Keeping your family on course

Ways of holding the priority of family in focus

Jeanne Hartwell is the family life director and associate ministerial director for the Pennsylvania Conference.

Ever heard the expression "couldn't hit the broad side of a barn"? It's certainly not true for thousands of people in Illinois. In a recent study done in that state it was found that in one year there were 54,000 traffic accidents caused by collisions with cars legally parked on the side of the road! They averaged one collision every seven minutes, and most happened during good weather on straight, dry roads, with drivers who had not been drinking and weren't on any kind of medication.

Why would so many apparently responsible motorists simply run into parked cars? The answer is widely accepted behavior called the "fascination phenomenon" or the "moth effect." Whatever name it goes by, it's basically the tendency for drivers to focus on something outside their planned path of travel and then to steer into it in voluntarily.

According to Charles Butler, manager of traffic safety services for the American Automobile Association (AAA), "The key to the whole phenomenon is a simple fact: you drive where you're looking."*

This is true not only for motorists, but for us in our daily relationships with our families. Where are you headed? What are your goals and dreams for your family? If you haven't really thought about it and decided what your focus is, it's easy to get caught up in the moth effect of everyday life and to steer off course. Safety experts from AAA recommend several strategies to help you keep your focus when driving that can also be helpful to you as you focus on commitment to your family.

Take regular breaks

Many pastors think they simply don't have time for any breaks. Down deep inside it leaves you feeling that you must be pretty important and necessary if you're so busy you don't have time for yourself; and you emanate a sort of stained-glass glow (albeit somewhat haggard) when you look in the mirror! But if you want to be healthy and have a healthy family, regular breaks are essential. One of the nicest things we've ever done as a family is to schedule a family day each week. I don't mean a day just to catch up with household chores or run errands.

This is a day to relax, have fun, and be together. We plan special things that we can look forward to and back on with fond memories. Plan ahead and find out what the possibilities are within a two-hour travel radius of your home. We've enjoyed everything from reading aloud in the backyard ham mock to splashing at the beach and imitating the monkeys at the zoo. What you choose to do is up to you, but I'll guarantee it will add a new dimension to your family and give you extra energy for the work you put off till later.

Avoid focusing on roadside distractions

It's worth the time and effort to consider prayerfully what is important to your family. When you've mapped out where you're going, it's much easier to get there! And it helps you to avoid "roadside distractions." Carefully choose three important priorities, and let the other things go. Where you spend your time says a lot about what is really important to you. Remember, if you don't decide what you will do with your time and your life, someone else will decide for you.

Get rest

Have you ever noticed that people who take good care of themselves are actually a lot more productive? You're not doing yourself or anyone else a favor by going full-steam all the time. Regularly taking time out with God, getting a full night's sleep (no matter what still needs to be done), and taking care of the other needs God created us to have really makes a difference. This will protect you from burnout, help you to be more creative, and safeguard your family from internal problems.

During an opening hymn in church one Sabbath I was startled to hear myself singing "Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost. As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, work (instead of world] without end, Amen, Amen." You may not have actually sung it, but there may have been days when you thought the work would never end! I think my subconscious was trying to tell me something. Maybe your subconscious, your body, your spouse, or your kids are trying to give you signals too.

Jesus said to His disciples and to us in Mark 6:31, "Come ye yourselves apart...and rest a while."

Look far ahead in your lane

Envision what you'd like for your family years down the road. Then plan and act accordingly. Great families don't just happen. It takes hard work and commitment. I've never heard anyone who's just retired say that they wish they'd placed more emphasis on work. But I have heard many people say they wish they'd spent more time with their family.

We hear so many "oughts" and "shoulds" and "have tos" in our lives, and lots of times it seems we just can't measure up. True, it's impossible to balance every thing. God has promised that "What is impossible for man is possible with God" (Luke 18:27, TEV). He has given us the precious gift of our families, and if we ask, He will give us wisdom to safeguard what He has brought into our lives.

One day we will stand before God and hear those words, "Well done, thou good and faithful servant." He will say this to us not only because we have faithfully served Him, but also because we have been committed to the ones He has placed closest to us---our families.

Keeping your family relationships on course can be challenging, but using these safety tips will help.

* Joseph D. Younger, "How to Overcome the Moth Effect," AAA World, April 1992, 6,7.


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Jeanne Hartwell is the family life director and associate ministerial director for the Pennsylvania Conference.

July 1998

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