From Leader to Leader – Family Connections in Social Distancing

by César De León PhD LMFT, Ministerial Director for the North Pacific Union Conference

This is an extraordinary and intense time in our world’s history to be a spiritual leader. Chances are that we, and the those around us are likely to be having extraordinary and intense thoughts and feelings. Some in our homes and flocks may be feeling a little hemmed-in, irritated, or just growing a little more annoyed by those they are sheltering-in-place with.

We have experienced a transition from everyone leaving home for the majority of the day; for various work, study and play endeavors, to everyone staying home, to now do all of life, under the same roof. Before we could foresee the relational challenges ahead of us, our homes suddenly became the epicenters of everything; our continued vocational activities, education, worship, recreation, exercise, and even socialization; as we can only safely socialize with those living under our own roof. Zoom and other sophisticated communication platforms have become our connecting lifelines.

There is something about being trapped together, under one roof, that magnifies the obvious differences, unique character quirks and personalities, and styles of family relating to the forefront. Most of us have never had to spend 24/7 in the same space with anyone—for an extended period of time. At least not since we were babies and pre-school children.

The classic family “rat-race” that came to an abrupt halt a few weeks ago, had essentially aided us in maintaining the distractions that helped us remain in denial—for the most part—of the relationship distance, tensions and challenges present in typical marriages and families. In reality, a large chunk of the relational dialogue between overworked spouses and their overscheduled children is primarily centered on logistical planning. Indeed, many families grew accustomed to keeping their conversations at a functional—albeit, superficial level—and possibly don’t even notice they created family life schedules devoid of any opportunities for deeper heart and soul connections that they were divinely designed to crave and enjoy.

The old idiom, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, may come to mind here, however, the drawback with this thinking is that the way most of culture is doing life and family is actually “broken”; whether we can see it, or not. Maintaining marginally sustainable family life schedules that leave little—if any—meaningful shared time together as a family is not what God intended. God’s plan was that future adults—AKA children— would be nurtured, trained, mentored and discipled within the context of family.
With the passing of time, many busy parents have unconsciously relegated the bulk of these parental privileges and responsibilities to Christian schoolteachers, children’s pastors, and later to youth pastors. All of these dedicated ministers do have a significant role to play as the parents’ “support cast.” And we praise God for the many ways of these devoted Kingdom-builders are picking up the slack that well-intentioned, but overly busy parents have sometimes left undone.

Family Relationships Facilitate Character Development

We were genetically wired and imprinted for relationships, for connection. Formed in the image God, the “Holy Family”—Abba, Son and Holy Spirit—we were originally designed to seek and enjoy comfort in healthy relationships with God and with each other; not in “things” or in “activities”. When we don’t form healthy relationship connections with God and with each other in our family systems, we are highly vulnerable to seek comfort in all the wrong places.

This imposed shelter at home has given all of us a wonderful opportunity to re-evaluate the actual condition of our family relationships and of our relationship skills. If you and your family members have been able to create functional and flexible family schedules that balance time in solitude to complete office work and school assignments, with regularly scheduled periods for “family recess”; and if your family disagreements and conflicts are resolved in ways that show respect to all members of the family, then you can praise God that you are doing quite well.

In healthy families, parents have learned how to handle their personal challenges and are able to set healthy boundaries with others in order to provide the necessary attunement to the emotional and physical needs of their children. They are able to provide an emotionally safe home environment, consistent and patient training, scheduled family time, and the unconditional love and affection every child craves and requires in order to develop into a healthy, functioning adult.

In unhealthy families, well-meaning parents are so stressed and preoccupied with taking care of or enabling a dysfunctional or addicted partner, or the advancement of their own careers or personal projects, that their children—in order to cope with their unmet emotional needs—learn to find emotional comfort in things and/or activities rather than in nurturing people. Sadly, these children learn that humans are not dependable, sometimes unsafe and often unpredictable. They feel highly unimportant, unworthy, unlovable, stressed out and anxious. In order to cope and adapt to their less than ideal circumstances, they learn that compulsive over-achieving, over-working, self-medicating (food, drugs, porn, work, etc.), and/or compulsive electronic use, will aid them in “numbing out” the unnamed pain of relational distance and disconnection that results in the internal isolation and loneliness—that continues to plague an alarming and increasing number of people in all age groups—despite living in the midst of family members.

Carolann and I have grown to understand over the years that our marriages and our families are the divinely appointed laboratory that God uses to create the ideal environment for our continued spiritual growth and maturity.

In His divine plan, He foresaw that sin would result in serious relational havoc when two imperfect people, of varying personalities and temperaments, would marry and then raise children, under one roof. The Good News Gospel carries the truth that God, along with all His heavenly agencies, is in the business of re-building characters that will reflect His love, His compassion, His mercy, His grace, His forgiveness, His kindness, His tenderness, His patience. He knows that the only hope for us is to accept His transformational grace to empower us with His heart so we can relate with one another in love, respect and harmony, even while we are so different from each other. In fact, His benevolent plan of salvation includes the reconstruction—by His grace alone—of our unlovely characters. All this, within the context of our respective families. Note the astuteness of His perfect plan:

“Marked diversities of disposition and character frequently exist in the same family, for it is in the
order of God that persons of varied temperament should associate together. When this is the case,
each member of the household should sacredly regard the feelings and respect the right of the others. By this means, mutual consideration and forbearance will be cultivated, prejudices will be softened, and rough points of character smoothed. Harmony may be secured, and the blending of the varied temperaments may be a benefit to each.” 1

Yes, you read correctly. It really is “in the order of God that persons of varied temperament should associate together” in family units. It is not a random accident that we are married to someone who may at times seem to bring out the worse in you; or that you have one or more children who challenge your parenting abilities. Just imagine, if our spouses and children were identical clones of ourselves, there would be few opportunities for us to cultivate “mutual consideration and forbearance.” By the way, the dictionary definition of forbearance is, “patient endurance, self-control; an abstaining from the enforcement of a right.” 2

Can you see how easy it would be for us to spend a lifetime in self-deception, were it not for our actual family members? We might even mistakenly believe that we’d already obtained highest spiritual maturity, as disciples of Christ. You see, our clones probably wouldn’t annoy or irritate us nearly as frequently as our actual family members do, because they would think, feel and do life, pretty much, like us. This is why we are reminded that living with people who are so different than we are, is God’s healing remedy for the unveiling of our true characters. It is difficult to continue denying we have “rough points of character” when our spouses and children are daily witnesses to the easily triggered anger and impatient scolding we cannot seem to control.

Seizing This Opportunity

Have you identified any unresolved marriage or family issues during these last weeks of confinement that need the healing touch of God? Can you identify some character traits that you’d like Jesus to change? When we asked some questions like this at the end of a seminar we were giving, one of our ministry colleagues raised his hand and asked, “Well, what happens if I don’t think that I have any issues?” We smiled. Carolann quickly responded with a question, “Well, what would your wife and children say if I asked them if they thought you have unresolved issues?” He slumped down in the pew a bit and sheepishly responded, “Oh. . . never mind! If you’re gonna ask them, they’ll all say that I do have issues.” Indeed, after the Edenic fall, we all have issues. We all have unresolved issues—AKA sinful, self-centered ways of dealing with our own unresolved pain—that have resulted in emotional distance and disconnections in our family relationships. And no one knows this reality better than our spouses and children. But, there is HOPE! Jesus left His home and Holy Family and took on human flesh in order to show us the way back to the Father! This reality is at the heart of the Good News Gospel!

“Jesus knows the circumstances of every soul. You may say, I am sinful, very sinful. You may be; but the worse you are, the more you need Jesus. He turns no weeping, contrite on away. . . He bids every trembling soul take courage. Freely will He pardon all who come to Him for forgiveness and restoration. . .The souls that turn to Him for refuge, Jesus lifts above the accusing and the strife of tongues. No man or evil angel can impeach these souls. Christ unites them to His own divine-human nature.” 3

What If?

We will eventually transition back to our work sites. Our children will eventually return to their previous life schedules where they spend the majority of their awake hours away from home and their parents. What would happen if we would seize this unique opportunity to deepen our connections with God, with each other, and with our children? What would happen if we were to interpret our marriage and family challenges as providential spotlights that are helping us see how desperately we need Jesus’ grace, daily? What if we seize every opportunity God grants us, to surrender our marred characters to the One who can give us a new heart? What if this extraordinary and intense season of social distancing results in the deepening of our relationships with God, our spouse and our children?

“To those who with steadfast perseverance strive to reveal the attributes of Christ, angels are commissioned to give enlarged views of His character and work, His power and grace and love. Thus they become partakers of His nature.” 4

May God receive the glory and honor for all the hearts He is awakening; for the marriages He is healing; for the children—young and old—who will get to see God’s glory and power through the sermon of a transformed life!

  1. E. White, “Child Guidance” (Washington: Review and Herald, 1954)
  3. E. White, “Desire of Ages” (Mountain View: Pacific Press, 1940).
  4. E. White, “God’s Amazing Grace” (Washington: Review and Herald, 1973)

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