Family Identities are Kingdom Tools!
The Good News, The Bad News, and The God News
Family: the basic unit in society traditionally consisting of two parents rearing their children; a group of individuals living under one roof and usually under one head; a group of persons of common ancestry; a group of things related by common characteristics.
Although technically, Merriam-Webster gets the general idea of what a family is and isn’t, we know a family is So.Much.More! A family goes beyond ancestry and common characteristics. For me, the word family connotes silly jokes, unique pet names, shared memories, and a myriad of “we never” and “we always.” Our families shape who we are, what we believe, and how we live. Good or bad, our family identity will influence us for our entire lives.
If our family identity is so instrumental in developing who we are, it’s essential to make sure that family identity is positive and God-honoring. Just because we have a family identity doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a good family identity. Family identities run the gamut. Because of that, when it comes to family identities, there’s Good News, Bad News, and most importantly, God News.
The Good News
Family identities, done well, provide the safety and security that our children need. Family identities are developed through repeated actions and activities that build strong memories and safe boundaries for our children. The traditions we create (even at times, unintentionally) provide the framework for our children’s lives. When they can count on their family to “always” do the same things, go the same places, and have the same standards, they won’t fear trying new things. The security of their family identity will make them brave.
Because our family identity helps build security, the home becomes a safe place for all family members to explore their gifts and develop new talents. When we’re confident that our family has got our back, we can become adventurers in life, knowing that we have a safe place to land when the adventure is over. When a family identity works well, it provides the encouragement we need to step out and the open arms we need to return home.
For young adults, a positive family identity is like invisible cords of love. When our kids are finding their independence and beginning to make their own choices, the strong bonds of a positive family identity will draw them back and hold them close when they are tempted to stray. Their family identity will remind them that they can always come home and find love, acceptance, and, when needed, forgiveness.
The Bad News
Sadly, not all family identities are good family identities. When a family identity becomes the most important thing in a family’s life, elevating itself above God’s plan for individual members of the family, that identity becomes detrimental and damaging rather than encouraging and uplifting. Family identities that require conformity and uniformity with the family over responsibility and growth of the individual family members are dangerous.
While a positive family identity will help each family member develop their individual gifts, a poorly constructed family identity will try to make each family member fit the “family mold.” Sometimes this means that everyone in the family must dress the same. Sometimes it means that the family must go everywhere and do everything only in the family group. It means separating from other families simply because they don’t look like us or act like us.
Instead of each family member seeking God and developing their own relationship with Christ, these over-controlled family identities will stifle their children’s individual walk with the Lord and push them to “look the part” without a genuinely changed heart. Fear of disappointing their parents and marring the family image will keep these children and young adults from trying new things and developing their gifts and talents. Instead of knowing that home and family are safe places, they will fear the retribution that comes from straying outside the family mold. When they doubt that they will receive love, acceptance, and forgiveness at home, they will seek to fill those emotional needs elsewhere.
The God News
God placed all of us in families. Our families belong to Him. Family identities are simply an extension of our relationship with Christ. Like everything else in our lives, our family identity is meant to bring honor and glory to our God. A Christ-focused family identity can become a powerful tool to show a lost and dying world what it means to be part of the family of God.
Knowing that our family identities are meant to glorify God will help us to be intentional in their formation. Instead of making sure that all family members look like each other, we’ll be intent on helping them look more like Jesus. The security of a Christ-centered family identity will give our kids the strong foundation they need to develop their own relationship with the Lord–it will strengthen them to be bold in their faith and fearless in their service to Him.
A positive family identity shows the world what it looks like to use our differences to grow closer to one another while embracing one another’s unique personalities and gifts. A negative family identity only shows the world what it means to isolate and cut off anyone who doesn’t fit the mold. While a positive family identity is others-oriented and inclusive, an “our family first and foremost” identity is self-focused and exclusive.
It can be terrifying when family members branch out and try new things. It may (will) sometimes cause anxiety in our parent-hearts. It’s easy to think that when our kids make choices or pursue avenues different from ours, they are making a statement about our parenting. It’s easy to become fearful as they seem to be pushing boundaries or stepping over the line into areas different from what they’ve been taught.
Those feelings are normal! Don’t panic. Take a deep breath, pray for your kids, and trust that your strong family identity will bear fruit. Be prepared to love them when they come through your door. Continue to speak truth into their lives. Celebrate the new things they’re learning and the new ways they are finding to serve the Lord. Remember, our goal isn’t that our children look like us. Our goal must always be that they look like Jesus. Quite frankly, I hope my children’s walk with the Lord is better than mine was at their age. I don’t want them to make the missteps I made as a young believer!
A family identity cannot and will not provide salvation for our children. However, it will provide the safe foundation they need to pursue Jesus in their own way and on their own timetable. Knowing that their family is cheering them on as they seek to become all God has for them will give them the courage to try new things and bravely take their place in this world. And knowing there is a safe place to land when this world is complicated, and loving hearts and arms to embrace them when things don’t go as planned will free them to embrace becoming exactly who God wants them to be.
Family identity: A tool for God’s glory and a blessing to be embraced as God’s gift to His children.