7 Practices for Healthy Families

Cary Schmidt

Brokenness is standard fare for families in today’s culture. Many homes are literally broken apart, while many others are broken from within. In fact, brokenness has become the norm. In today’s American family, strife, contention, anger, and resentment are quite common. Weak marriages, frustrated parents, sin-ravaged home environments, argumentative teens, neglected children—this is the stuff of family life in 2010. Sad. The fact that Christian homes also fall into this category is even sadder.

Brokenness is certainly not what God intended. Perhaps this article finds your family in the midst of brokenness—your home life has been reduced to contention. Nobody likes this—not parents, not kids. And everybody knows this isn’t how it’s supposed to be—especially for Christians. So what’s the solution?

The difference between a contentious family and a happy one is not as elusive as you might think. It’s not fate or luck. It’s not that one family just happens to get along and another doesn’t. All families face the same potential for contention and conflict. Successful ones just handle it differently—biblically.

Your family probably doesn’t need a complete rebuild, months of counseling, or psychotherapy. There is hope. The difference between happy families and fractured families is smaller than you think—simple values and practices that any family can learn.

I would liken these practices to atomic bombs—small packages, big results! Why? Because God honors them. These are the things that move God to work in family life. So, suppose you’re in over your head with family contention. Suppose we were sitting at a coffee shop with a Bible. These are the “prescriptions” God would give you to heal what is broken in your home.

STEP ONE: Ask for the Filling of God’s Holy Spirit

If you are in over your head, welcome to the club! That’s why we all need God’s supernatural help to overcome our natural tendencies. Ephesians 5:9 teaches that the fruit of the Spirit “is in all goodness and righteousness and truth.” Only God’s Spirit can bring together the different personalities in your home to dwell together in peace and unity.

STEP TWO: Pray Together Consistently

Pray as a couple, pray with your kids, pray as a whole family. Pray on the way to school, before bed, and just randomly during the day. God will accomplish more in three minutes of prayer than you will accomplish in three hours of arguing or three days of resentment. Every night before bed, take a quiet moment with each child, kneel by their bed, focus on them, and pray a short prayer of love, protection, and gratitude over them. Let them pray too, if they will. If not, just pray out loud. I promise, your relationship will change. James 5:16 teaches, “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much,” and 1 Thessalonians 5:17 says, “Pray without ceasing.”

STEP THREE: Resolve Conflict Immediately

Contentious families have mounds and mounds of built up hurt that has never been resolved. When arguments fly, tempers flare, and anger rages, the mess is left like a truckload of trash dumped on the living room floor. It rots. It stinks. It keeps hurting our hearts. And future flare-ups are made more frequent and more intense because of the pile of past hurt still lying around.

Conflict isn’t absent from happy homes; it’s just resolved. Healthy families pick up the mess when an explosion has occurred. Parents apologize to kids. Kids apologize to parents. Spouses apologize to each other. And prayer together puts every heart back on the stable ground of relational sanity. Whatever you do, don’t let conflict go unresolved. Colossians 3:13 teaches us to forebear and forgive one another, and Romans 12:18 admonishes us to “…live peaceably with all men.” A good start to resolving conflict would be to approach a family member and sincerely ask, “How have I hurt you?” Listen. Don’t defend yourself. Eat humble pie and make it right.

STEP FOUR: Play Together Abundantly

Contentious families have usually stopped having fun together a long time ago. Kids who grow up loving God will nearly always tell you of someone (usually parents) who helped them see and experience the joy of being a Christian. Are you making life enjoyable for your family, or do they go elsewhere to find enjoyment? What light does that cast on your faith, your relationship with God, and your values?

When was the last time you planned a great time for your family? Healthy families balance rules with relationships, and they never get over the fun of just being a family. Isaiah 61:10 says, “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul will be joyful in God.” It’s hard to do that if you’re always grumpy. And grumpy people repel kids.

STEP FIVE: Grow and Serve Together Continually

Local church is huge for healthy family life. Contentious families generally treat church with a casual, half-heartedness. It’s easily tossed aside for a Sunday night movie, a birthday, or a ball game. While church isn’t an immediate “fix-all” for every family problem, it is a vital part of the healthy family. When every family member is growing in Christ, and every family member is involved in serving the Lord, family life is dramatically impacted for the better.

This is not only God’s design, it’s His command. Ephesians 4:16 teaches that we, as a local church body, are “fitly joined together…unto the edifying of itself in love.” Casually commit to that process—prepare for ongoing weakness in your family. Fully commit to that process—prepare for a stronger home.

STEP SIX: Respond to God’s Spirit Instantly

Sometimes we call it “intuition”—that still, small voice clueing us in on a need. God does this all the time with parents, but His promptings are often drowned out by distractions or rationalization. In contentious families, parents don’t hear or respond to God’s prompting.

God will prompt you to take your daughter out for a talk, invest a morning into your son, or write your wife a love note. He will prompt you to get counsel from a pastor, check your son’s iPod, or place your arm around your girl and give a firm word of affirmation. He will remind you of little things, warn you of danger, and lead you to take right steps. We don’t need to rationalize away His promptings. We won’t usually understand why He is prompting us a certain direction. When it comes to God’s promptings, just obey. And make that your explanation, too, if the prompting doesn’t line up with your kid’s expectations: “I’m just obeying what God has put on my heart.” Galatians 5:25 teaches us to “walk in the Spirit...”

STEP SEVEN: Nurture the Heart Faithfully

Many kids only hear their parents on two channels. Channel #1 is “I want you to do something.” (Mow the lawn, pick up your room, do your homework, quiet down, get ready for bed…. You get the picture.) Channel #2 is “You did something wrong.” (Get in here, stop that, I can’t believe you, what were you thinking, you’re grounded, etc.) And often both channels have one tone—harsh. Some Christian parents even scorn, ridicule, and curse at their children. This is unthinkable and devastating to a young heart.

Do your kids ever hear you on other channels? What about kind? Uplifting? Gentle? Spiritual? Loving? Do they know when they are doing a good job? Do they sense how proud you are of them? Do they know you take great pleasure in just being their parent? There’s something deeply inspiring and motivating about this kind of nurture. If you yell at me, I will do better temporarily because I don’t want to upset you. (In fact, I may avoid you.) But if you nurture me, I will do better because you inspired me through love and acceptance to be a better child of God. Now that’s healthy parenting! Proverbs 25:11 says, “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver.”

Some years ago I was out on a Thursday preparing to purchase a car. I really hate shopping for cars, but on this day, I felt the Lord was leading me to do so. That day shattered all of my normal car-shopping practices in every way. Through a series of divine circumstances, I was paired up with a kind car salesman named Jason, in his mid-fifties, who began to show me around the lot. Less than three minutes into our time together, Jason began to pour out his heart for his teen daughter and their broken relationship.

Jason was saved but neglectful of his daughter and family. And several years of brokenness were leading to a very dangerous path in her life. For the next eight hours (yes, you read that right), I had the privilege of becoming a spiritual mentor to Jason regarding his family, and especially his daughter. We prayed together. We studied Scripture together. We counseled. We talked about biblical priorities, family time, honoring God, and the needs of teens. His heart soaked up every word and every principle like fresh water falling in a parched desert.

Morning turned to afternoon which turned to evening. By the time I left the car lot, Jason had made some critical decisions. He decided to work less, give his daughter more time, apologize for how he had hurt her, and honor the Lord in his family life. In particular, he decided to turn away his sales appointments that Saturday to spend the entire day with his daughter. As I left the lot, he hugged my neck, wept, and said, “Thank you! God sent you to me today.”

It was Easter weekend, and Jason had told me he would come to church Sunday night for our musical. On Saturday, he called a co-worker and told her that his daughter had accepted his apology and that they had hugged for the first time in several years. He shared how their relationship had been restored on their special day together. Sure beats selling cars.

Sunday came and went, and I didn’t see Jason. On Monday morning, a friend from the dealership (Jason’s boss) called me with sobering news. Jason had gone to Heaven Sunday night after having a massive heart attack. We were both speechless on the phone. The realization hit me. I had spent Thursday, by Divine providence, helping a man choose to restore his relationship with his daughter during his last days on earth. The weight of the moment reminded me how critical our family relationships really are and how little time we actually have together.

If God has given you a family, and your heart is still beating—then you have a great gift. Don’t waste another day in the mire of contention and family strife. Refuse to give Satan such victory, for you never know when you might be facing your final opportunity to cherish and love those who are so precious in your life.

Remember, these seven practices are atomic bombs—small packages, big results! God’s Word promises that these things make a difference in family life. The question is, will you take the prescription so God can heal the brokenness? May God bless you as you seek to build whole and healthy relationships in your Christian family.