my upper arms weren’t flabby. He should worry. He doesn’t have to throw himself across the washer during “spin” to keep it from walking out of the utility room. He doesn’t have to flirt with a hernia making bunk beds. He doesn’t have to shuffle through encyclopedias before the school bus leaves to find out which United States president invented the folding chair. It’s probably the weather.” 

Is it the weather or is it the revolution? From time to time we need to remind ourselves that we are in the midst of a revolution. It is difficult to see the forest for the trees. Our institutions are changing. It is a social, political, economic revolution. Relationships are chaotic as our institutions change. We are unsure. Life in Manteca is more stable than the urban areas, but we see the signs of unrest, instability, tension all around us. 

The family is one of those institutions undergoing rapid change. Many families have been separated from their larger family of relatives. They do little more than eat and sleep under the same roof. They produce nothing and buy almost everything—food, schooling, entertain­ment, even religion. The social pressures that dictated behavior and values are disintegrating. Families in the past were often strong be­cause they had to work together. They knew what was expected of them because of the community. They had a reputation to uphold. They wouldn’t consider divorce because it was not the thing to do. Now most of the social pressures are absent, and a family is left all alone. Many lament the changing times; they feel the nation, school, church, and family are going to the dogs. They shake their heads and wish for the good old days, the 193Os reflected in movies, music and t.v. today. They wish for days that were simpler, and shake their heads in disbelief at what is happening to the family today. 

But, because of the revolution, because of the chaos, because of the changes, we have an opportunity to pursue the ideal family. The trap­pings are disappearing. We have an opportunity to discard all that was irrelevant. The cultural pressures that were exerted upon families to conform are now weakened. We don’t need to conform. We can become the kind of family we want to be, the kind God is calling us as families to be. Rather than lament, rather than wail for the good old days, let us use the current changing times to change our families into the kind of family we want it to be. This opportunity applies to all institutions but let us particularly apply it to the family. We do not need to be victims of the changing times. We can be intentional, and inten­tionally decide to pursue the values and ideals of a Christian family. 

What kind of family would you like to see upon this earth? What kind of family would you like to belong to? Be intentional. Too long parents have allowed their family to be at the mercy of the culture. Too many parents have abdicated, letting the school, or rather, forcing the school to take too much control over children’s lives. We expect the school to provide everything for the child that the home does not want to do or feels inadequate in, all the way from sex education to values. The intentional family, taking advantage of these changing times, will consider the education of the children to be the task and privilege of the parents, with the school helping. The school desires to cooper­ate with parents, not do it all. The school is no substitute for the home and where parents abdicate and surrender their tasks to the school, the school has yet to demonstrate that it can do any better job. 

Let’s take our families back from the school, back from the neighbors, back from the church, back from the morality of movies and television, and take charge of our families. Let’s be serious about the call of God. To what ideal shall families seek to attain? I have been discussing the ideal in this series of sermons—a family where respect is mutual, a family that finds security in Christ, and is there­fore enabled to respect themselves and each other, a family where there is mutual encouragement, a family where each is enabled to seek fulfillment and be treated as an individual, a family that includes grandparents, and relates across ages, across generation gaps, a family where Christ is first, where he is served, and in him and through him and for him the individuals find themselves loved, accepted and needed. 

How do we attain such a family? I have been suggesting methods through these sermons, but may I mention two more this morning. First, your family needs a mission. As each individual person needs a mission, needs a goal, a purpose to live, so does a family. How long would an individual survive without a goal? The greater the goal, the happier the individual. The purpose, the mission in life for an individual must be more than feeding his stomach, getting clothes on his back, money in the bank if he is to really find life. As Jesus told the rich young ruler in our New Testament lesson this morning, sell all that you have and follow me. The man couldn’t do it. His mission was too small. He had come to Jesus asking for life, but he couldn’t find a mission, a purpose that challenged him, that called him. 

Likewise, a family needs a mission, a calling outside the family that unites that family together. Inner purpose, inner unity is not enough. The goal of feeding the family, seeing that they are educated, keeping them out of hospitals, is not a strong enough goal. It is too self­-centered. A small, shallow goal turns a family in upon itself and it becomes rotten. A pool of water with only an inlet and not an outlet becomes green, smelly, rotten. A family with no purpose outside the meeting of each other’s needs becomes smelly and rotten. A marriage with no purpose other than the meeting of each other’s needs becomes rotten. There is no outlet. Each family needs a mission, needs to realize a task that can unite, a task to which the family can commit it­self and pursue as a family. No goal, no mission less than Christ is worthy, but how the serving of Christ as a family is for that family to decide, to decide by discussing as a family, by praying and seeking God’s will, by becoming concerned about something in the community and church that excites. Some families see serving Christ through a con­cern for the environment and together save, collect bottles, cans, paper for recycling. They see this as a mission. They have an outlet for they have something to do with their lives, their time, energy and talents. 

Other families see church work as a way of serving Christ, centering the family’s activities in the church. A family needs a mission around which they can focus and unite. 

Secondly, we have been discussing some heavy matters in this sermon series, a heavy load of responsibility rests upon the shoulders of parents. I feel the need to make this one point. Rudolf Dreikurs, an author of child rearing books which I greatly admire, once delivered a lecture on the subject “The Courage to be Imperfect”. We need that good word every once in a while—it is okay to be imperfect. We don’t know all the answers; we rarely will avoid mistakes, even failure. And its okay. Especially mothers need to hear this word. A great many try so hard to do right and to be right, and then feel so guilty when they don’t make it. Dr. Dreikurs wrote that he has found many people who try so hard to be good, but not for the welfare of others. He says, “Any­body who is really concerned with the welfare of others won’t have any time or interest to become concerned with the question of how good he is.”

When we try so hard, when we have such high expectations and standards, we get pushy, irritable when we fail, driving, relentless, trying so hard to prove we are good, we are right, trying to be in con­trol. 

The gospel, the good word, is relax. Let God love you just as you are. Trust in the Lord and do what you can. Let him forgive you. Give your family to God. Give them up to him. Let his will, let his love guide the family, and not your goodness or rightness or achieve­ments. Learn to apologize, learn to laugh, learn to start over, learn to fail, learn how to learn from failing. No one is perfect, not even you, not even your family, and it is okay. 

We have a great opportunity today to be intentional about our families, to pursue the ideal of God’s calling. Serve Christ, commit your family to a mission, and find the courage in him to even be imperfect.

© 1975 Douglas I. Norris