Maintaining the miracle

Keeping the family together requires God's direct and daily guidance and grace.

Sharon Cress is the director of Shepherdess International of the Ministerial Association of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.

It's a miracle. The two become one, a family, and then the one becomes three. God takes the love of a man and a woman and breathes into it the breath of life. And the next thing you know, the family has grown. Father, mother, and baby—a living, loving family.

Yes, it's a miracle the way a family comes into existence. And in this world of alienation and fragmentation, it takes a miracle also to maintain that existence. We're talking about more than just living with the same last name under the same roof.

Webster defines the word "family" as a group of people united by certain convictions or a common affiliation. But God wants more than that in a Christian home. More than mutual affiliation, Christian families share a common faith in Christ reflected in a bond of commitment to each other. This faith and commitment is the heavenly glue that holds the home together. It holds the church together, too, for a church is only as strong as its family units.

Seventh-day Adventists consider a Christian home to be so important to God and vital to this church that one of our 27 fundamental beliefs bears the name "Marriage and the Family." Statement 22 opens with these words: "Marriage was divinely established in Eden and affirmed by Jesus to be a lifelong union between a man and a woman in loving companionship."

It all began in Eden

Come with me back to the Garden of Eden. It's a beautiful Friday afternoon. Adam, the first man, has been exploring his new Paradise home. He is dazzled by the breathtaking beauty. Miles of lush green meadows carpeted by wildflowers in rainbow array. Fragrant forests. Gurgling brooks. Clear running rivers tumbling into roaring waterfalls.

Of all the wonders of Creation, the living creatures intrigue Adam most. Friendly lions that purr when he rubs their necks. Tropical birds singing harmonies of praise. Mighty elephants trumpeting in response. All the animals are his friends, but Adam realizes that he is different—not just that he alone bears the image of God. Adam is different because he alone is alone. All the others have mates.

Adam starts feeling lonely. Though gloriously created, he feels incomplete.

I can see Adam discussing his feelings with God, who assures him that He understands his need for companion ship. Suddenly Adam starts feeling sleepy. As he yawns, his eyes gradually close. Then his head slowly settles into the arms of God.

I can picture God smiling with the big surprise He has in mind as He tenderly stretches Adam on the grass and performs the world's first surgical procedure. When Adam wakes up, he sees something lovelier than anything his eyes have yet beheld. God steps back for Adam and Eve to get acquainted. As they are locked in delighted embrace, God gets their attention and pronounces them husband and wife.

That was the beginning of Christian marriage. God knew that it wasn't good to leave Adam alone, so He gave him a wife, and together they became a community of oneness. This unity of fellowship is reflected in the very nature of the Creator, where three separate, eternal Persons make up the corporate unit of the Godhead (see Gen. 1:1-3; Col. 2:9,10).

Ruin and restoration

Adam and Eve could have lived happily ever after with each other and with their Lord. But you know the sad story. When sin invaded Paradise, it shattered the family relationship. Husband and wife turned on each other (see Gen. 3:12). They also severed their relation ship with God, hiding from His presence (see verse 8). Heartbroken at the alienation caused by sin, God took action to restore the oneness given humanity at Creation. The Word became flesh, to live among us and reestablish community—not just our individual relationship with Him but also with each other in restored family relation ships. And beyond, Christ came to form a corporate body of families known as the church.

The night before Jesus died He gathered His band of disciples and washed their feet to create a spirit of community. Then He poured out His heart to His Father on behalf of His people, praying that "they may be one as We are" (John 17:11).* His prayer included His entire church until the end of time: "I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me" (verses 20,21).

Incredibly, Jesus made the success of His gospel mission dependent upon the spirit of community seen in His followers, their experience of corporate oneness in Him. He even declared this demonstration as a test of His personal success as the Messiah: "I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me" (verse 23).

Following that intercessory prayer, Jesus descended to the valley and staggered into Gethsemane, where His eternal oneness with the Father was broken apart. As the Representative of fallen humanity He had to take over where Adam failed, experiencing the separation from community with God that resulted from our sin.

Two pieces of wood comprised the cross of our salvation. On the vertical beam the body of Jesus linked heaven above with earth below, restoring fallen humanity's community with God. On the horizontal beam His arms stretched wide to unite us in community with one another. At the point where those cross beams met, the heart of Jesus broke and He died. In doing that, He "abolished in His flesh the enmity,... so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace" (Eph. 2:15). One redeemed humanity in Christ—this is what the gospel offers us in giving us salvation. And the Christian family unit is exhibit A of what it means to have community restored through Christ.

The word "family" evokes varying images. To some, the word portrays parents and children gathered around a roaring fire, celebrating the love that bonds them together along with grandparents and extended family. To others, the notion of family brings bitter flashbacks, ugly images they have tried for years to forget. What makes the difference?

Let's be practical. How can our marriages and families in this sinful world fulfill God's original purpose for the home and enjoy the benefits He intend ed?

Principles for a happy family

Principle 1: Have a healthy need for each other. God could have introduced propagation of the human species on earth without creating us male and female. But in His wisdom He knew that ultimate bonding could not occur if we were "self-contained" and independent. We were created to need something the other sex possesses. Equality was not an issue in Eden, because both male and female are essential. Secular society today for the most part has thrown out this first principle. Prejudice, discrimination, and other evils have left men and women jockeying for superiority over each other. It is a sad fact that the competition that occurs outside the family, from work, sports, or other involvements, boomerangs back into the sacred couple relationship.

Principle 2: Leaving and cleaving. The biblical principle is to leave behind all other relationships—be they with parents, other love interests, or any bonds that would hinder a full surrender to each other. The Hebrew word translated "cleave" comes from a word that means "to fasten, join, stick to, or hold on to." After Jesus there should be only one person on earth with whom we have this kind of "Super Glue" relationship—our spouse. Many marital problems are caused because half the marriage relies on someone else to be his or her confidant. The first step toward sharing sexual intimacies with someone outside marriage is to share mental intimacies that should be spoken only between the marriage partners. Sharing intimacies is the glue that "sticks" the marriage together, and sharing randomly with friends re distributes the glue to different relationships.

Principle 3: Look relentlessly for every possible way to show each other love. Each of us differs in how we need love and appreciation demonstrated. In our own individual ways, we all need: spoken love—expressing verbal appreciation; touching love—hugging, holding, and cuddling; time love— spending or investing time in what is important to the partner; and gift love— giving love gifts of something special, but not necessarily expensive.

Pitfalls to avoid

While implementing those essential principles for a happy home, we must also avoid certain pitfalls.

1. Avoid overcommitment to other interests, including physical exhaustion, otherwise known as burnout. Couples who balance two careers, children, night school, etc., will too often see each other only at times when they are too tired to enjoy the relationship. They each receive the "leftovers." A time commitment to each other that is not last on the list is essential.

2. Avoid financial traps. Keeping up with our neighbors by trying to "have it all" leads us into the same trap as working too hard. Too many couples who try to "have it all" wind up in the end with "having nothing," because in the process they have lost each other.

3. Remember that in-laws can be come outlaws. Think back to our "leave and cleave" principle here. We must leave our original family behind. It's interesting to note that the Bible specifies that the male should leave his family and cleave to his wife. With the interesting psychological data we have today on the mother-son relationship and bonding, God evidently foresaw the need for sons to sever the bonds with their mothers in favor of their wives!

4. Watch out for space invaders. Give each other breathing space. Don't suffocate your partner through jealousy or low self-esteem. Because of personality differences, we each need a different amount of personal space. Be sure each person is provided enough privacy.

My testimony

In bringing these thoughts to a close, please permit me a few words of personal testimony about my own marriage. Jim and I are celebrating 25 years together this year. We still remind each other of that old saying that "marriages are made in heaven, but so are thunder and lightning." And that pretty well sums up our silver jubilee. I am not sure what I expected out of this quarter of a century. Reality tells me that we will celebrate our anniversary by preparing for a General Conference session rather than the large white tent and string quartet I had once imagined. My inner "flower child" had pictured us in poet shirt and gauze dress, celebrating over strawberries and ice cream.

In looking at pictures in our union periodicals of couples celebrating 50 and 75 years of marriage, I notice that they actually have grown to look alike. That's right—they have lived together so long that they seem to have grown into the same image. Sometimes they even wear matching glasses.

My ideas and Jim's have blended to such a degree that sometimes we barely know where one of us begins and the other leaves off. I guess we are heading for that "look-alike" stage. This is just amazing, considering our differences when we first got together.

We have suffered through the major withdrawals of 13 moves, yearly Path finder camp-outs, and church members who felt personally called by God to cleanse our pastoral family from all its faults. We have shared debts, closets, relatives, the flu, and cold baths in far away places. I have folded his underwear 13,492 times, and he has picked up 12,497 of my hairpins from the bath room sink.

A few nights ago I was hungry for a coconut and chocolate candy bar. Jim got in the car and went out to the store at 11:00 p.m. to get me one. Maybe the glue of appreciation that sticks marriages together is just that simple. At least, that's how I've come to see it.

Two jewels from Paradise

Marriage and the Sabbath are the two jewels from Eden that remain today for us to enjoy. Both gifts from God have been relentlessly attacked by the enemy, but through Christ we still can experience them in their purest, most delightful form.

We have the Sabbath only one day a week, but our families are with us seven days a week. Keeping the family together—not just living under the same roof, but bonded together in spirit— requires God's direct and daily guidance and grace. May He help us value the family as He does, that we all may be one with Him and one with each other.

Maintaining the miracle


   A. The miracle: two become one, one becomes three
   B. Importance of a family

I. Family: origin in Eden
   A. God creates Adam (Gen. 1:26, 27)
   B. Adam alone, then God gives him a mate
   C. Marriage—symbol of Godhead (Gen. 1:1-3; Col. 2:9, 10)

II. Family: ruin and restoration
   A. Sin ruins family
   B. Man and wife turn against each other (Gen. 3:12)
   C. They also sever their relationship with God (Gen. 3:8)
   D. The Word becomes flesh to restore relationships
   E. Night before Jesus died, prayed for unity (John 17:11, 20, 21)
   F. Jesus made success of gospel mission dependent upon unity
   G. Restored and reunited at the cross
      1. Vertical restoration

      2. Horizontal restoration
      3. Out of two, one humanity, making peace (Eph. 2:15)
      4. On the very spot where Jesus' heart broke is bonding place of family

III. Practical principles for happy homes
   A. Have a healthy need for each other
   B. Leave and cleave
   C. Look for ways to show love to each other

IV. Pitfalls to avoid
   A. Burnout
   B. Financial traps
   C. In-laws who become outlaws
   D. Space invaders

   A. Personal testimony
   B. Two jewels from Paradise: marriage and Sabbath


Article Notes:

*All Scripture passages in this article are from The New King James Version.

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Sharon Cress is the director of Shepherdess International of the Ministerial Association of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.

July/August 1995

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