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The 1995 film While You Were Sleeping offers a window into a family’s search for peace with one another. In one scene, the family patriarch, Ox Callahan, talks with one of his sons about taking over the family business. Jack, the older of the two sons, has dreams of his own, and those dreams do not include following his dad’s dreams for him. Ox reflects briefly, saying, “You work hard, try to provide for the family, and then, for one minute everything’s good, everyone’s well, everyone’s happy, and that one minute, you have peace.” Then Jack replies slowly, “Pop, this isn’t that minute . . .”

Ox was a realist. He knew that family is hard. Life, love, expectations, dreams, family relationships—these are hard things in our fallen world. The challenges of life and the fall too often create conflict, division, hurt, and sadness.

But family should be where peace begins. Husband, wife, and children remain the bedrock of culture and civilization. As families go, so goes culture. Yet ever since Cain and Abel, peace in the family has been a challenge.

Praise God, though, that the Lord of heaven and earth loves to work His will through sinful people and broken families.

Consider the families of Isaac and Jacob—there’s some family dysfunction lacking peace. The sibling rivalry, jealousy, and bad blood between Isaac and Ishmael (the fathers of modern-day Jews and Arabs) still affect our world today. The conflict that began then continues millennia later in our day. Later, more conflict between the sons of Jacob resulted in Joseph’s long years of slavery, imprisonment, and destitution, but that same conflict also eventually led to redemptive peace. God was pleased to weave His providential hand through all the mess of these family struggles to accomplish His redemptive plans for the world through these broken souls. And so it can be with you and your family.

So for peace in the family, first remember Paul’s command: “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” (Rom. 12:18). Note that there is no guarantee of peace. But as far as it depends on each one of us, we must strive for peace.

In a family, this begins with the father and mother. If they are at peace with one another, more than likely children will follow their example. My wife, Mary, and I learned that we needed to demonstrate before our children the love and peace we have for each other. Years ago, when I arrived home after a long day of work at Ligonier Ministries, every one of my (then only) four children (eventually we’d have seven!) wanted some of Poppa as soon as I crossed the threshold. But I would ask them to wait while I gave Momma a hug; then we two would sit together and talk about our day. Only after we had “mom and dad time” did the children get my attention. This told them that my relationships with them were a fruit of my peaceful relationship with her.

Whatever brief, fleeting peace we enjoy now is a taste of, and makes us long more fervently for, the final and full shalom—peace—in the family of God at the wedding feast of the Lamb.

Does that shock you? I hope so. As our children grew into teenagers and one or another would come into conflict with their mother, I would tell them slowly and sternly: “I loved your mother long before you came along, and I have committed to love her for many years after you grow up and move away. So respect her now. My love for you, child, is great and abiding, but my love for her comes first today and every day.” This is exactly what they needed to hear then and to absorb as they transitioned into adulthood. Children need to know that they are the product of love between parents, not the primary focus. When children become more important than the love between mother and father, peace will not be the result.

Second, remember the words of Solomon: “Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all offenses” (Prov. 10:12). A commitment to peace in your home requires trust. When promises are broken and when anger flares, trust begins to crumble. I know that this is true from experience. A commitment to loving deeply requires that you be willing to be hurt deeply. But broken hearts can be mended by the hope of the gospel. Broken hearts make us long for true peace, however momentary and fleeting it might be in this life.

Family is where you can be most hurt because it’s the place where you can be most vulnerable. For this reason, it’s the place where the ugliness comes out most often and most viciously. Because family is meant to be the safe place where you know you’re loved, it is a chief point of the enemy’s attack.

One corollary to this truth that we learned is that one must not ignore or react to the hurtful behavior or the anger in the moment. It is better to ask later (when things have calmed down) what fear this child harbored. Usually, fear drives anger and conflict. Perfect love drives out fear (1 John 4:18). Diagnose and drive out the fear, and peace with love can rise again.

Another corollary that I tell parents of young students is that when their child gets into the car after school and breaks down crying over his day, take that as a compliment. You are safe. The child holds it together during the day when hurts inevitably come in a school setting, but he lets it go with Mom and Dad. While it may seem to be a failure, it’s actually a godly success because you are “getting the leftovers.” That hurting young person has nothing left, but you are the safe place where he knows that he is loved and can find peace.

Third, remember this famous and often misunderstood proverb: “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it” (Prov. 22:6). Years ago, my first Hebrew instructor wisely taught that the Proverbs are principles, not promises. And this particular proverb may just as easily be translated as a dire warning. Its counterpoint could be rendered as “Allow a child to get into a track [think wickedness or some pattern of sin], and when he grows up, do not expect him to change.”

Related to this, remember that you cannot simply be your children’s friend in their developmental years. You must be the parent. Be strong; stay true to your convictions. This requires discipline with love. Play the long game, and with God’s favor, you will become friends for many decades when your children become adults. We see in Hebrews 12:11, “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” But the peaceful fruit requires years of pruning.

Finally, remember the indispensable quality of biblical forgiveness. Paul says that we’re called to be “tenderhearted” and “forgiving” toward one another (Eph. 4:32). This means that, among other things, we can forgive even when we don’t fully understand why someone has hurt us. In doing so, we let go of our defensiveness and adopt a posture of grace toward others.

Peace in the world begins with peace in the family home. Decide that you will love, no matter what. Decide that you will forgive, repent, and seek forgiveness when you have wronged and sinned against your family. Our culture focuses far too much on feelings and emotions, but love is first and foremost a concrete decision and a deep commitment stronger and steadier than ever-changing emotions and momentary feelings.

We conclude with Romans 15:13: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” Peace (with closely related joy) springs forth from hope in the good news and promises of God, given to us by the Spirit’s power at work within us. Whatever brief, fleeting peace we enjoy now is a taste of, and makes us long more fervently for, the final and full shalom—peace—in the family of God at the wedding feast of the Lamb. May God be pleased to give you peace in your family as you hope in Christ alone.

Peace with Ourselves

Peace in the Church

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From the January 2023 Issue
Jan 2023 Issue