Engage Blog: Christ-Centered Family Relationships during a Crisis
Makes You Think
Ron Welch,Professor of Counseling
It is said that a crisis brings out the best and worst in people. That certainly seems to have been proven true during the current COVID-19 crisis. We’ve seen neighbors going out of their way to help those in need in their communities, and we’ve seen people shoving others out of the way in stores to get to the last package of toilet paper. As restrictions are slowly lifted and life resumes some level of normalcy, what we will do differently in our family relationships as we move forward?
Most of us have spent recent weeks at home with family members either due to working from home or losing employment. There have been both positive and negative effects from this change, and we’ll look at both of these in this article. The primary goal of this piece, though, is to determine the “lessons learned” from this change to our routine and to identify the Christ-centered relationship guidance we can take with us into our family relationships after the crisis passes.
One of the most harmful effects of the stay-at-home experience has been the loss of social support systems. The church families we relied on for spiritual guidance and accountability, the friends and family we spent time confiding in and playing with, and our work colleagues we previously spent so much time with, were all kept “socially distant.” Loved ones who contracted the virus were facing serious and sometimes life-threatening illnesses and we weren’t allowed to see them. We faced new levels of social isolation.
On top of that, our carefully crafted rhythm of interacting with our spouses and children was rocked to the core, as those we love were suddenly around us 24/7. The increased “quality time” with our families that we have always wished for turned out to present some challenges, as well! School-age kids were home every day, college kids returned to live at home, and spouses we usually didn’t see during the day were competing for bandwidth for Zoom meetings (at least, those lucky enough to still have a job they could do from home). Completing work tasks seemed to take so much longer in this “new normal.”
Finally, and perhaps most destructively, many of us lost one or both of our primary family sources of income. The stresses of financial pressure led to strained relationships, frustration, and a sense of helplessness. Children from K-12 were required to learn in new ways and college-age students often faced simultaneous educational challenges and job loss. The future looked, and still looks, very uncertain.
In the midst of these challenging experiences, there were many positive effects of sheltering at home. There were opportunities for quality family time playing games, sharing family meals and devotionals, and actually talking with each other. Work schedules, for those fortunate enough to have a job, were more flexible and under our control. Technical skills doing our work online, learned out of necessity, helped us discover more effective and efficient systems for working in the future.
Through this storm, as with all storms, God has been right here beside us. While working with families during this time and watching those around me, I have come to believe that there are (at least) four lessons we can learn from this experience that will help us model Christ in our family relationships in the midst of this storm and in the calm that is sure to follow. This increased time with our families can be seen as an opportunity to make some permanent changes in our family relationships. These relationship changes can become a testament to our Christian faith long after the crisis is over.
Lesson #1 -Unselfishness is better than selfishness.
Ephesians 5:22 (NIV) says, “Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord” and verse 25 says “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” That’s pretty clear guidance to prioritize others over yourself. Pay attention to the people you are living with. Think about what they need before your own needs. Clean up the dishes so others don’t have to. Put your work on hold to go play with that beautiful child who is holding up the Frisbee with adoring puppy dog eyes. Take time to have a romantic lunch on the back porch with your loving spouse. Choose to love those around you first and worry about your own needs later.
Lesson #2 -Control your family schedule.
Control your weekly schedule -don’t let it control you. Ephesians 5:15-16 (NIV) says, “Be very careful, then, how you live -not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.” Consider taking control of your schedule by sitting down with the family on Sunday night before the week starts and planning out when you will have couple time, family time, conflict resolution time, and play time. In this crisis situation, with so many things changing, it is more important than ever to plan out your days and weeks. If your spouse’s name doesn’t appear in your calendar schedule for the week, something is wrong.
Lesson #3 -Set aside time for spiritual disciplines.
When your routine is upset, it is easy to let spiritual practices go as other demands take priority. Plan time in your week for family devotionals, participate with your family in a weekly church service in whatever format it is delivered, and maintain your small group participation. Perhaps most importantly, make time for God. Philippians 4:8 (NIV) encourages us to think on things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy. Don’t minimize your personal prayer and Bible study time just because someone requests a Zoom meeting. Lock those times with God in first, and schedule everything else around them.
Lesson #4 -Stay positive.
Many families have found themselves complaining about the negative effects of the crisis instead of focusing on the positives. 1 Thessalonians 5:11 (NIV) says, “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up…;” Make sure you sit down with your family every day and thank God for the blessings you have. Thank God for the work you are still able to do, for the school progress the children are still able to make, and the time you have as a family. If you are unable to work right now or are dealing with the effects of the virus, take comfort in the promise that God has made that He is Immanuel and that He is with us in the midst of the storm.
Crises do, indeed, bring out the best and the worst of us. After 9/11, it was reported that church attendance surged, but that it then returned to previous levels only a year later. I want to challenge you and your family to not just return to the “old normal.” Let God use this time to strengthen your bonds with your children, enrich your marriage, and create new patterns that you can maintain in the future. If you do that, the legacy of this crisis will be that it brought out the “best in you” and resulted in a stronger, healthier, and Christ-centered family.
Dr. Ron Welch has worked in the field of clinical psychology for over 20 years, has been a licensed clinical psychologist since 1997, and holds a diplomate in professional counseling. Ron had maintained a private practice specializing in marriage and family work since 2004 before opening his Transformational Marriage™ practice in 2012. He earned his PsyD and MA in clinical psychology from Central Michigan University. Ron’s most recent book is10 Choices Successful Couples Make: The Secret to Love that Lasts a Lifetime.