Jan 212020 0 Responses

Why Your Family Tree Matters

When Jenny and I said “I do” while standing in her parent’s front yard in front of a hundred of our closest friends and a couple of horses, we hadn’t spent much time thinking about the family we would one day have. We had considered our marriage. Having spent ample time planning the wedding, we spent far more planning the marriage. Books, discussions, counseling were all a part of our pre-marital routine. We knew the years ahead were more important than the single day ceremony.

Yet twenty years later, I realize there was far more at play that day than we understood. Our exchange of vows was the start of a marriage, but it was also the beginning of a family. While our kids were still five years away, the habits we began forming as we created our first home still impact us today. Who do we want to be as a couple was a question we considered. Who do we want to be as a family was not something of which we had thought. But it is a question which we should continually consider. (See: When Bad Things Happen in Good Families)

We often forget that we are choosing who we want to be. While many circumstances in our lives are beyond our control, the basic character which we have as individuals and the character we display as a family are the byproducts of our own choices. We may not choose what happens to us, but we do choose who we become as people and families.

The Family Tree

A family tree can tell an interesting story. While it doesn’t reveal everything, a basic family tree can show who is in and who is out. It sets the basic boundaries of relationships. Yet when I think of our family tree, I don’t think so much about lines and hierarchies which show our ancestors and descendants. A tree is an excellent metaphor for who we want our family to be.

We want our family to be characterized by these five qualities which also characterize a good tree:

Stable. Life is full of ups and downs. Because of the chaos around us, we need a place of refuge. That’s what family is meant to be. This doesn’t mean there aren’t times in which family life is chaotic. Clearly it is. However, as a general rule, we want family to be something we can all run to rather than from. We want it to be a place where we rejuvenate, let our guards down, and find peace.  A healthy tree is consistent. While conditions around might be volatile, the tree is generally unmoved. So it is with a healthy family. We want to continually grow in emotional stability so that while everything around us is chaotic, we are are predictable, calm, and consistent.

Strong. The stability of a tree is greatly a result of its strength. While leaves and new branches may be fragile, the trunk is not. The longer it lives, the more rings it forms, the stronger it becomes. Because life is hard, families need to be strong. Strength is only built over time and through enduring hardships. This gives us a different perspective on life. When tough times come, it’s an opportunity to learn, grow, and mature. Every time we struggle, we have the opportunity to learn new skills so that the next time we can apply them to our circumstances. This pattern repeated over time of struggling, learning, and growing is what creates strength. (See: Healthy Families Can Talk About Anything)

Resourced. Like a tree, a family needs nutrients. In order to survive, we must take in resources to nourish and sustain us. We have two choices–we can get those from around us or we can be planted into something that resources us from beneath the surface. We want our family to be the latter. Rather than being dependent and influenced by the circumstances around us, we want to plant ourselves in something which will nourish us no matter what the circumstances may be. For us, we are planted in God’s love. Anyone can thrive when times are good, but difficult moments are certain to come. In those days, we must draw our strength from something other than the successes of life or the ease of our circumstances.

Contributing. A tree does many things, but two things it does is provide shade and fruit. Others can benefit from the tree without any real cost to the tree. Just by being and doing what a tree naturally does, others benefit. So it should be with family. We desire that others might benefit just from the overflow of our love and connection. While we should show an intention to serve others, there are always ways that others should benefit from our affection for each other without it costing us anything. When a child’s friend enjoys dinner with the family or others are encouraged by the strength of our marriage, their lives are enhanced without it costing us anything. A good tree is a benefit to its environment. The same is true with a good family.

Enduring. Just because a family lasts doesn’t mean they have been successful, but persevering through adversity is a prerequisite for success. We want to have a dogged-determinism when it comes to enduring whatever comes our way. Part of what makes a tree is its consistency over the years. I often measure my children’s growth in comparison to the trees in our yard. While both the trees and children are growing, the trees change much more slowly and they mark the growth in my children. I desire for our family to be a marker of longevity. While everything changes, I hope our love stays steadfast and is something people can continually count on.

Family Trees

Chances are there are aspects of your family tree you don’t like. Maybe certain branches got cut off. Maybe sometimes it didn’t fork enough. We all have aspects of family of which we are not proud. Yet that family tree doesn’t really matter. We have very little control over it. However,  another family tree does matter. The condition of your relationships and the impact you have on others is fully under your control. Grow into a tree of which you can be proud.


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