If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his own family, he has disowned the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.
I Timothy 5:8
This reflection, honestly, is hard for me to write. Because as I reflect on the concept of “serve” a family, I seriously wonder is there a difference between “serving” and “taking care of” and if there is, which one am I doing? To “take care of” or “provide for” I think is different than serving. A person can bring home a nice salary, which can provide for a nice home but still not really be serving them. I remember years ago talking with a tearful teen who said her father made so much money she could buy whatever she wanted but all she really wanted was for him to come to her basketball games. And sometimes I wonder if I’m that parent.
I think to truly “serve” one has to divest himself or herself of any expectation of reward. Also, to serve means to give in the way that something is needed, not necessarily in the way that you want to give. For example, if my son has worked hard in school, has gotten all of his homework done, and in his leisure time asks me to play a video game with him, the idea of “serving” would mean I should do that, even if I’m tired, even if I want to kick my feet up on the couch and do nothing. I can certainly justify to myself (and even try to justify it to him) that I’ve worked hard all week, I’ve provided the means for us to get by and I deserve a break. And perhaps, once in a while, when my son sees me exhausted on the couch, he might ask me how he can serve me. But this consciousness of serving in our families is overlooked in many instances. Parents are focused on providing. Children are focused on being obedient. And somewhere service gets lost.
Imagine if everyone had Christ’s thought of “coming not to be served but to serve.” (Marks 10:45) Imagine in families if there were arguments between spouses or parents and children with people insisting they serve and not be served. So many of our arguments start the other way, insisting that we are serving too much and want to be served more. Imagine if everyone had a conscience of service to others, starting with their own families.
The word “pathology” literally means “the study of suffering.” (Pathos is the Greek word for suffering, that’s why during Holy Week, we call the Passion of Christ, “ta pathi tou Christou”—the sufferings of Christ; and the word “logos” which means “study of something.”) When a human body has something that does not belong on or in it, think a big mole on your arm, a doctor does a biopsy and sends in the sample for a pathology report, to find what is the source and extent of the suffering.
Everyone has some “suffering” when it comes to their personality. For instance, someone with a parent who yells all the time might become an adult who yells all the time. Or an adult who is very quiet. Someone who has a parent that never gives approval might become a parent who never gives approval, or might become someone who is constantly in need of approval. Most of our “pathologies” can be traced to our parents and our upbringing. As a parent, I know it is hard to be a parent. While there are many books that have been written about parenting, there isn’t a book that speaks to each unique child and each unique home. That’s why parents struggle, and that’s why we all make mistakes. Studies are showing that most teenagers are lonely, not only because they don’t have adequate encouragement and support in school, but because they aren’t getting it at home. We probably don’t think enough about what pathologies we are contributing to our children.
Do you know how many siblings are either estranged, don’t get along well or don’t have much of a relationship? The percentage is staggering. Could a consciousness of service improve things? Well, it certainly couldn’t hurt.
If we all had a better consciousness when it comes to serving in our homes, and serving our families, not merely providing and directing, we might get some better outcomes. How courageous of an act would it be if spouses asked each other “how can I serve you better?” or if parents asked that of their children, or if children asked that of their parents? We all like being told we are doing a good job and no one wants to be told they need improvement. That’s why it would take a great deal of humility to actually ask these questions, and also a fair bit of trust that the question would be met with humility and not unreasonable demands, complaints or unearthing of history of disappointments. We can’t change the past but we can certainly change the future. Moving towards a consciousness of service can do a lot to change the future course of any relationship, especially in a family.
Lord, thank You for the gift of my family (mention name of spouse, children, siblings). Help me to appreciate them, to be patient with them, and to serve them. Give me a consciousness of service towards them. Even as I work to provide and to direct, help me not to forget to love and to serve them. Give us patience with each other, allow forgiveness to come easily, both to ask and to receive, and give us grace to get us through the rough spots. Bless my family today. Help me to be a blessing to my family today. Amen.
Think about (and if you are really brave, ask) how you can better serve in your family!