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A spiritual foundation for family life

From the September 19, 2016 issue of the Christian Science Sentinel

My family plays a fun game on camping trips. Once we’ve settled into our tent for the night, one of us begins telling a story. It usually has a setting, some characters, and a basic plot. After a few minutes, the first storyteller says, “And then ….” And then the next person picks up telling the story where the first storyteller left off, adding his or her own twists and turns. 

This goes on until everyone in the family has had several turns to speak, and the story has gone around the tent several times and changed significantly from where it started. It always causes us lots of laughter, and it’s especially fun because it isn’t just one person’s story, but it’s a story that belongs to everyone in the family.

I think that game is a little bit like family dynamics because in every family, each individual contributes in some way to the overall “story.” Of course, when that “story” is a game like the one my family plays on camping trips, it’s easy to let everyone have a turn and to laugh joyfully about the individual interpretations and changes to the story. But in everyday life, maintaining harmonious family dynamics and letting everyone “have a turn” can be more of a challenge, especially if the family story might seem to change dramatically. That’s why a strong spiritual foundation is key to having and maintaining a happy family life.

In my own efforts to establish that strong spiritual foundation, I’ve found it helpful to recognize that each family member’s true identity is not a human personality or a collection of physical traits, but is spiritual—the idea of God. This has helped me remove material limits and labels from my thinking, which I might otherwise place on myself or my family members, and it has helped give me a clearer view of who everyone really is as God’s reflection.

The discoverer of Christian Science, Mary Baker Eddy, writes, “Identity is the reflection of Spirit, the reflection in multifarious forms of the living Principle, Love” (Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, p. 477). And in the Bible we read, “Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit” (I Corinthians 12:4).

Both of those passages show everyone’s identity as rooted in Spirit, God. From this one infinite Spirit spring countless spiritual ideas, including you and me. As spiritual ideas of God—all of us belonging to one spiritual family with one common Father-Mother as our Parent—we can’t get in each other’s way, compete for power, or disrupt one another’s peace, but instead we coexist harmoniously. We express God in a unique, individual way, and so does everyone.

Sometimes the discovery of our true spiritual identity means giving up material beliefs about who we think we are or who we think our family members are, or are “supposed to be.” In my family we’ve had many opportunities to prove, for example, that each one of us is unlimited by material beliefs such as age, a false sense of manhood or womanhood, or human experience.

One time, on one of our camping trips, my husband became very ill. When it came time for us to go home, he was unable to do any physical work. So our young children and I needed to do all the cleaning and packing. This was especially difficult because everything was drenched and muddy from a heavy rainstorm the night before. I was a little concerned because after we finally got the packing done, I would need to be alert as I drove home for four hours on a somewhat unfamiliar route.

Certainly none of this was beyond us, and our main concern was my husband’s health. But he’d usually had a big part in handling these jobs, and I was concerned not only about the physical demands on the kids and me, but also that the fatigue and stress of the situation, including the fact that we might not do things the way my husband would normally do them, could make tensions run a bit high.

We express God in a unique, individual way, and so does everyone.

I explained to the kids what needed to be done, telling them that aside from packing up, our most important job was to make sure we were being a prayerful support for their dad. Instead of getting worked up over the situation, as I was tempted to do at first, I decided to yield to God’s care and to the spiritual understanding that everyone’s true identity is the reflection of Spirit. That meant that no one’s health, strength, or alertness could be interrupted or limited in any way by matter, because health, strength, and alertness are qualities that are found in God and therefore are ours to express fully and freely as God’s expression.

My children and I very naturally found the strength and clarity of thought to accomplish what needed to be done, and my husband expressed great humility, patience, and gratitude while we took care of these tasks. Soon we were on our way, continuing to pray silently as we traveled. We arrived home safely, and my husband had a complete healing of all symptoms of illness soon after.

This experience was a good lesson for my whole family, proving that when our thoughts are centered in God and His creation, we naturally find ourselves understanding our true spiritual identity and living it in our lives, which includes a great sense of unity in working together with others. When our lives are based in Spirit, they blend naturally with other lives that are also based in Spirit, strengthening us individually and as a group. 

But sometimes we forget that each of us is truly spiritual; and conflicts may arise in the family when things such as self-righteousness, willfulness, and human opinions make us clash rather than blend with others. How can we bring healing to such conflicts? 

I’ve found Christ Jesus’ parable of the tares and the wheat to be a helpful guide for expressing humility and patience (see Matthew 13:24–30). In this parable, when the householder’s servants ask him if they should pull up the tares (weeds) that are growing up alongside the wheat, he says no, because doing so would also uproot the wheat—the good part. Instead, they should allow both tares and wheat to grow until harvest, and then dispose of the tares and gather the wheat.

In a conflict among family members, it can be tempting to immediately rush to an emotional defense of our own opinions and actions, or to put forward a strong criticism of the person with whom we disagree. But this can be like hastily going after the tares and thereby uprooting the wheat. That’s not to say we should let conflicts continue to simmer and ignore what needs correction. But rather than attacking someone’s personality, we can put our efforts into nurturing and preserving the “good part”—the spiritual truth about each person’s identity as a child of God.

Pride, selfishness, and willfulness are not qualities of God, good, so they are not actually part of anyone’s true identity as God’s reflection. Understanding everyone’s origin in Spirit helps us cultivate love and gentleness toward others because we recognize them for who they truly are. And then qualities such as patience, understanding, and humility grow naturally in our hearts and in our families, peacefully rooting out the tares of willfulness and human opinions.

Actively and humbly praying to more fully realize and perceive our spiritual identity and the spiritual identity of everyone in the family can have a profound effect in improving the level of happiness in family relationships.

As we understand that identity is wholly spiritual, we naturally love all of God’s creation in all of its beautiful forms, and this understanding creates a ripple effect of pure affection and harmony for all, bringing blessings to our families and communities and even the wider world, creating a grand, happier family story, which gets better and better with each person’s unique contribution.

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