Yes, strange, but true; troubled family life is regulated by the person in difficulty. As Tom, a young boy, describes how his family was dominated by his angry mother:
“For no apparent reason, my mother just loses her temper. She yells, frightens and threatens everyone, including the cats and the dogs. No one is spared, not even Dad. He would seek us out first to see how Mum was, so as to prepare us to face her. Everyone has to accommodate Mum.”
His Mum’s compulsive behaviour has a tremendous impact on the family, just like any injured body part affects the whole person.
Naturally the family adjusts to keep itself stable despite Mum’s unpredictable disruption. Besides, the family is bound together and they cannot simply ignore Mum. The family automatically makes all the necessary adjustments just to accommodate Mum, even though they do not approve it.
Tom and his family are active in Church, but most of the Church’s normal ministries are inadequate to reach out to him and his family.
Focus on the Family proposes and explores a safe environment, an accepting atmosphere, and support groups, as key priorities in reaching to hurting members and their troubled families.
For Tom to know that he is accepted and it is safe for him to talk or even unload his hurt is liberating.
Being an Altar Server in Church, Tom is expected to keep looking good in serving. He shouldn’t have such a hurt. Besides, other servers are not expected or prepared to attend to him or his needs. Serving Mass, instead, makes him feel all the lonelier, because he has to put on a good front. Otherwise, they may make fun of him, or even reject him.
As Christians we are supposed to be caring, yet we can be so cold and inhumane towards our own, especially those who are hurting and in need. Here we all need to learn to be open, welcoming and accepting all.
In being warm and accepting we are sending clear signals that we are a congregation of struggling publicans, not self-righteous Pharisees.
We effectively create an environment where we identify with all, rather than compare them with ourselves.
In identifying ourselves with all, we change our mindset. We see them as one of us; being in the same human predicament.
But being in the Church it is so easy to miss this need, because we are so caught up in our Christian ideals that we feel threatened to admit we actually do not measure up.
A recovering alcoholic shared that she doesn’t feel the acceptance in Church as in a support group: “When I’m late in Church, people turn around and stare at me with frowns of disapproval. I get clear message that I’m not as responsible as they are. When I’m late to my Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, the meeting comes to a halt and everyone jumps up to hug and welcome me. They realise my lateness may be a sign that I almost didn’t make it. When I show up, it proves that my desperate need for them won over my desperate need for alcohol.”
Support groups are Biblical and are the clearest signals that we are a compassionate congregation and we care for all.
In forming support groups, we need to be always mindful of the needs and requirements of teens and young children. Because, as a Church, we are well-known to be very pro-adults but have minimal tolerance, let alone sensitivity towards children.
Support groups have a variety of resources to offer, but as Christians we have only one source of healing – Jesus Christ our Saviour. At the end of the day it all comes down to gaining access to Christ, the heart of our loving Father. It is about witnessing to Christ – unconditional Divine Love, that all humans need and seek.
Churches today need to help people to move from recovery to renewal. Support groups are effective not only in helping hurting people to recover their sanity and stability but to continue to live fully in the midst of life-crippling activities.
Our approach needs to be ‘experimental’ rather than lecture-style. Role plays or group dynamics are powerful tools in demolishing denial or resistance to change. After an affirmation exercise to prompt family members to compliment each other, for instance, many willingly and consciously affirm their family members.
Couples in difficulties and their families do not seek the best strategies or the latest skills, but compassion. Or to be more precise, God’s healing love. When we are a warm and compassionate congregation, the rest will follow. And so will those who are hurting.
Your family is holy because Christ lives in your midst. So pray confidently and constantly because God the Father has heard you and fills your family with his peace while your family bears up under pressure. This peace of his comes from:
Knowing and believing in God
“The Lord will give strength to his people;
the Lord will bless his people with peace”
Seeing the Lord fighting for you
“The Lord will fight for you,
and you shall hold your peace”
Your humility brings you his peace
“The meek shall inherit the earth
and shall delight themselves
in the abundance of peace”
Obedience brings you his peace
“O, that you had heeded my commandments!
Then your peace would have been like a river”
Faith brings his peace
“Your faith has saved you. Go in peace”
“Peace I leave with you;
my own peace I give you”
Helping troubled families is rewarding, but can be down right disruptive. Being the bearer of Grace we can affectively create an atmosphere of warmth and acceptance where our hurting brothers and sisters and their families can encounter what they need the most, God’s unconditional love.