The Intentional Family

The 1950’s left much to be desired; from poodle skirts and pearls, to rolled pants and perfectly coifed hair. All seemed innocent in the world as Mom served the nightly meal, while Dad relaxed with a paper and pipe.
Some 60 years later, most families infrequently gather around the nightly table, unless a major holiday schedules the event for us. Time flies as overlapping appointments fill the American calendar, but something darker has occurred over the last half-decade other than overbooked agendas. A mysterious evil increasingly corrupts our lives and is trickling down to our children.

Focus on the Family founder and chairman, Dr. Dobson, stated the biggest obstacle facing the family today is, “over-commitment; time pressure. There is nothing that will destroy family life more insidiously than hectic schedules and busy lives, where spouses are too exhausted to communicate, too worn out to have sex, too fatigued to talk to the kids. That frantic lifestyle is just as destructive as one involving outbroken sin. If Satan can’t make you sin, he’ll make you busy, and that’s just about the same thing.”

Dobson challenged parents further by explaining, “Children are not casual guests in our home. They have been loaned to us temporarily for the purpose of loving them and instilling a foundation of values on which their future lives will be built.”

The salvation of this next generation depends on parents raising up strong disciples. This may explain why they are the enemy’s target of choice. In order to get to our loved ones, though, Satan must break through the first line of defense: parents.

Let’s look at five steps to creating the intentional family.

1. Surrender to God
The Apostle Paul tells us that in our flesh dwells no good thing (Romans 7:18). The only way to tap into God’s righteousness is through time alone with Him. Such a simple task, yet this important act gets pushed further down the schedule as life hits us with the sound of the alarm. Five minutes of Christ in the morning invites the Holy Spirit to linger in our hearts and on our minds.

Another good reason to seek Him first? If we desire our children to be Bible lovers, then we as parents need to love the Bible ourselves. God says when we pray or read the Word or whatever we do in secret will be rewarded openly (Matthew 6:6). With this small sacrifice of time comes a reward of passing down a spiritual inheritance to our sons and daughters. They see; when they peek their heads around the corner, they catch us enjoying time with the Father. And one day, that habit may be passed along generationally.

2. Be one in Spirit
Children can sniff out an argument a mile away. They can also sense when parents are living in harmony. “Your marriage moves toward a state of isolation,” said Dennis Rainey, co-host of Family Life Today. “Unless you lovingly and energetically nurture your marriage, you will begin to drift away from your mate.” Studies show children feel more secure when all is well between Mom and Dad; when we interact, laugh and choose to spend time with one another.

Too often, though, we succumb to the challenges of life. Dr. Rob Reinow, founder of Visionary Ministries theorized, “As the man goes, so goes the marriage. As the marriage goes, so goes the family. As the family goes, so goes the local church. As the local church goes, so goes the nation and the Great Commission. So if you’re Satan and you want nations and you want (to hinder) the Great Commission, (you) want churches, where do you target your firepower? On men and on marriages. You break those foundations; you get all the rest of the stuff thrown in.”

With the adversary poised, tracking his targets, it is critical that parents are unified in spirit, grounded in the Word and protecting the one thing God desires: godly offspring (Malachi 2:15).

3. Prep Them for Eternity
New York Times bestselling author and one of America’s most influential spiritual leaders, Dr. Rick Warren wrote in The Purpose Driven Life, “Living to create an earthly legacy is a short-sighted goal. A wiser use of time is to build an eternal legacy. You weren’t put on earth to be remembered. You were put here to prepare for eternity.”

When parents hear the words “family devotions”, sometimes a sinking feeling churns in our stomachs assuming we must prepare an intriguing three point mini-sermon, complete with flannel graphs for visual effect. Nothing is further from the truth. Family devotions simply involve reading one or two Bible verses, or walking through a devotional together, like The Purpose Driven Life, or for younger children, Missionary Stories with the Millers by Mildred E. Martin. One thing is for sure, when we read the Word it becomes living and active and exciting – especially when the kids’ eyes widen with understanding.

God loves when we instruct our children. In fact, He commands us to “teach our children so the next generation would know, and all the generations to come – know the truth and tell the stories so their children can trust God,” (Psalm 78:5b-7 The Message Bible).

4. Eat together
“The statistics are clear: Kids who dine with the folks are healthier, happier and better students, which is why a dying tradition is coming back,” wrote Michael Elins in “The Magic of the Family Meal” for Time in 2006. “…there is something about a shared meal,” Elins stated, “that anchors a family even on nights when the food is fast and the talk cheap and everyone has someplace else they’d rather be. And on those evenings when the mood is right and the family lingers, caught up in an idea or an argument explored in a shared safe place where no one is stupid or shy or ashamed, you get a glimpse of the power of this habit and why social scientists say such communion acts as a kind of vaccine, protecting kids from all manner of harm.”

Eat together. It is good for the soul, produces happier children and strengthens family togetherness.

5. Play together
Families that play together, stay together.

Incorporate a family game night once a week where everything that flickers is turned off (TV, iPod, cell phone). Allow the kids to pick the board game, art project or cooking event, then sit back and let them orchestrate the schedule. Even if toddlers rule the house, this is the perfect time to assemble a puzzle, read or reread their favorite tale. Start the tradition early and see how it carries on throughout the teen years.

In the book, Family Traditions: Practical, Intentional Ways to Strengthen Your Family Identity, authors J. Otis Ledbetter and Tim Smith wrote, “When a child feels connected to her parents, she sees herself as competent, capable, and supported.” Even if the teen huffs about this new activity, keep trying to engage them.

And for the single parent, don’t fret. Those hours you invest in your children won’t go unrecognized. The truth of the matter is children feel more connected to the ones who make time for them. Let them choose you, not that overly-curious Facebook follower who is giving them the attention they desperately crave.

In the same vein of playing together, vacation together. Something happens when parents and children get away from their environment. The obligations of life diminish. Even if this means camping in the backyard, find time to escape. During these special outings, we often discover what is written on the fabric of their hearts. Every input, whether positive or negative, shapes our kids’ thinking. Being available, undistracted and intentional fosters a sense of belonging and cements the family foundation.

The Final Audit
Dr. Warren shared a chilling reminder: “One day you will stand before God, and He will do an audit of your life, a final exam, before you enter eternity. The Bible says, ‘Remember, each of us will stand personally before the judgment seat of God…. Yes, each will have to give a personal account to God (2 Corinthians 5:10).'”

What account of our parenting will God question? If we seek first the kingdom above all else, and live righteously, He will guide our hearts and minds to raise His kids. He’ll give us everything we need through our indwelling helper, the Holy Spirit. Most importantly, God will supply His grace and insight to navigate us through those rough patches we didn’t see coming.

Inasmuch as we diligently strive for things of this world, changing our priorities redirects our intentions to the ones seeking guidance. Money, success, hobbies; whatever the time-stealer is, it will come and go. But producing Christ-followers will leave that eternal legacy God desires.

Parents – whether single mom, stepdad, or foster caretaker – if we only get one thing right in this life, let it be that we raised our children with a kingdom-purpose.

Dabney Hedegard, mother of four, has been married seventeen years. She can be reached at [email protected]

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