No Place Like Home: Handling Hassles At Home
I read to you from the Gospel according to Luke, the second chapter, beginning to read at the 39th verse:
“And when they had performed everything according to the law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee to their own city Nazareth. And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom and the favor of God was upon Him. Now, His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. And when He was twelve years old, they went up according to custom. And when the feast was ended, as they were returning, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents did not know it, but supposing Him to be in the company they went a day’s journey and they sought Him among their kinsfolk and acquaintances. And when they did not find Him, they returned to Jerusalem seeking Him.
“After three days, they found Him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions and all who heard Him were amazed at His understanding and His answers. And when they saw Him, they were astonished. And His mother said to Him, ‘Son, why have you treated us so? Behold your father and I have been looking for you anxiously.’
“And He said to them, ‘How is it that you sought Me? Did you not know that I must be in My Father’s house?’
“And they did not understand the saying which He spoke to them. He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and He was obedient to them. And His mother kept all these things in her heart.”
Soli Deo Gloria. To God alone, be the glory. Let us pray.
Now may the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
As I think of the family in these times, the words of a Joni Mitchell popular song come to mind, “Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.” One does not have to look very far in our society today to find those who are quick to say that the American family is going or is already gone. One leading scholar recently declared, “America’s families are in trouble. Trouble so deep and so pervasive as to threaten the future of this entire nation.” Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone? I, for one, do not believe that the American family is gone. It shall survive. Make no mistake about that, because that is the Word of Almighty God.
But the family in our time and in our society does need help. Let’s admit that. And as always, I believe that help is to be found on the pages of Scripture, specifically in reference to the family in which Jesus grew up. Now, I know it’s not easy for us to think of Jesus in those terms. I mean, we know Him as Lord, as Savior, as Master, as Teacher, as Redeemer, perhaps even as Friend. But it’s hard for us to think of Jesus actually growing up in a normal, loving, nurturing home. And it’s even harder for us to realize that His family experience had a great influence on His adult life, and yet that is quite true. And that fact has encouraged me in the preparation of this sermon.
Well, I do not need to stand in this pulpit and remind you that the family has troubles. Everyone in a family sooner or later in one way or another has hassles at home. And usually, those hassles revolve around the relationship, which exists between parents and children. But I’m quick to point out here that the hassles are not isolated to those families who happen to have teenage children. There is, for example, the problem of possessive parents. A lady came to me and said that her marriage was in trouble. Why? Because her mother was still trying to dominate her life. Or there was a young, single fellow in our congregation who said, “My mom and dad might as well be living in my back pocket. And because that’s true, it’s very difficult for me to develop significant relationships with other people.” That’s a problem.
There is the problem of in-law relationships. Now, stand up comedians make millions of dollars making jokes about in-laws, but sometimes it’s no joking matter. There’s a couple I know; they indicate that both of their parents are engaged in a constant struggle to try to win or perhaps even to buy the affection of the grandchildren. And the tension created by this constant competition is almost unbearable in the home. Or there is the problem of elderly parents. Our drastically increased lifespan is injecting a whole new meaning into the words of Paul to Timothy, “Anyone who does not provide for his relatives, especially his own family has disowned the faith.” And then of course there is that problem that exists with parents who have small children or teenagers at home. And I’m willing to admit that that’s probably the most crucial of the problems. Because I believe that if solutions can be found for that problem, that those solutions will apply to any parent-child relationship, regardless of the age or the circumstance of those involved. And so that’s the portion of the problem I want us to address today.
And I want us to do it by taking a look at one parent-child relationship. I am referring to the relationship which existed between Joseph, the carpenter of Nazareth, and his Son, Jesus. Now that is a relationship which has long intrigued me. And yet I’m perfectly willing to admit that we have little firsthand evidence of that particular relationship. And yet, I believe that we can take what we do know, and then we can look at some of the very basic principles, which marked the adult life of Jesus. And then with the use of some logic and a bit of imagination, I believe we can point back to the foundations which undergird those principles. That’s what I want to do today.
Now here’s our method of operation. I want to set before us some of the factors which are creating problems in our families. Then I want us to look at the experience of Jesus to see if there may be some answers there. And then I want to try to take those answers and apply them to our families. Let’s dive in.
The first factor, creating problems in our families is the physical separation we experience in families today.
Now that hasn’t always been true. Long ago in history before the industrial era people young and old alike worked together, played together, lived together in and about the home, and all for the common good of the family’s welfare. That is no longer true. Does the family work together? Rarely. Dad’s center of gravity is at the office or on the job. Mothers’ work loyalties are scattered out into the community. For children, the center of attention is school. Does the family play together? Unfortunately, not enough. No, usually, the family – if they are together – are found sitting as languid lumps in front of a television screen. But even that kind of togetherness is not frequent.
Too often our families today are what I would call airport families. There’s hardly any interrelationship at all. Instead, the members of the family fly into the home, refuel, check the schedule and then take off again. Children are especially separated from their fathers. Not only are they deprived of time spent with their fathers, but they do not see their fathers performing the skills which they can appreciate, and in which they can share. The father may be a skilled type-setter or a great surgeon, but the children never see him perform those skills. And not only that, but the father does not make enough time at home to fix a toy or repair a chair or play a game of catch.
I suppose it’s best summed up for me in the words of a teenager who said to me, rather bitterly, that his father left for home each morning when he went to work. Our modern era has caused physical separation in the families and that leads, unless we are careful, to broken relationships. But let’s look at the experience of Jesus. Now, where do you think that Jesus ever got the idea that God is a Father; a Father who loves us and cares for us so much that He actually knows the number of hairs in our heads. Where do you think Jesus got that idea? I submit to you, that that idea was born out of a relationship with an earthly father, Joseph – who was so attentive to the needs of his family – so demonstrated his care and concern for the family that they knew that they meant the world to him. I’m suggesting to you that Joseph, the carpenter, structured his life in such a way as to ensure shared family experiences.
Now, I know you’re going to say to me, “That may be true, but after all, he was a carpenter in the old days and he probably worked in and out of his home.” I suspect that’s probably true. But my friends let’s remember something. Industrialization, while it has pulled us out of the home to work, has provided us as people with more leisure time than any people have ever known before in all of history. And what that simply means is this, that if our priorities are right – that’s the key – if our priorities are right, then we have the time to fulfill beautifully the vocation of parenthood. The question is our priorities. A minister, a man who has done great things in the kingdom of God said to me, blinking back the tears in his eyes as he said it, that his whole life was clouded by regret that he had permitted his work to rob him of the time and attention he should have given his children. Jesus never experienced anything like that. No, quite the contrary. Joseph, His father, structured his life in such a way as to ensure shared family experiences.
So here’s what I want you to take home with you: children need time with their parents. Time, that is what I would call, focused attention. They need to have full undivided attention. It isn’t the amount of time that’s important. Understand that; it’s how the time is spent. Just a few minutes of full undivided attention is worth more than I can possibly say. But it’s got to be focused attention. Just last Thursday evening, for example, my son, John David, and I were out playing a game of catch and one of my neighbors came by and stopped to talk. And we had a very lengthy, a very enjoyable visit. And all the while John David and I were throwing the ball back and forth, but I can’t count that as time spent with my son. No. Because he did not have my full undivided attention.
Parents, it’s difficult to do in our hyperactive society, but work to spend a little time each week giving your children full undivided attention. And children and young people, if you are having difficulty getting the time and attention of your parents, I want to make a suggestion to you. Sit down this week and write them a letter. I guarantee you, that will get a response. I’m serious. You see, I happen to believe that parents can have much in common with their children If we, as parents, are willing to work at it. To work at it, as hard as we work at the office or at the junior league. Joseph structured his life so that Jesus had that kind of loving, caring attention.
Now, the second factor creating problems in our families is the emotional separation we experience in families.
And I trace this to the psychology of Sigmund Freud. You will remember that Sigmund Freud set forth the theory that most mental and emotional problems stem from things that happen to people in their childhood and are then repressed down into the unconscious mind. Well, that’s all well and good, but it has a dangerous corollary. Because you see what has happened is that we have created a whole generation of excused oriented people; people who are quick to blame anyone and anything else, people who are quick to blame, especially their parents for their own difficulties.
I think perhaps the most painful counseling session I’ve ever had involved a young man and his father. The young man had been charged with drug possession. And the two of them sat in my office. The father sat there with tears streaming down his face as this young man proceeded to place the entire blame for his difficulties upon his father’s neglect. Now that father is not perfect. He’s made a lot of mistakes and I’m sure that’s true. But the plain truth of the matter was that young man’s problems were created by his own disenchantment with the discipline of school and by his desire to win the affection of a particular girl. And yet he had the gall to sit there and blame his father for his own problems.
At least two very prominent psychiatrists have parted from Sigmund Freud at this point. Dr. William Glasser says, “The story of an individual’s growth is not told by age six, or by age 10, or even by age 21. And therefore individuals have got to assume responsibility for their own actions.” And then Dr. Karl Menninger says, “If you say to a person that that person is not responsible for his or her sin or actions, then you can never be of any help to that person whatever.” I think that’s true. And what happens so many times in our families.
Think of the words that spring to the lips of those of us who are caught in the hassles at home, ‘what happened?’ ‘I’m not to blame,’ and, ‘that’s not my fault.’ ‘Everyone else was doing it, and so I went along.’ ‘If my parents would get off my back then things would be better.’ Excuse oriented attitudes only create deeper problems, but let’s look again at the experience of Jesus. I don’t know if you noticed or not in the story that I shared with you a moment ago from the Gospel of Luke, but I love that story. You remember Jesus. Twelve years old, He and His parents go to Jerusalem for a visit. And while He’s there, He becomes caught up in everything that’s going on there, especially at the temple. And His parents caught up in the busyness of preparation for leaving. They accidentally leave Jerusalem without their Son. Well, when at last they find Him, they’re understandably upset. And you can hear that in the words that His mother addresses to Him there in the temple. They’re upset, make no mistake about it.
And yet at that point, Jesus did not retreat into whining or blaming. He didn’t make any excuse. He didn’t blame His parents for going off and leaving Him. Not at all, He took full responsibility for His own actions. Whether it was wrong or right, that wasn’t the point, He would not see a scapegoat. He took full responsibility for His own actions. And that began when He was a child and it continued all the way through His whole life.
So here’s something else I want you to take home: families ought to have policies regarding the big things in family life. Policies governing things like religious expression and standards of conduct and curfews and the use of the automobile and money and alcohol and drugs and smoking and on and on; there are lists.There big things that need family policies, and those policies ought to be developed with a full understanding of all members of the family. That doesn’t mean they have to be decided upon by consensus. Let’s remember that parents are given responsibility for exercising reasonable authority, but those policies ought to have the full understanding of everyone who is a part of the family. But then there ought to be other policies which the children are free to decide for themselves.
Again, let me give you an example, at our house, as long as our children are living under our roof, on Sunday, they are going to go to Sunday school and to church. Every Sunday, no debate. That’s an absolute; it’s going to happen regardless. And they understand that and they understand the reason for it. But then, there are other matters of participation, other activities, about which they are perfectly free to determine their own participation. So parents, exercise reasonable – not dictatorial – reasonable authority. Be gentle in your firmness. Children and young people, obey your parents unless they ask you to violate a commandment of God. I think it’s worth noting that in the Gospel of Luke it says very specifically, Jesus was obedient to His parents.
Now, the third factor that creates hassles at home is the spiritual separation that occurs in families.
It’s our inability to deal with human imperfection; both our own and the imperfections of our children as well. You can see it so many times. And after all, in our society, we are living in a time when parents are encouraged to be always right. Parents are perfect. That’s what we’re taught. That’s what we’re encouraged to act like. That’s nonsense and you know it. All that does, is ultimately lead to disillusionment on the part of children because sooner or later, our clay feet are going to show through. I don’t think I’ll ever get over the tragic scene in the movie The Restless Ones, where the father is standing there tongue lashing his son for drinking while he, the father, is mixing himself a martini. To demand respect from our children that does not take into account our own imperfections will only lead to disillusionment. The word hypocrisy is a word very much on the lips of young people today and I think it’s there because of parents who have over demanded in terms of respect and then have allowed their clay feet to show through.
But let’s look at Jesus. I think the way Joseph treated Mary years before gives us a clue as to the measure of that man. You remember what happened, Mary was his fiancée and she was suddenly found to be with child. Joseph knew the child was not his, and the law in those days decreed death for such a woman. And yet Joseph, though his life appeared to be shattered at that moment, Joseph would not bring public shame and death to the woman he loved. And I think that that shows us that he was a man who had come to terms with human imperfection; both his own and the imperfections of others. And I believe, therefore, that Joseph was the kind of father – the kind of parent – who could admit his own mistakes and his own failings to his children, and then ask his children for their forgiveness.Young people and children growing up in this world of ours need to learn the healing power of forgiveness. And where else can they learn it except in the home with parents who have the courage to admit their own mistakes and to seek the forgiveness of their children? I think that’s the experience that Jesus had growing up. And I think that’s why Jesus, very last thing on the Cross, put such great power into the word forgive.
So here’s one thing more to take home with you; one of the greatest needs and one of the greatest expressed desires among young people today is for strong, moral, and ethical standards by which to guide their lives. Parents, share with your children the stories of the Bible. Everybody loves a great story, and the Bible is absolutely full of great stories. Share those stories with your children; read them, tell them, talk about them, discuss them, share the message that’s being communicated there. It’s never too early and it’s never too late to start. But not only that, share your faith in Jesus Christ with your children. Tell them how much God has done for you, how much God loves you, and how you experienced it. How much Jesus Christ is a part of your life, how you look to Him for guidance, how you trust Him to lead you, how you turn to Him in time of need. Share your faith in Jesus Christ with your children. Young people and children, seriously commit your life and your way to Jesus Christ. That’s the first place to start in building moral, ethical strength into your living and discovering the source of an abiding joy.
But not only that, turn to your parents. They’ve experienced some of the same insecurities and frustrations and difficulties that you’re encountering now; pose your questions to them. Don’t be afraid to do that. Talk to them and don’t ever stop talking to them. Give them your questions, your concerns. If you do, I promise you, you’re going to be pleasantly surprised at the powerful answers you receive.
Well, we’ve taken a look at the life of Jesus and I’ve delivered to you some things to take home. The question’s there: how do we handle hassles at home? I submit to you that we begin by taking a long, hard look at the way a carpenter named Joseph and a boy named Jesus grew up together in a little out of the way place called Nazareth. You see parents and children, regardless of age or circumstance, can live together in love, joy, peace, harmony and happiness. It can be done. Jesus and Joseph show us how. Now the question is, are we willing to learn from them? Let us pray.
Dear and most gracious heavenly Father, let us look to Jesus Christ and learn from Him that our homes may become havens of love and joy and peace and wholeness through Jesus Christ. Amen.