Baby boomers know Opie Taylor-the Huck Finn of early television. Opie was part of America’s first nationally known single parent family. His mother had died and he lived with a single father and great aunt. Modern America’s single parent households are much different than the one portrayed on “The Andy Griffith Show.” Today’s single parent family, for the most part, is the result of divorce or an out-of-wedlock pregnancy. Indeed, the Taylor home would represent a small percentage of the single parent families of the 1990s. For instance, Andy Taylor would be replaced by a father consumed with his career and personal fulfillment. Instead of seeing his father respectably date the Pollyanna of the local diner, Opie would be wondering who that woman was spending the night with Dad, and why it wasn’t the same woman as last month. Oh, Opie would never ask, but he’d watch; he’d wonder and, I eventually, emulate.
In today’s family, there wouldn’t be an Aunt Bea. She’d be too embroiled in her own problems; she wouldn’t have room in her life for Opie or Andy. With her weekly Alanon group meeting and her latest horoscope warning her not to take risks, Aunt Bea wouldn’t be much help to the family. Thus, today’s Opie would have to find support and friendship elsewhere, perhaps with a neighbor in his apartment complex named Barney-someone willing to pay attention to the boy and give him an occasional pat on the head. But, typically, today’s Barney has been married and divorced himself and has his own set of problems and emotions monopolizing his time.
Today’s Opie has a parent overcome with confusion. As a result, his life is filled with one obstacle after another and little optimism. He is disconnected from grandparents and other family members, related only by stories of the past. His city is filled with violence and schools that pursue political agendas over principles. With no leadership or structure in his life, he turns to the streets for direction, the byproduct of a dysfunctional family.
CONFUSION: THE NEW CORE VALUE
America is finally becoming aware of the startling statistics on the plight of the family. Most believe there is little hope for the family-especially in the inner city-as it suffers from moral decay, devoid of Judea Christian values. Scholars theorize why this has occurred and offer myriad solutions. But little progress is made in reversing the trends that have led to the decline.
The menagerie of definitions for the family has merely served to stifle solutions to America’s family crisis. When hundreds of definitions of the family are conjoined to hundreds of agendas for what the family should be, it’s the equivalent of trying to put together a jigsaw puzzle with no interlocking pieces. When it comes to progress, to solutions, to putting the pieces together, the quest results in endless fumbling. This, in essence, is a picture of government or education trying to resolve the crisis of the American family. Endless fumbling. Nothing works because there are no absolutes. It’s every man for himself. Every definition is acceptable. Every agenda applauded. This works well for getting elected to public office, but it does little to help America’s dysfunctional families.
GOD’S VIEW OF SECULAR DYSFUNCTION
If you’re a single parent, you’re not on the outside of God’s wonderful principles. Your situation is close to His heart, and He’s there to guide you through your journey. He wants you to experience freedom and complete joy.
What is a dysfunctional family? It’s a family that is not functioning the way God designed. Dysfunction has more to do with fractured attitudes than with fractured structures. A first-marriage husband and wife with 2.8 children can have dysfunctional attitudes, even though the structure appears functional. Likewise, a single parent in a fractured structure can see proper Christlike attitudes prevail in the home. This is not to say God isn’t concerned with the family structure. He designed it to be a man and woman married for life, raising their children in the way of the Lord. But God is able to take a fractured structure and create a redemptive environment.
Dysfunction can represent historical failure or present destruction. Dysfunction is a buzzword everyone is running to hide behind to explain the family mess. What should be the Christian’s response? Does God speak to our past? To our immutable history? To the parts we can never change?
First, our past generational failures explain our weaknesses; they do not excuse them. People by the tens of thousands are allowing their first family to destroy their second family. The popular view of dysfunction is that the actions of my parents will greatly affect my actions as a husband, wife, mother, or father. They feel as though they are trapped or doomed. If Dad was an alcoholic, then l will be an alcoholic who beats my kids. Or, I’m a witch today because Mom was an astrologer. Christians should not be wiled by this philosophy.
In Mark 7:14-16. Jesus gave us the “Law of the Tea Bag.” He taught that it’s the flow of the heart that darkens our life. Nothing that enters a man from the outside can defile him. Have you ever noticed what happens when you place a new tea bag in a cup of clear, hot water? As you swirl the tea bag back and forth, the clear hot water turns bleak and dark. Soon, the surroundings screen out the tea bag. Visibility is zero. It looks exactly like the people who stumble day after day into counseling offices. Their surroundings are bleak and visibility is at zero. This causes a longing for a new surrounding, a new start, a new anything to help them escape the darkness.
Many orchestrate a new surrounding: they dive into a fresh cup of hot water and enjoy the view for a while. Then something begins to happen. The bleakness creeps back. Soon visibility is back to zero and the frustrating life-cycle of a fresh start gone bad is back again. This is dysfunction in all its glory.
Dysfunctional people never realize present surroundings are the product of present content. They are ruined by the current flow of the heart. The hot water of life draws out the beauty or pain of the heart. So, overcoming the wrenching philosophy of “dysfunctional attitudes” begins with understanding how the human heart works and what Jesus came to actually do for us. Jesus came to grant heart transplants.
Scripture teaches that we are “born again” of an “incorruptible seed” (1 Peter 1:23, KJV). Physical conception begins with the “seed” of life from our parents. That process has become the scapegoat for our problems. Dysfunction claims that our problems are linked incurably to our first birth. However, if salvation represents a “new birth” from the “seed” of our heavenly Father, shouldn’t that “seed” have enough power to overcome the “seed” of an earthly father? The “seed” represents the qualities of the parent from whom it flows. It contains tendencies and traits that affect our lives. But that is precisely the power of salvation, of becoming “born again.” The qualities of our Father in heaven now live in us and desire to transform us into the likeness of Jesus. The motives, reactions, attitudes, outlooks, and responses of Jesus are all contained in that “seed.” No one can claim the power of salvation and still claim that their earthly parents hold the key to their future. Scripture teaches us that “whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son . . .” (Romans 8:29, NASB).
Before fanaticism sets in, let me restate that our earthly parents will forever in this life brand our existence. I used to chuckle at my dad for the way he would fall asleep on the couch and awaken after the nightly news with a jerk. As he rose from the couch, it was clear rigor mortis had set in. Bent over, he would literally wobble down the hall to bed. As a boy, this scene made me mumble, “Get in shape, Dad. You look terrible.”
Two months ago, I too fell asleep on the couch. Awakening with a jerk, I felt an unusual stiffness throughout my body. Feeling the need to compensate for my awkward steps down the hall, I too set off for bed. Suddenly, I caught a full-bodied reflection in the window. I knew I had seen that person somewhere before. That unique, bent-over position, the waddle, hmm . . ., “Oh my heavens, it’s my father!” Right away I did ten jumping jacks. Twenty years later, the apple hadn’t fallen far from the tree. The less I am physically around my father, the more I become like him in so many ways. This is all part of God’s wondrous design. But this is a far cry from the bondage people allow in their lives by denying the power of God and believing a deception about the power of their past. Salvation represents a freedom from your sins and the sins of the preceding generations. The Christian cannot use his past as an excuse for the present. Sadly, the popular view of dysfunction is becoming the accepted view of the Church.
I extend to all parents-single, divorced, widowed, or discouraged-to consider the Christ who lives in you. When Christ suffered on the cross, compromising nothing, obedient to the very end, something powerful unfolded. The veil of the temple was torn in two, the earth shook, and the skies darkened in an eclipse of the sun. This phenomena paled in comparison to the experience of a nearby centurion. To say Jesus looked like a champion or a hero in this moment is to deny history. Yet, the centurion realized what the miracles and healings were saying all along: “Surely, this is the Son of God!” He was overcome by a loving God who willfully clothed Himself in every imaginable garment of suffering, who willingly endured the cross. This is so paramount to understanding the steps you will need to take to deny the deceitful side of living with a “dysfunctional attitude.” The cross represents much more than an act that assures forgiveness. Jesus took on your sin, your parents’ sin, and your grandparents’ sin in order to break sin’s long historical reign. Being a Christian means sin is no longer calling the shots in your life. Its dominion has been broken and defeated. When Jesus has been made your King, sin can no longer take peace from your heart and impose its consequences on your life. Though your family history may relentlessly flash before your eyes, “Greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4, NASB). Once you come to grips with how God views dysfunction, you can move on to the vital atmosphere of success for the family.
AN ATMOSPHERE OF FORGIVENESS
Forgiveness is an atmosphere as well as an act. Single parent families will be given opportunity at every turn to integrate bitterness into their way of life and thinking. When money crunches or repairs mount, the small voice of bitterness will begin to whisper its doubts. When father-son campouts roll around, so can the frustration. When circumstances only a mother or father can address become reality, helplessness and despair take residence. Can the single father understand how to deal with his daughter’s first period? Can the single mother confront pornography or masturbation in her thirteen-year-old son? What happens when a daughter has no father to walk her down the aisle? A spouse may forgive the occurrence of divorce or death, but what will fend off bitterness when these situations occur? The key is living in an atmosphere of forgiveness. Survival and success depend on learning how to forgive like Jesus forgave.
Jesus modeled forgiveness on the cross. Christians have become so familiar with the cross that they have forgotten its significance. The rejecting world never sees or studies the cross; it is irrelevant to the unbeliever. Yet those six hours contain more practical advice than “Dear Abbey” could give in ten lifetimes. Jesus went to the cross without a script in hand. The human side of Jesus interacted with the earthly condition surrounding Him. His work on the cross was sincere. Bitter Christians, however, act as though Jesus died in a hole at midnight while wearing camouflage instead of upon a hill in broad daylight. The events of the cross were lit up brighter than the neon lights of the Las Vegas Strip. There is no excuse for any Christian to miss the potency of the cross.
Picture Jesus hanging upon the cross those six hours, dying . . . “while we were yet sinners” (Romans 5:8, KJV). On your worst Day-on that day-Christ was dying for you. While the murderer was murdering and the rapist raping, Christ was dying for them. His blood dripped on those who played Lotto for His clothes. It was then He uttered, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they are doing” (Luke 23:34, NASB). Single parent families must learn Jesus-like forgiveness if they wish to overcome the past.
Only by applying two concepts that Christ displayed on the cross can you walk in peace in any relationship, no matter how complex the situation. First, Jesus forgave quickly. The wound was fresh and the blood still flowing when He cried, “Father, forgive them” (Luke 23:34, NASB). How unlike the forgiveness we see modeled in society: we love to wait until the blood dries, then scabs and scars. Most of us calculate the damages and measure our forgiveness accordingly. With Jesus, forgiveness flowed as quickly as His blood. This is Jesus-like forgiveness. When pain strikes through an unhappy memory, think of Jesus and forgive. When overcome with loneliness and the burden of responsibility becomes too great, picture Jesus and forgive. When there is no-father to walk you down the aisle, visualize Jesus and forgive. Forgive quickly. Abandon yourself to God and never trust your scars.
Second, Jesus forgave thoroughly, “. . . for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34, NASB). Unforgiveness is the process of trying to make someone understand the impossible. Could the centurions and soldiers have ever understood the depth and ramifications of their actions that day? It would have been useless to try to make His executors understand the cost of their deeds. Jesus did not hinge His forgiveness upon their understanding. He released them, realizing they could never understand.
Trying to make a father understand the pain you endured when he abandoned his family years earlier will only deepen your hurt; his lack of understanding will only further frustrate you. Try to be like Jesus who released people quickly, as well as thoroughly. People rot their souls in the vain pursuit of vengeance, forgiving only when convinced the wounding party understands their actions. Single parent families can save their futures by heeding the works and words of Jesus-not only with the major turning points of your history but also beyond every turn that lies ahead. Breathe deep into your lungs the life-giving forgiveness modeled by Jesus and serve notice on your past, present, and future. Regardless of anyone else, your life can be marked by quick and thorough forgiveness.
Single parent families can become a mighty influence on society. As people see God working through their lives and in their attitudes-thriving, not just surviving-it will awaken others to the power of God and make Jesus irresistible to those in need. Moses, Joseph, Daniel, and Timothy impacted nations. They each allowed something greater than their history to guide their lives.
Single parents, be encouraged with your standing before God. Do not view God’s help through others as a second rate deliverance. God can provide role models for you and your children. Be spiritually cognizant of the power you possess as a link in the family chain. Four generations from now, should Jesus tarry in His return, a small child will be sitting with a young parent and asking questions about Jesus. He might say, “Daddy, how come Jesus is so important to you?”
“Well, son, my mommy and daddy took the time when I was a boy your age to make sure I knew how much God loves me. They learned it from your great-grandma and great-grandpa who also faithfully served God. They became Christians because your great-grandmother had a mom who was the first to become a Christian in our family history. She had a horrible life at the beginning. Her husband beat her and eventually left her for an awful addiction to alcohol. She and her daughter-your great-grandmother— began attending church a long time ago. As best we can tell it was because of them that we know Jesus and love you today.”
Sound like a fable? Not a chance. I think you get the picture.
The Reverend Scott Hagarr is pastor of The Harvest Church, a thriving ministry in Laguna Creek, California. He graduated from Bethany College and spent seven years in youth ministry before pioneering The Harvest Church in 1990. Pastor Hagan is a frequent speaker at camps and writes “Captain Dad, ” a question and answer newspaper column.
He and his wife Karen have four children: Joslyn, Tyler, Kramer, and Spencer.