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Family Fitness
May 10, 199

From the New Revised Standard Version

Proverbs 1:7-9

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge;

fools despise wisdom and instruction.

Hear, my child, your father's instruction,

and do not reject your mother's teaching;

for they are a fair garland for your head,

and pendants for your neck.

Proverbs 6:20-23

My child, keep your father's commandment,

and do not forsake your mother's teaching.

Bind them upon your heart always;

tie them around your neck.

When you walk, they will lead you;

when you lie down, they will watch over you;

and when you awake, they will talk to you.

Proverbs 14:26

In the fear of the Lord one has strong confidence,

and one's children will have a refuge.

Proverbs 16:31-32

Gray hair is a crown of glory;

it is gained in a righteous life.

One who is slow to anger is better than the mighty,

and one whose temper is controlled than one who captures a city.

Proverbs 17:1

Better is a dry morsel with quiet

than a house full of feasting with strife.

Proverbs 17:6

Grandchildren are the crown of the aged,

and the glory of children is their parents.

Proverbs 20:7

The righteous walk in integrity--

happy are the children who follow them!

Proverbs 22:1

A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches,

and favor is better than silver or gold.

Proverbs 22:6

Train children in the right way,

and when old, they will not stray.

Proverbs 24:3-4

By wisdom a house is built,

and by understanding it is established;

by knowledge the rooms are filled

with all precious and pleasant riches.

Proverbs 29:17

Discipline your children,

and they will give you rest;

they will give delight to your heart.

There are probably many of you who work diligently at keeping your body fit. You jog, walk, lift weights, exercise, diet. Some of you practice spiritual disciplines to keep your spirit fit. You pray regularly, read devotional literature, keep a journal, go on retreats, participate in a prayer group. But, how many of us do anything intentionally to keep our family fit? The family has received bad press over the years. We are often told the American family is failing. We emphasize individualism in our country, and stress independence. How refreshing it was to read the book, Power of the Family, Tapping the Power of Family Life to Strengthen, Revitalize and Heal, by Paul Pearsall, a psychiatrist, family counselor, and professor. Rather than turn your back on your family, or try desperately to separate yourself from your family, rediscover and unleash the power of the family to strengthen, revitalize, and heal.

Dr. Pearsall has discovered that even the most disturbed families have powerful healing potential, and connection and reconnection with our family gives us power. He emphasizes the power of "us" in contrast to "me." Persons who rebel against their family and lose the family point of view; persons who feel evicted, rejected and blamed by their family suffer more illness, anxiety and depression than those persons who maintain the family view.

Even if you live alone, there are probably telephone contacts, and visits with the larger family. Even if your memories of family are not all positive, there is something about your family that makes you an "us", not just a "me"; an "us" with people who will always be a part of you, even if they are dead. What makes you a family, what makes you an "us" is your point of view. Dr. Pearsall writes, (p. 4) Families aren't failing; we are failing the family. We have been taught that independence is strength, that families are temporary places for preparation for real living, and that maybe once in a while we can get together as a family "just for old times' sake"...We have not learned the skill of family maintenance as we grow through life, of re-familying when the family is torn apart, or learned how to make our family life the number one priority in our interpretation of our world.

I find his view of families exciting. The recent events in Los Angeles have us all concerned about the future. Yesterday I was privileged to hear President Gorbachev speak at the Frost Amphitheater. He shared his hope and faith for the future, emphasizing the importance of the rule of law and morality. I would add the family. My sermon this morning is: the family is our primary source of strength, meaning, identity, and power. Let's keep our families fit. Let's look at six characteristics of a fit family, a healthy family. In preparation, I read the book of Proverbs and selected several bits of wisdom about family life for our lesson this morning. How wise were the ancients! You might have noticed that I did not select the proverb, "Spare the rod and spoil the child." The beating of Rodney King is a sign that violence is out of hand. Spanking the child is unnecessary and teaches him/her that the way to get power and control is through hitting.

1) BELONG. In a fit family, everyone belongs in the family. There is nothing that a family member can do or say that will isolate him/her from the rest of the family. As one father said of his daughter, "She's a pain in the neck, but she is our pain in the neck!"Everyone belongs in the family. You belong to your family. You have roots that go back into time. Tell one another the stories of your family. Study the family tree.

2) HONOR. A fit family honors, respects one another. See Proverbs 6:20-23. We honor our parents by honoring their teachings. Proverbs 16:32. Gray hair is a crown of glory. Honor the aged. Respect the elders. See Proverbs 17:6, grandchildren are honored; they are the crown of the aged. "Honor your father and your mother" is the fifth commandment. Dr. Pearsall quotes a man as saying, I can't stand my mother. She's opinionated, self-righteous, and demanding. She's terribly immature...She wasn't a great mother. I don't even know what that would be. But she's my mother, and I know that even though I struggle, I feel a lot better when I work hard to love her, to care for her, to stay her son. When I do that, I seem to be better with my own kids.

His mother is the only mother he has. Everyone belongs in the family. He can't change her, but he can honor her. He can work at honoring her even if it is difficult.

3) IMAGE. A fit family honors the family by each member behaving and acting in a manner that brings honor to the family. When a family member learns to control his/her behavior, learns to put the family first, everyone is healthier and happier. Identity is not just our own personal identity. Your personal identity is intertwined with and inseparable from your family's identity. To be proud of your family is to be proud of yourself. To bring honor to your family is to bring honor to yourself. See Proverbs 20:7, happy are children who have parents who walk in integrity, because they can be proud of their parent. See Proverbs 22:1, a good name is superior to great riches. The good name of a family is the image the family wishes to project, attain, and live up to.

4) DEFER. Not only do the individual family members defer to the family image, but individuals within the family defer to one another. A fit family is a family in which everyone, as Paul encouraged, is subject to one another. When everyone in the family is willing to defer to one another, to be more concerned about the well-being, happiness and success of each other than their own, then everyone is a winner. No one loses. See Proverbs 29:17. The context for discipline is the image and success of the family. Shared responsibility for the maintenance of the home, respect for the property of other family members, and an effort to improve the quality of life for everyone in the family are the goals of discipline. Discipline does not mean enforcing behavior through threat of punishment. Discipline is helping the child realize he/she belongs to the family, and as a member of the family shares responsibility for the well-being of everyone in the family and for the family image. Child psychologist Rudolf Dreikurs says "A misbehaving child is a discouraged child." A discouraged child does not see him/herself as an "us", an essential part of the family and its success.

5) TOGETHER. A fit family takes time to be together. Dr. Pearsall often encourages families to rediscover togetherness by all getting up at the same time, eating breakfast together, eating dinner together, having prayers or a quiet time together before going to bed, and all going to bed at the same time! How's that for revolutionary! His point is simple. We all need contact with each other, and a time to recommit ourselves to our common family energy. In order to counterbalance social pressure and stress, families must take time to be together in peace, joy, and silence. Prayer time, silent time together can make a family fit. See Proverbs 17:1

I doubt if our families can schedule this much togetherness, but we should at least aim for one meal a day together, with prayer and talking. There should be nothing negative, and no problem solving at meal times. Dinnertime is certainly not the time to list what everyone did wrong that day! One family begins dinner by everyone telling a new joke. Meal times should be happy, celebrative. Schedule a Family Day once a month for fun. Go to a museum, ball game, picnic, miniature golf, etc. Families that pray together, play together, and laugh together, stay together. Patsi and Hank Moore schedule a Mystery Day once a month where one plans a mystery outing for the other. Look at Proverbs 22:6, life-time habits begin in the home.

6) WORSHIP. A fit family worships together. See Proverbs 14:26. We intentionally schedule Sunday School at a different hour than the worship service so that families can worship together. We are among the very few churches that are holding out for family worship. When we visit Minnesota, and go to Ellie's home church, the Scandinavian Lutheran families still sit together in the same pew. That's a beautiful tradition. We have some families that sit together. To encourage family worship, we must change our standards for decorum. Tolerating squirms, noise, and restlessness of children is a sign of a healthy, family oriented, growing church. Children are more aware than we sometimes realize. Two weeks ago, a mother told me her young son mentioned something I had said in a sermon. She was amazed to learn he really is listening!

Let's take a test, a Family Fitness Test. On a scale of 0 to 10, assign a score for each question. O means "almost never" and 10 means "almost always."

BELONG Does everyone in your family seem to care about being together and sharing experiences as a group rather than as individuals?

HONOR Does everyone in your family show respect for the history of the family, and for the older people in the family?

IMAGE Is everyone in your family proud of your family, and do they tell others how proud they are of the whole family?

DEFER Is everyone in your family tolerant of one another, and trying to keep the family together, even when there are arguments and family crises?

TOGETHER Does your family eat at least two meals together, with every family member present, every day? If some of your family no longer lives with you, do they attend holiday meals with regularity and without pressure?

WORSHIP Does your family worship together in church every Sunday?

Please add up your scores. If your total is 50 or above, your family is probably fit! If your total is under 50, how about discussing your score with everyone else in the family, and begin a program of Family Fitness.

© 1992 Douglas I. Norris