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The community calls members to accountability for destructive patterns of relating and empowers them through care and challenge. The church is a place where a family’s differentiated faith is nourished and preserved. It supports the making and keeping of the family members’ covenant commitments to one another. Through its multiple resources, the church supports the family’s growth through instruction and enrichment opportunities. Colossians 3:12–15 provides a model: “As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful.”

The deep undertone of hyperindividualism in modern society is an enormous barrier to faith. It is nearly impossible to hold on to community values in a society that promotes the “I” and the “me” over the “we”and the“us.” In fact, community words such as cohumanity, reciprocity, interdependence, and mutuality are undervalued and rarely used. This self- focused mentality goes against the Christian ideal of forsaking self for the sake of other. This in itself is a compelling reason for families to join a community of faith that upholds biblical principles. We need all the help we can get to be God-centered and relationship-centered. Being part of a Christian community of care is not just a wise thing to do; it is a necessary spiritual discipline.

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Family Spirituality as a Process The foundational element of family spirituality is covenantal love, which responds to shortcomings with grace and uses personal gifts and strengths for mutual empowerment, resulting in intimate relationships. Family spirituality is not a static state to be achieved but a relational process to be lived out.

In introducing the model of family relationality, we stressed that such a form should be found not only inwardly but also outwardly. As family members are called to love unconditionally, forgive, and empower one another in moving toward greater intimacy, so they are called to do the same with those outside the family. The greatest evidence of strong family

 

 

spirituality can be seen in the way families reach out to minister to the needs of others.

Family spirituality is an evolving process that corresponds to the major developmental issues of living together as a family. The early stages of marriage establish the foundational spiritual practices. With the arrival of children, family life re-centers around and immerses in teaching and modeling faith. When children become teenagers, parents and children negotiate the meaning of an independent faith. After grown children leave home, both those children and the parents redefine what it means to relate as adult to adult and honor one another’s spiritual beliefs. Later in life, a couple’s faith extends to grandparenting and elder-care roles, while in the last stage of family life, the finality of death is faced in light of one’s faith. At each stage of family life, the potential for individual spiritual growth or stagnation reflects the health of family spirituality and the nature of its corresponding relationality.

The relationship between Jesus and his Father serves as a model. Jesus proclaims in John 17:22–23, “The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” God’s desire for family life is for Christ to indwell each family member so that his or her unique spiritual gifts mutually serve and empower the other members. Christ, the cornerstone of faith, is the grounding force that permeates family relationships and the life of the family with sacred meaning.

In anticipation of his death on the cross, Jesus offers us a glimpse of the spiritual differentiation between the Father and the Son. In his time of greatest spiritual anguish, Jesus tells his disciples, “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and stay awake with me” (Matt. 26:38). He reprimands them for falling asleep rather than joining him in prayer. In his humanity, Jesus seeks comfort and support from his disciples. After they fail him, Jesus prays, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me” (v. 39). Jesus faces the anguish of being torn to the breaking point. He desperately wants to be relieved of the upcoming suffering but also agonizes about being separated from his Father in death. But in the intimate connection of prayer and assurance of his Father’s love, he willingly submits: “Yet not what I want but what you want” (v. 39).

 

 

The text reveals that the Son and the Father have individual wills. Yet the Son’s desire is that his will be one with the Father’s will. Does the Father feel the anguish and the “sorrow unto death” of the Son? We have no doubt that he does. In a fatherly sense, he is very present through his love and certainly dies with Jesus in that love. However, it is the Son, not the Father, who physically dies on the cross. In a spiritual sense, the Father is there for the Son without depriving the Son of his spiritual purpose. And in the end, after the resurrection, Christ is fully transformed as he becomes one with God. Here we have a glimpse of the differentiated spiritual unity between God the Father and God the Son that can be a model for spiritual differentiation in human family relationships.

 

 

9

Adolescence and Midlife Challenging Changes

The greatest conflicts within the family are likely to occur when children are in their adolescence. One reason is that at the very time children are in the difficult period of adolescence, their parents are likely to be reaching midlife. Research on adult development has shown that reaching midlife is often a time of crisis for adults (Sneed et al. 2012). Thus, the conflict that frequently occurs during the strain of adolescence must be viewed in light of the parental strain as well. Both parents and adolescents are experiencing significant developmental transitions individually, which adds potential stress for the family.

A systemic approach helps us understand the interactive effect of these transitions: adolescent stress does not just add to parental midlife stress—it multiplies it. Further, midlife challenges affect and are constantly affected by adolescent changes. These transitions influence one another, either magnifying conflicts or dampening them. Whenever two or more family members are going through a period of personal crisis simultaneously, the potential for conflict increases exponentially. It is also true that some conflicts with a particular teen may elicit more difficulty than others.

This chapter presents the stressful challenges of adolescence and midlife separately and then considers the special problems that arise when they happen concurrently. We begin with an examination of the factors contributing to the rise of adolescent and midlife strain in our society. “What’s the big deal?” the reader may be asking. “People pass through adolescence and midlife in every society. Why make such an issue about them?” But this is not, in fact, the case. True, people in every society pass through the chronological ages corresponding to adolescence and midlife, but

 

 

these are not distinct stages of life in most societies. We will attempt to explain why our society seems to produce more adolescent and midlife strain than most others.

Adolescence

The Origin of the Adolescent Stage Western societies initially possessed the cultural equivalent of puberty

rites, which marked the transition from childhood to adulthood. Prior to the Industrial Revolution, youth learned to farm or acquired a trade by developing skills through the apprenticeship system. As they both lived with and worked under the watchful eye of the master craftsman, apprentices occupied clear-cut positions. Once the skills were mastered, one was ready for adulthood and marriage. Mastering the skills of one’s future trade was the rite of passage into adulthood.

Urbanization and industrialization brought about a slower and more ambiguous passage into adulthood. With the development of factories, the apprenticeship system declined. Factory work did not require a high degree of skill, so youth could begin working independently at an early age. Children began to leave their homes to work in urban factories. Because of the extremely low pay, most of them lived in slum apartments. Alienated from the rest of society, they increasingly became a problem to society. Because these adolescents were disenfranchised from adult life, an adolescent culture emerged.

What in the beginning included just a few urban youth for a brief period of their lives has grown to include virtually all young people in our society. The period in view—the gap between childhood and adulthood, which we call adolescence—has also expanded. There are several reasons for this phenomenon. First, as our society has become increasingly technologically oriented, more jobs have been created at the highly skilled level and fewer at the lower level. Thus, young people must continue their education and delay their entrance into the full-time workforce, which would normally award them adult status.

Second, one of the effects of the Industrial Revolution has been the development of the separate spheres of home and work life. The upshot is that home is a place of refuge, relaxation, and enjoyment, where work is a

 

 

place of toil, difficulty, and challenge. As children are prevented from entering the work sphere until they have sufficient skills and education, adolescence has expanded. This is changing to a certain extent, as technology has been eroding the clear boundaries between work and family life. In some respects, technology (social media, for example) has allowed individuals to be more connected with the world and peers; but it has also increased loneliness, depression, and isolation (Woods and Scott 2016).

Third, the extended family has been replaced by the nuclear family because of high mobility. The nuclear family is a small, fragile unit, isolated from relatives who could provide resources and give young people a sense of stability and belonging. In many families, divorce, separation, or the need for parents to work long hours in the marketplace further complicate the situation. In the present day, nuclear families outsource to churches, agencies, and the local community many needs that extended families once met.

A fourth factor contributing to the expansion of adolescence is the affluence of youth in Western societies today. Either because they earn their own money or because their parents give them money, many young people possess a degree of independence not experienced by any previous generation. The greater independence of youth today goes hand-in-hand with a loss of parental and societal control.

Although these factors did not produce adolescence, they have been instrumental in furthering it. Adolescence came about because social structures developed that slow the movement of youth toward adult status. Concomitant with this arrested development is a lack of meaning in the lives of young people today. Locked out of adulthood, they find their lives void of the meaning that is a part of adult roles. From this vantage, the creation of adolescent subcultures can best be understood.

Adulthood is generally marked by marriage (or having a stable, committed relationship), the end of occupational training, childbearing and rearing, gainful employment, and home ownership (see Townsend 2002 for an excellent discussion of the effect of these markers on gender identity), and adolescence is supposed to equip individuals to attain those markers. Because these markers are increasingly difficult to attain, adolescence has been stretching beyond the traditional end point of eighteen years old and into the mid to late twenties (Kail and Cavanaugh 2017).

There is evidence that, because of a combination of biological and social factors, adolescence is beginning earlier and lasting longer, resulting in the

 

 

identification of an emerging adulthood stage between adolescence and young adulthood (Kail and Kavanaugh 2017). Formal attempts to define the beginning of adulthood in contemporary society do very little to dispel this confusion. For example, the legal age at which one may marry varies from state to state. In terms of voting privileges and military service, an eighteen- year-old is judged to be an adult. In most states, a young adult is permitted to drive at sixteen and legally allowed to drink alcohol at age twenty-one. It is enlightening to note the age at which a person is regarded as an adult when financial profit is involved. Movie theaters, airlines, and most public establishments that require an admission fee consider a twelve-year-old to be an adult. Teenagers are asked to pay adult prices but are told to wait until they are older to receive adult privileges.

To grow up in the United States can be a free-form experience. Adolescence can be compared to a jam session in which experienced jazz musicians play without a score. They simply improvise as they go along, relying on their skills and experience as musicians to feel the ebb and flow of the music. Unfortunately, being a teen or parenting a teen usually means having little experience or expertise in navigating the crescendo and diminuendo of the sometimes-turbulent improvisation. Unlike the master jazz musician, adolescents follow no clear cultural norms. This explains the rapid change in adolescent fashion and style, whether it be clothes, hairdos, or language.

Adolescence as an Identity Crisis Although adolescence can be explained as resulting from the social and

economic conditions of Western cultures, its effect is most profound at the individual level, where it is often experienced as an identity crisis. This identity crisis is the most important feature of the psycho-social development of adolescents (Erikson 1980, 1997). Our discussion of adolescent stress needs to be tempered by the fact that the media are quick to report on all that is wrong with adolescents but rarely give positive examples illustrating the good things adolescents do (Damon 2004). The popular depiction of adolescence focuses primarily on teenage risk-taking and other negative stereotypes of this life stage.

The creation of an adolescent subculture is an attempt to establish identity. One learns from peer groups what to wear, what music to listen to, what movies to see, what language is “in,” and so on. The greater the adolescent’s

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