Why Aren't Families Close Anymore?
By Paul Robison

With thanks to Harod Hazelip and Carl Mitchell

Have you ever gone back to a familiar landmark of your youth, only to discover that it is much smaller than you had remembered it?” (Hazelip).  In much the same way, we may have such a misunderstanding about families of the past.  “Our nostalgic picture of the family is probably similar to what we have seen enacted on 'The Waltons or in other stories that take us back to a simpler time when the [whole] family lived together, worked side by side, and shared holidays under one roof” (Hazelip).  But this picture in our memory may be “smaller than life” too.  For example, many farms were really not big enough to support an extended family, complete with grandparents, uncles and aunts, and cousins.  Another false idea is that families always lived together.  Some did, but many a young couples headed west, and they were separated from their roots with little or very slow communication.  It seems that marriage and romance were not often seen as being complimentary; men didn't say “I love you” too often, and women were often evaluated on their work capacity rather than their romantic charms.  But if there's one thing that we still admire about those past marriages, it was those couples’ staying power.  Their motives may not have been the most noble, but a couple usually meant “until death do us part” when they said their vows.  Divorce statistics began to be kept in about 1870, and at that date the divorce rate was a little over 2.5 percent.  The rate kept climbing, and at 1950, it was 20% (http://www.christianparty.net/divorce-world.htm).  Our ancestors were serious when they said their vows, and somehow they stuck it out.  But today, it seems that marital relationships are so fragile.  Our divorce rate is about 60%, and no decrease is in sight.  In this situation, preachers are often asked: “Why Aren't Families Close Anymore?”  Certainly, the answer to that question entails many factors, too many for this sermon.  But let's look this morning at five factors that have pulled us apart, and then let's consider five factors which can help to foster togetherness.

The five factors that pull families apart are: mobility, economy, personal fantasy, media fantasy, and judicial facility.  Two gospel preachers have written about four of these factors.  First of all, our great mobility often pulls families apart. “One writer has described the modern American family as 'democratic, lonely, and mobile. One family in five moves its residence across county lines each year. [Think of all the businesses associated with moving; there are moving companies like Mayflower and Allied Van Lines, and there are do-it-yourself companies like Ryder and U-Hall.]  The primary family [can easily become] isolated from grandparents and other relatives” (Hazelip). “[Relatives] would come quickly to help each other in times of trouble [when families were closer together. ... [But] distant as [primary families] are from their [relatives], they often face their domestic problems alone, and their [relatives] may learn of their struggles [only after it is too late]” (Mitchell).  Our great mobility often pulls families apart. 

Another factor that plays a great role in pulling families apart is our economy. “There was a time when home was the workplace for the entire family, [but that situation today is very rare]” (Hazelip). “Especially in [America] as work opportunities shifted from [agricultural markets] to high tech [industries], ... young people [would] marry, and then for economic reasons, many [would] move away from their places of birth, with some of them even migrating to other countries” (Mitchell).  The economy also pulls upon us in another way.  “In many families today, both husband and wife [have to work] and keep a [loaded] schedule outside the home. There never seems to be adequate time to discuss important concerns of marriage and [to listen carefully to children]” (Hazelip). Families often catch themselves having to break conversations because of other pressing matters on each one's agenda.  As our calendars [and planners] increasingly govern us, we drift apart” (Hazelip).  “... when both parents work, they [both usually have to struggle] harder at keeping the proper balance, and ... at keeping their children at the top of their list” (Faulkner).  A great factor in pulling families apart is our economy. 

Another factor that pulls families apart is personal fantasy.  “And they lived happily ever after.”  Because we get so little training and instruction on marriage, we develop many unrealistic expectations about marriage and place unrealistic demands upon it.  “When we expect perfection, [economic prosperity, continual bliss with no potholes on the road], we are bound to be disappointed. ... What we [often] expect in marriage is complete “fulfillment” [with unbounded happiness and little sacrifice on our part—this was probably] something our grandparents never even thought about. [In reality], no relationship can offer complete happiness all the time” (Hazelip). 

Another factor that pulls families apart is media fantasy. “Unfortunately, the entertainment media has spread abroad an untrue understanding of the nature of love.  According to the Bible, love is the glue which holds marriages together (Eph. 5:25).  The Bible defines love as a decision leading to a commitment to invest oneself in what is best for the other person.  The media depiction of love, however, is very different.  Whether it be movies, television, novels, or magazines, love is depicted as a warm, sensual, [bewitching] feeling into which suddenly one falls, and over which one has little or no control [there's even the auditory violins in background to underscore when it has happened].  The claim is made that the people in love are drawn magically together, much as a magnet draws a piece of metal to itself, [and after they are drawn together, entrancement, passion, and hormones kick in]. These same sources, however, teach that when the overpowering attraction is no longer there, love has gone, and there is no reason to stay together [so it is time to move on to the next fling].  Such love without commitment is more accurately called infatuation. Infatuation, however, is fickle, and to build a relationship on it is like building your house on a foundation of sand. True love is a decision, a commitment, and an unselfish loyalty that endures, whatever the circumstance life may bring to the couple.  Media fantasy pulls families apart.  

The last factor is judicial facility.  “Divorce is such a convenient escape hatch that it seems to offer an easy answer—we may be ready to walk away when all our needs are not met.  Consciously or unconsciously, we have transformed the marriage vows from 'as long as we both shall live' to 'as long as we both shall love'.  And this is further facilitated by our quick court system and easy divorce laws. One website noted: “[The divorce] rates saw a spike around the advent of 'no-fault divorce' laws.  Divorce ... prior to 1983 was only possible through a long legal process in which one spouse had to prove the fault (usually, adultery) of the other to a court of law. This long process, combined with social and economic pressures ... kept divorce rates low.  No-fault divorce made it easier for couples to split.  Spouses did not have to prove any wrong-doing, they simply had to say that they wanted out, possibly wrangle over possessions and child custody, and the state government would consider the marriage over” (https://resourcesforhistory-teachers.wikispaces.com/page/code/USII.30).  According to the American Law and Economics Review of 2000, “women currently file slightly more than two-thirds of the divorce cases in the U.S., and that figure jumps to 90% among college-educated couples” (Brinig, Margaret; Douglas W. Allen [2000]. "These Boots Are Made for Walking: Why Most Divorce Filers are Women". American Law and Economics Review 2 (1): 126–129).  Did you know that there's a website with this claim: “Do-it-yourself Divorce Form: Your Divorce Documents Ready for Filing in 1 Hour.  Your Completed Documents, Filing Instructions and Full Editing Capabilities Without the Wait!  Make Unlimited Changes to Your Documents When You Need Them.  Total cost is only $299 (Or 2 payments of $157).  This is a state-specific on-line divorce service which includes 'Real Person' Customer Support by Phone and E-mail” (Divorcemag.com). Isn't it amazing how judicial facility can so easily pull us apart? 

Having looked at negative, now let's turn our attention towards the positive.  What are some factors that can help foster closeness? Let's look at the family of John the Baptizer as a model where we find five factors for closeness: priority, fidelity, unity, stability, and identity.  In Luke 1:13, we read: “But the angel said to Zacharias, for your prayer is heard; and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will call his name John.”  The first factor that can foster closeness is giving our family the priority.  It looks like Zacharias and Elizabeth had been praying for child for many years. They wanted to know the joys of having offspring and raising them in service to God, and they had basically lost all hope that this would ever happen.  God had other ideas, however, and decided to bless this aged couple, just as He had blessed Abraham and Sarah.  A Christian psychologist and his wife once interviewed 30 successful families to try and discover the secrets of their success.  One of the first secrets they discovered was how many of these families gave their families the priority and were intentional on being good parents.  He wrote: “One of the first things we heard from these families was that they parented on purpose—they were intentional. Intentional is the opposite of haphazard.  Intentionality means knowing what you want and aiming precisely to get it with all diligence. ... Many of them told us that BEFORE they were married, they had developed plans and goals concerning what kind of family they wanted to have. ... Before they had children, they had given thought to the goals they had for those children's lives. ... These families had a missions plan EARLY. ... Great things happen intentionally, and not by accident or luck” (Faulkner).  When both parents had to work, they had to struggle even harder to give their family the priority over their careers; they had to come up with new approaches, develop creative initiatives, and plan more carefully so that their children could see that their love for them surpassed their concerns for their jobs (Faulkner).  “Immediately after Paul wrote the Ephesians about husbands and wives, he also gave a reminder about our responsibility towards our children: 'And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord.'  When Paul wrote those words, he could picture the churches, which often met in homes, with fathers bring their children with them to worship. He could also imagine fathers at home passing on the faith to their children and indicating what was really important in life.  Fathers in biblical times did not turn over the religious instruction of their children exclusively to the church; education was a task for fathers. We can learn from Paul's words today.  Parents who want to be sure their families remain close together can begin by going to church with their children.  Our extended families—grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins—may not be nearby to support us, but the church can be a remarkable extended family, and we can find it wherever we move” (Hazelip).  Let's be intentional and instructional by giving our families the priority over other matters. 

The next factor that can foster closeness is fidelity.  Now let's read Luke 1:24:25: “Now after those days, his wife Elizabeth conceived; and she hid herself five months, saying, 'Thus the Lord has dealt with me, to take away my reproach among people.'” Although Elizabeth had been barren many years, Zacharias remained faithful to her.  He continued to be loyal to his vows, and we see that God blessed him.  “Scripture nowhere teaches that two people should come to marriage like consumers, demanding that [all] their needs be met.  Biblical marriage is never held together by the fragile bonds of [infatuation]. ... In Ephesians 5:21-33, Paul addressed both husbands and wives about their obligations in marriage.  Wives are told to practice submission to their husbands, just as ancient wives were submissive to their husbands (vv. 22-24).  Then husbands were counseled: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church, and gave Himself for her.”  Neither husband nor wife [should] come to marriage assuming that the relationship exits only to serve his or her needs.  From the story of Jesus Christ, we learn of a love that meets the needs of another. ... If we look upon marriage as Jesus looked upon His sacrifice for others, we can evaluate our personal ambitions ... for the sake of a marital partner and family.  The late hours at the office and the days of travel may well be worth sacrificing in favor of [our family] relationships. ... We may think we are giving love when we provide our families with the things our advancement buys—expensive vacations, nice homes, and other symbols of affluence, [but] sociological studies continue to remind us that love must be made concrete in deeds.  Your spouse and children need the gifts of your time, [your deeds, and your presence]” (Hazelip).  Fidelity is another factor that can foster closeness. 

The next factor that can foster closeness is unity.  Let's read verses 60-64: “His mother answered and said, 'No; he shall be called John.' But they said to her, 'There is no one among your relatives who is called by this name.' So they made signs to his father—what he would have him called.  And he asked for a writing tablet, and wrote, saying, 'His name is John.'  So they all marveled. Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke, praising God.”  Somehow, even while he was mute, Zacharias had communicated to Elizabeth that the angel had said that their son would be named John.  This little incident shows us that Zacharias and Elizabeth kept the communication lines open, and they stood united with each other.  One preacher made this good observation: “Without a doubt, the greatest guidance about dating, and eventually choosing a husband or wife, will be found in the quality of marriage that is displayed by the parents.  Model parents show respect and concern for each other, and make all of their decisions on the basis of the [unselfish] love they have for each other.  They do all [that is] possible to serve each others' needs, and they are loyal to all the promises they have made to each other.  They enjoy open and satisfying communication, and above all, they worship together and dedicate themselves to each others' spiritual growth.  In all likelihood, children with parents like these will find a mate with whom they can live in a similar way” (Mitchell).  You see, when dad and mom put Christ at the center of their marriage, a wonderful triangle is formed, and the wise Solomon reminds us that “a threefold cord is not quickly broken” (Eccl. 4:12).  Parents also need to show unity in discipline.  One psychiatrist said it this way: “I cannot exaggerate the importance of parental harmony.  The welfare of the child rests more on parental unity than on any child-rearing expertise the parents may have” (White).  And a Christian psychologist said it his way: “Mom and Dad must think and act as one. ... Mom and Dad have to stick together and work out disagreements [about discipline]—in advance and probably in private, because children are professionals at splitting parents” (Faulkner).  Unity in communication, spiritual purpose, and matters of discipline can foster closeness. 

The next factor that can foster closeness is stability.  Let's read verses 68-69: “Blessed is the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited and redeemed His people, and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of His servant David.”  Zacharias was a firm believer in God, and having seen an angel, having lost and regained his voice, and having held his own son in his old age made his faith even stronger.  So we see him interpreting John's birth as a sign from God.  You can rest assured that Zacharias' son would learn about Israel's God and her traditions.  So the word “stability” is standing for family traditions—both faith traditions and fun traditions that are unique to just your family.  Someone has said, “... traditions give us something to hold on to.  We need to have some things passed down to us—things to hold us as families and people together, things we don't have to think about or figure out” (Faulkner).  Here are some traditions that I grew up with: church attendance, weekly visitation in members' homes, prayers before meals, and meals where the whole family was together, and everybody shared their day, having guests over for Sunday lunches, hearing Bible stories read by Mom at bedtime, driving to relatives for Christmas, five day vacation Bible schools where teachers spoiled us to death, summer church and music camps, family reunions in July where singing hymns together was just as important as eating watermelon, birthdays where each family member got to request their favorite kind of cake, drinking creamed coffee and eating crackers with cheese for lunches when Dad took me on outings to fish.  What traditions does your family have?  Where there are devotionals in the home, the divorce rate drops to 1 in 400.  Some parents have the tradition of giving their children a special blessing.  They try to look into the future and challenge their teenager to achieve a noble vision, and they do this in a special setting to help their words become more meaningful. Traditions, both spiritual and those exclusive to just your family alone, can foster closeness. 

The last factor that can foster closeness is identity.  Let's read verses 76 and 80: “And you, child, will be called prophet of the Highest; for you will go before the face of the Lord to prepare His way ... So the child grew and became strong in spirit, and was in the deserts till the day of his manifestation to Israel.”  What a great identity Zacharias announced for his son—he was to be a prophet and Jesus' herald!  Don't you know as he was growing up, Zacharias and Elizabeth were teaching him God's word, taking him to the synagogue and temple, and showing him how to stand up for the truth.  Moms and Dads, we need to be showing our children that divorce is not a convenient escape hatch. Let's show our children that we are going to work seriously to honor Jesus' words: “What God has joined together, let no man separate” (Matthew 19:6). These words indicate that marriage requires our very best energies to hold it together.  God gave us the family to take away our loneliness, but we must work to preserve what God has given us” (Hazelip).  One Christian woman once had the desire for her son to become a preacher.  At an early age, she worked with him to memorize scriptures.  The boy was not always the most cooperative of students, but he did lear some passages, and one that he remembers the most was the 23rd Psalm.  The boy grew up and became a missionary, then a teacher, then a psychologist, then a preacher, and then a teacher once again.  Towards the close of her days, his mother became ill and bedfast.  When the son would go to visit his mother, she often asked him to recite the 23rd Psalm with her.  He made this statement during a sermon: “Little did I realize when I was boy memorizing those passages how valuable they would be to me later on in life.  The 23rd Psalm became even more meaningful to me as I said them to minister to mom.  She had prepared me for life with the Scriptures, and now she was preparing me for her death with them as well.”  There's an identity that a godly mother was shaping until the very end of her days.  Identity, living up to our holiness in Jesus and calling from God, can foster closeness in our families.

Our changing times in America have created much “pollution” with regards to our families.  We should be deeply dissatisfied with the negative factors that are pulling so many apart.  The Scriptures and Christ are still the answers that can help us to see stronger families. Let's be models to those who give the priority to our family, where dad and mom show fidelity to each other and unity in raising their children, where we enjoy family traditions for stability and try to inoculate a Christian identity in our offspring in every way that we can.  May God bless each of you in all your efforts to foster closeness within your families! 

The Lord wants to see godly families.  Have you been the Christian husband and dad that you need to be?  Have you been the Christian mother and wife that you want to be?  Has your family been growing apart or growing together? If you would like prayers this morning to have a stronger and closer family, won't you come ...