The sheriff’s department in a large city once distributed a list of rules titled “How to Raise a Juvenile Delinquent in Your Own Family.” The rules were: (1) Begin at infancy to give the child everything he wants; this will teach him that the world owes him a living; (2) Pick up everything he leaves lying around; this will teach him that he can always shift responsibility to others; (3) Always take his side against neighbors, teachers, and police officers. These people are prejudiced against your child; they don’t understand that he is a “free spirit” and is never wrong; (4) Don’t tell him about God or teach him or pray or go to church, and do not impose your moral values on him; respect his freedom to choose or reject religion and morality on his own; (5) Finally, prepare yourself for a life of grief—for you’re [surely] going to have it. (James Hewett, Illustrations Unlimited, p. 194).
These facetious or deliberately bad rules contain much wisdom, for parents play a decisive role in determining the direction of their children’s lives. Moreover, the interactions and experiences of daily life within our families are a vitally important factor in whether or not, and to what extent, we respond to God’s grace. Parents, children, siblings, grandparents, in-laws, and other relatives have a great deal of influence upon one another, and it’s our responsibility to help make sure this influence is a positive one. God, as our Heavenly Father, seeks to draw us into an ever-deeper membership in His family—and as part of this plan, He wants our homes to be “training grounds” for Heaven.
As the Gospel of Luke (2:22-40) shows, Mary and Joseph were very concerned to follow the Law of the Lord; they presented the child Jesus at the Temple in Jerusalem eight days after His birth, following the Jewish custom. When two complete strangers, first the elderly Jewish temple priest Simeon, and then the widowed prophetess Anna, came up to them and blessed their Son, Joseph and Mary were amazed, but they did not become jealous, suspicious, or angry—for it was their habit to look for the Lord’s presence or activity in every person or event they encountered. Jesus was raised in this atmosphere of openness and trust; the life of the Holy Family in Nazareth was truly one of peace and self-giving. Therefore, it’s no surprise that the greatest person Who ever lived was raised by the two most wonderful parents the world has ever known. Our lives and our callings are considerably different from those of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, but one important truth from their lives also applies to us: the more God is welcomed into our homes, the more deeply we will be blessed, and the more we will be able to help make the world a better place.
A sociological study was once conducted about two men who lived in New York State some 200 years ago: Max Jukes and Jonathan Edwards. Max Jukes was an unbeliever with low moral standards, and he married a woman like himself. They gave their children no religious upbringing, and refused to take them to church, even when they begged to go. They eventually had some 1200 known descendants, almost all of whom wasted their lives through alcoholism, vagrancy, dissolute living, delinquency, and crime, in the process costing the state of New York almost $1.5 million—a huge amount of money back then. In contrast, Jonathan Edward—a godly man with strong moral principles—married a woman like himself, and they raised their children in an atmosphere of faith and personal responsibility. They had over 900 known descendants, including 300 clergymen, missionaries, and theological professors; more than 100 college professors, 100 attorneys, 60 physicians, 60 authors, 14 university presidents, three congressmen, and one vice-president of the United States—while not costing the state of New York a single dollar (Hewett, p. 195; Charles W. Swindoll, Swindoll’s Ultimate Book of Illustrations & Quotes, p. 198).
Families are hugely influential on their members and their descendants—and the Lord wants us to make sure this influence is a positive one. In this regard, someone once described a family as a garden, and wrote the following reflection:
A family, like a garden, needs . . . time, attention, and cultivation; the sunshine of laughter and affirmation; the rains of difficulties, tense moments of anxieties and serious discussions on important matters; areas of hardness to be turned over, such as bitterness, envy, anger, and unforgiven hurts.
In this family garden, plan to plant seventeen rows: 5 rows of P’s: Perseverance, Politeness, Praise, Peacemaking, and Prayer; 4 rows of “let us”: let us be faithful in word and deed, let us be unselfish with our resources, let us be loyal, and let us love one another; 3 rows of squash: squash gossip, squash criticism, squash indifference; and 5 rows of “turn ups”: turn up on time for school plays, scout meetings, and baseball games; turn up for family gatherings, turn up with a better attitude; turn up with new ideas and the determination to carry them out; and turn up with a smile (Brian Cavanagh, Sower’s Seeds Aplenty, p. 16).
This plan for a “family garden” is practical and effective, and it gives God plenty of room to work within our homes, allowing Him to plant seeds of love, peace, and joy, thereby making possible a rich harvest of satisfaction and blessings. The Feast of the Holy Family is not only a celebration of what Jesus, Mary, and Joseph shared and achieved, but also a challenge and invitation to us and to our families. Our homes can be a reminder of God’s presence in the world and a place of preparation for Heaven—and in this way they will become a source of blessing for ourselves and for others.