Humanity engages in governing practices by being responsible
with one’s resources and fostering practices that seek the benefits of one’s creations. Bosses are supportive and encouraging in the development of their employees. Parents encourage the development of their children. Humans reflect God’s nature by caring for the created world and responsibly cultivating human production, developing culture and technology that are an important aspect of governance—caring for creation. Donald Capps (2000) reminds us that care’s foundation is empathy. We understand the effect our actions have on others, and we respond accordingly. Stewardship as cultivation reflects how we care for the fruitfulness of our labors. Care is reflected in our roles as parents, expressing both grace and empowerment. As people identify with Christ and his sufferings, we develop empathy for others.
Image bearing as liberating and redeeming, Fowler’s second aspect of calling, focuses on being for others. “To be part of the liberative and redemptive work of God means entering into solidarity with Christ and his suffering” (Fowler 1987, 51). Just as Christ entered the human world to defeat the powers of sin and darkness and to reestablish humanity’s relationship to God, calling allows us to follow Christ’s example to be “for” others. “There is a God, there is a future healed world that he will bring about, and your work is showing it (in part) to others” (Keller 2014, 15). Authentic image bearing reflects redeeming and liberating principles at work and home. We work here to right wrongs and address human problems. Being for others means engaging in practices that foster human flourishing, and this dimension of call focuses specifically on redressing hurt, trauma, and issues that thwart human fecundity.
Partnership or connecting is the third way in which image bearing is expressed. It is fundamental in supporting and upholding the governing and redeeming aspects of work from the Christian perspective. The image of God connects our partnership with God to the world. Connecting is both an internal process and an external focus. Internally, it orients us with our true desires and our sense of God and our relationship to Christ. We live out our inner desires and motivations as a reflection of God’s pulling on our heart strings. Partnership uncovers the underlying motivations for our work: Do we labor in response to our God-given commission or do we work out of a desire for personal gain or glory? Externally speaking, we image God in relationships; a key manner in which work expresses this is via collaborative partnerships. Partnering with our spouses and children to develop families
characterized by Christian principles reflects this principle of connecting and relationship. These relationships form the covenantal basis of our being, and they express our need for others. Further, collaborating with coworkers and others allows us to reflect authentic relationships at work and utilize these relationships to cultivate culture, create meaningful products, and provide services that will enhance God’s kingdom.
The four relationship principles—covenant, grace, empowerment, and intimacy—express these aspects of image bearing as calling: investing in and cultivating the fruits of one’s labor. Two of these relationship principles speak directly to expressions of care—grace and empowerment. First, relationships must exude grace. Grace through forgiveness allows relational partners to embody care—I care for you, I want the best for you. Sometimes one’s actions have unintended consequences—I hurt you, you hurt me—but we engage in forgiveness. Further, care is mutually empowering. Empowerment as an expression of care allows relational partners to develop important self-knowledge (primary calling). Based on this self-knowledge, one can develop abilities, skills, and talents to thrive in different life areas (secondary callings).
Partnership is based on the type and depth of the relationships that make up marriage and family interactions. Covenant speaks to the depth of one’s commitment to the other. This is the “till death do us part” Christian idea. Our commitment to be with and for the other provides the basis of care. Next, intimacy is the ultimate result of care as expressed in covenant, grace, and empowerment. Intimacy deepens as I learn more about my identity and the best ways to express that identity. This type of partnership is the bedrock of Christian marriage and family relationships, and the identity developed in the family spills over into one’s identity at work.
The theological understanding of differentiation in Christ provides the foundation for a Christian perspective on calling. Identity based on adoption into God’s family provides the primary calling in life, which is expressed secondarily in family and work-related roles. These roles are authentic expressions of our primary calling as they reflect God’s commission to us as image bearers to govern, redeem, and partner with others.
Work and family spheres are often fraught with conflict and tension. In a society that is based on productivity, balancing the demands of spouses, children, and bosses presents innumerable challenges. The family provides a unique psychological resource, differentiation of self, that offers both specific skills as well as emotional hardiness, allowing individuals to navigate tensions between work and family life.
Differentiation in Christ is most accurately described in the notion of calling. Calling is illuminated by the doctrine of the image of God, whereby humanity is God’s visible representation on earth. This image bearing entails primary calling, which is based on one’s identity as a child of God. One’s self esteem is based on being a child of God in Christ. Further, being a member of Christ’s family provides a meaning-making system that finds its authentic expression in work and family domains. Identity in Christ is expressed as we authentically live out our roles as parents, spouses, and employees.
The primary vehicle for negotiating work and family conflict is role salience and satisfaction. Role salience provides a framework for understanding the relative importance of a demand that comes from either work or family. Role satisfaction, on the other hand, measures the relative personal meaning and well-being derived from either the family or work role. Individuals who are able to derive satisfaction from both roles experience satisfaction spillover, in which the spheres of family and work are mutually enriching.
Calling allows individuals to address both role satisfaction and salience. First, primary calling provides satisfaction and security. This satisfaction is not changeable based on variations in satisfaction from either work or family spheres. Additionally, primary calling provides emotional regulation resources so that one is not reacting to perceived threats to role-derived satisfaction. Second, calling, in a secondary sense, allows one to objectively discern which role is more salient at a given time. This discernment allows one to respond to demands based on one’s primary calling. In these ways, calling is an important resource for negotiating work and family conflict.
Through the Stress and Pain of Family Life
Any group whose members have a strong attachment to one another, interact on a regular basis, and go through various changes together can expect to experience stress. The family is such a group. Family stress can be viewed as any upset in the regular routine of the family, which varies from a minor irritation over someone being late for dinner to a major crisis, such as the death of a family member. While family stress itself tends to have an adverse effect on family life, it is also true that stress external to the family can spill over and negatively impact family life. For instance, Buck and Neff (2012) report that couples who must cope with external stress are depleted of time and energy needed to negotiate the day-to-day tensions and adjustments in their own marital or family relationships.
When not dealt with effectively, family strain can have a cumulative, destructive impact. Not surprisingly, family stress correlates with behavioral problems in children (Tan et al. 2012). Many parents who abuse their children were themselves the victims of abuse when they were growing up. Although this finding does not excuse the abusive behavior, it drives home the point that unresolved feelings of powerlessness in parents can take a secondary toll on their children. A related finding, based on the study of caregiver strain in family caregivers of patients with advanced cancer, revealed that hopelessness was related to higher levels of strain (Lohne, Miaskowski, and Rustoen 2012). However, similar events can trigger completely different reactions in different families and their members. What may seem a minor irritation in one family can be a major event in another. It’s also the case that families handle stressful situations differently, and neurological research has found that stress can impact each family member in different ways. Even more startling is the finding by Gunnar and Quevedo
(2007) that stress in the parent-child relationship can shape a child’s neurological system in such a way as to render the child more susceptible to long-term mental and physical health consequences.
A Model for Understanding Family Stress Attempts to study stress in American families can be traced back to the Depression of the 1930s and to World War II, when millions of fathers were separated from their families. Reuben Hill (1949) proposes that family stress can best be analyzed by considering the interaction of three factors: (1) the stressful event itself; (2) the resources or strengths that a family possesses at the time the event occurs; and (3) the family’s perception of the event. In a sense, the event itself (e.g., the war) is the necessary cause but is not sufficient in and of itself to cause family stress. For example, if the alcoholic father is a source of tension in the home, his separation from the family may be perceived as a relief. This is especially true if the mother has sufficient resources to carry out the functions usually performed by the father.
Most models of family stress elaborate Hill’s seminal work about how these three factors interact. A good overview of these models can be found in chapters 9 and 10 of Family Communication (Segrin and Flora 2005). The major refinement in these models has been an endeavor to understand the coping abilities of the family when confronted by a stressful event. This has placed the focus on the family’s recoverability instead of its troubles, and on the family’s resources instead of the crisis. A model of family stress that focuses more on the effects of serious individual trauma on the family, such as death, murder, or terrorism, can be found in two books by Don Catherall: Handbook of Stress, Trauma, and the Family (2004) and Family Stress: Interventions for Stress and Trauma (2005).
Stressful Events Before we consider how families cope, it is important to gain an
understanding of the various types of stressful events that affect most families. A major distinction can be made between predictable events (usually transitions to new stages in family life) and unpredictable events (unexpected and unplanned events). Happy and anticipated events can also be stressful (weddings, births, adoptions, forming new families, leaving home, etc.) because they usher in emotional and physical changes that must
be dealt with. Although it is true that the predictability of an event does not eliminate stress, families can make the needed effort to prepare for changes. Transitions in family life not only change each member but the family itself also changes with the entrance and exit of members. These events challenge the family—a system of maturing and changing individuals. The stress generated by the family system causes stress to individuals, and likewise the strains on individuals introduce tension into the family system.
Among the unexpected events that have a devastating impact on families are environmental disasters such as floods, hurricanes, fires, famines, and earthquakes, as well as societal afflictions such as war, terrorism, and economic depression. Individual families have little control over such adversities. These unexpected disasters take a great toll because families and communities are powerless against them. Help is needed from outside sources on a national and international level (Wadsworth 2010).