Understanding Your Family Culture
About the Guest
Tim Stafford, senior writer for Christianity Today and author of the book, Never Mind the Joneses, talks with Dennis Rainey about family culture and the way it shapes our identity.
Tim StaffordTim Stafford is a freelance writer and Senior Writer for Christianity Today Magazine. He’s written more than twenty books, both fiction and non-fiction. His most recent publication is God’s Justice: The Holy Bible. He is General Editor, overseeing the biblical commentary of 55 writers, most from the majority world. Stafford himself wrote the notes for five books of the Bible. You can find God’s Justice at ...more
Tim Stafford talks about family culture and the way it shapes our identity.
Understanding Your Family Culture
Bob: As a dad, Tim Stafford wanted to pass along biblical values to his children, but where was he to start? Which values are most important? Here's Tim.
Tim: I started with the Ten Commandments, and I worked through -- tried to work through all the ethical teachings in Scripture and tried to ask myself, "What's the positive behind the negative?" You know, when God says, "You shall not covet," what's the value that's being protected by telling you not to covet? Well, I think it's contentment. So what are the values behind the ethical teaching?
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, August 16th. Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. Are your family values based on what other families are doing or based on what God's Word has to say?
And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us on the Monday edition. Do you ever find yourself kind of looking at how other families are doing things and going …
Dennis: … are you talking about comparison?
Bob: Yes, you know, where you …
Dennis: … keeping up with the Joneses?
Bob: Well, you wonder – we're not doing it that way. I know here is what will happen to us. We'll go over to somebody's house, and their kids are neatly dressed, neatly groomed, the house is immaculate, and the kids are all -- they seem to respect their parents and obey.
Dennis: They seem to.
Bob: We just go home from those encounters and just go to bed, that's what we do.
Dennis: You know what really irritates me is to go to somebody's house and you may need to go to the washroom or something, and you wander by a bedroom, and their teenagers' rooms are immaculate. There is nothing on the floor. There are no books, you know, clothing stacked up on beds.
Bob: You know, when that happens to us, do you know what we do? We just decide, right then and there, we're never going back to those people's house again. It's just too guilt-inducing.
Dennis: Just remove the standard.
Bob: That's right. They're not our friends anymore.
Dennis: Well, what we want to do in the coming moments is we want to encourage your family not to compare but to prepare and to be intentional about the kind of values you teach, model, and – well, that you infuse in the next generation, and we have a resource available for you today that is a heaven-class resource. Tim Stafford joins us on the broadcast. Tim, welcome to FamilyLife Today.
Tim: Thanks. I'm not sure I was sent from heaven, but I'm going to do my best.
Bob: It's better to be heaven class than world class, do you think?
Tim: That's true.
Dennis: That's kind of one of my phrases I like. You know, world class is good, but heaven class is better, and that really is what your book is all about. You've written a book called "Never Mind the Joneses." Now, you're a writer. You've written 20 books. You've raised three teenagers. You're about to be empty nesters, you're a write for "Christianity Today," and you believe that a family needs to know what its values are. Why?
Tim: Because life goes by very quickly, and I think a lot of families aren't very intentional about the way they live, and when they think about values, they get guilty. And I'd like them to be thinking creatively and hopefully about those values.
Dennis: What do you do with a friend, like we were talking about – you go over to their house, and you notice their house is clean, and you're comparing it to your house, which looks like a perpetual garage sale is occurring in your family room like ours does right now. We have one back from college; we have another one back from adulthood who is kind of camping out until she takes her next assignment in life. She's moving into the ministry and raising her support, and she'll be out of our house in another couple of weeks or so. But, I'm telling you, the boxes are everywhere, and …
Tim: … I can relate.
Dennis: I'm sure you can. What do you do with comparison?
Tim: I think you just have to try to thank God for those people who are so different from you, and just be glad you're not a member of their family, because it's almost intolerable to think about.
Bob: You'd mess up their family bad, wouldn't you?
Tim: They couldn't have a person like me, and I don't think I'd want to be in their family. So every family is different. Every family has its own character, its own personality, it's own flavor, and I think that's a gift of God, and we should really enjoy it.
Bob: We all have a culture. In fact, you talk about that as you start off this book. Every family has a culture, whether you're intentional about establishing that culture or not.
Bob: It's there.
Tim: It's there.
Bob: And if you're not intentional about it, it may not be all that it ought to be.
Tim: Yeah, let me talk about culture. A great story, I think, of my daughter. We are a backpacking family. We love the mountains. I grew up in the mountains, and I just think that's the greatest thing in the world to do, and my wife adopted that style with me when we were a young married couple, we went backpacking. So naturally when we had children we wanted to take our kids and do what we did. That's just a family value that we like to backpack.
So my daughter, our oldest, just never took to it at all, and she just – she'd had altitude sickness, and I remember particularly one day we were real high, up about 12,000 feet, and we're in a hellacious rainstorm, just pouring down on us, and she is sick, and I go ahead to find a place to put up our tents and get some shelter, and her mother is staying behind with her, and she is crying, she's throwing up, and Katy says, "I hate it, I hate it, I hate it, and the thing I hate the most is I know when I grow up I'm going to marry somebody just like Dad, and we'll make our kids go backpacking."
Now, that's family culture. I mean, she knew, in her bones, and, in fact, as of today, she's a very enthusiastic backpacker, and she's not married yet but so far the prophecy is coming true.
Dennis: You know she's going to make her kids go up to 12,000 feet and throw up.
Tim: I'd be very surprised if she didn't, because that's how family culture works. We adopt these values; we find things that just come naturally to us. What we don't always do is think about how these are communicating or can communicate really core Christian values. And I think it's the most powerful way that we communicate core Christian values – through our family culture – the unique way that we are.
Dennis: You used a phrase there – "family culture." I want us to take the word culture, because you've done some writing about that. It's a word that's bantered about today a lot. Christians want to change the culture. You have some very unique thoughts about culture. First of all, define it and then explain to our listeners what a family culture is.
Tim: Well, culture is the habitual ways of living that people do – the ways they adopt. You know, in a family setting, it's that our family never puts a ketchup bottle on the table. That's culture. It's not right or wrong. It's just something we do.
Dennis: Why – hold it – I've just got to ask you why do you not put a ketchup bottle on the table?
Tim: Because that's our family culture.
Dennis: There's no reason behind it?
Tim: Well, I don't know if there is or not. I just know that's what you do. And if you go to Kenya, where I spent four years, you'll find there's a culture and there are certain assumptions about what's hospitality, what do you do when you have guests? How do in-laws treat their adopted family members? How do stepparents operate? You know, all kinds of assumptions that nobody thinks about very much. That's just what Kenyans do, and we have American habits that we are equally used to, and the French have their culture. So that's just our habitual ways of life. I think what we don't always realize is culture also communicates values. It's a way of translating values into practical living.
A great example in Kenya – when we went to Kenya, we wanted to make friends, and we thought, "These are nice people." We were meeting nice people at church, and we felt like we had a lot in common when we talked to them. We felt like, "Wow, we could be friends with these people." And so we invited them over to dinner. We'd go say, "Hey, could we get you to come over to our house?" And as soon as we said that, people would get a little nervous. They'd kind of act a little antsy. And maybe they'd pull out their Daytimer, and we'd interact with that a little bit, and somehow we never could find a date. And then occasionally we actually got down to setting on a date, and people didn't show up. And we couldn't figure out, "What are we doing wrong? Are we ever going to get past this?"
Then finally we asked a Kenyan couple – we didn't know them real well, but we knew them well enough to ask them, just – could you tell us what we're doing wrong? And they said, "Oh, you don't ask people over to your house. You go to their house." We said, "Fine, but they haven't invited us." They said, "That doesn't matter. You just go." "Without an invitation? What if they're having dinner?" "Oh, that would be really good." So with – holding my heart in my hand, I go up and knock on people's doors, whom I barely know, and as soon as that door opens, I know I've done the right thing. They are so happy to see us. They make us stay for dinner. They love it. And then they start coming to our house unannounced as well. Because that's the way Kenyans do hospitality.
The value is hospitality. The way you do it varies a lot and, you know, the core value there – and it's a Christian value – is hospitality. But we have a lot of different ways of doing it, and it's actually fun to find the way that we do it best – our family does it best, our culture does it best.
Dennis: And you believe that the family, our family, is the single most influential force in all of our earthly existence for passing on and transmitting godly values to the next generation?
Tim: Yes, and also ungodly values. What we live as well as what we preach will be passed on to our children and maybe to our grandchildren as well, whether we planned it or not. If we planned it, we'll be a lot better off.
Dennis: So you're saying that may whether we're intentional or not, we're passing on values of some kind, one way or another?
Tim: You know, when you really realize this is when you get married, and we all can remember this moment when we got married, and we found out that thing that we did in our family that we thought all families did it, and now our new beloved bride or spouse whom we are going to spend the rest of our life with, considers that completely weird. Remember that moment? That's when you realize you've had something passed on to you.
Now, then, when you come together …
Dennis: … no, no, no, that's when I realize she was wrong.
Tim: Yeah, that's also true. Now, we unconsciously carry a lot of patterns. You know, what do you do when somebody's mad in your house? Do you go for a walk? Do you yell at each other? Do you talk it out? Do you make an appointment to talk? There are a lot of ways of dealing with anger. Most of us haven't really thought about it very much, but we have a family pattern, I'll promise you, that has been passed on to us; a way that is considered the right way to deal with anger. Then when we get married, we really have a chance to start over again, if we think it out, because we have two different sets of family cultures coming together at that point. There is a new beginning, and there is a chance to reformulate and rethink.
Of course, there's a chance at every point to reformulate and rethink, but that's a key point.
Bob: Some of those things that make up your family culture are really – they're amoral. Whether you have the ketchup bottle on the table or not, it really doesn't matter.
Tim: That's bugging you.
Dennis: That's still a little troubling to me, because I like ketchup.
Tim: Talk to my wife.
Bob: But there are other things, like how you handle anger – well, now we're getting to some biblical issues, and that's why it's important that we take our patterns, our culture, and see if we can align our lives around what the Scriptures teach.
Dennis: They key is that a parent take responsibility for the values that are being pressed into our children's lives, certainly as long as they live in our home.
Tim: That is certainly true, and, really, the values – you never really stop being a parent, do you? I mean – the influence potentially is always there as long as you're both alive. But certainly while the children are in the home, that's your chance. But it changes as the children grow older. They do have a different outlook on life, and they have a different constituency, I mean, they have a different nature, to some extent, as they become adults.
Bob: When we talk about establishing a family culture and being intentional about it, I'm going to throw out some words that are pejorative words, but I want you to respond to these. Are you talking about indoctrination? Are you talking about brainwashing? Are you talking about having standards around the house that can't be deviated from?
Tim: In a way, that's a question about family culture. You know, when we were describing that family that never has anything on the floor? They probably have standards of life and a family culture that might feel like indoctrination to me. It doesn't to them, at least I hope not, if they're a healthy family. Some families are really tight. They have very rigid, clear, written expectations.
Dennis: Like no ketchup on the kitchen table.
Tim: Now, that's different. You're meddling now. Other families operate on a different basis, and sometimes I think, like we were inferring, feel really guilty that they don't have those clear, rigid, perfect standards written down and lived out to perfection. But they may express their values in a far more creative, a more – in dialog. I think, in my own family life, we do a lot of talking, and in our family, the only kind of talking we know how to do is back and forth. I mean, I could try to indoctrinate my kids but, frankly, they've picked up my personality and my style, which is to talk back, you know, to answer and to give my own reasons and to ask questions. And that's who they are. That's who our family is, really. That's part of our culture.
So I have to communicate values in that framework for them. So, no, I wouldn't – I think there is such a thing as indoctrination, but I would think that is something we would want to avoid. If we're properly working with our family culture in our own style, it won't feel like indoctrination.
Dennis: When Barbara and I stumbled onto something you teach in your book, we had no idea how important it was to hammer out our values. But we had two children at the time, and we got away for a retreat, and we sat down on a rock, and we hammered out our core family values.
Tim: Did you? Great.
Dennis: We both had lists of 10. We brought our lists together and then argued about it, okay? And then hammered …
Bob: … there were some disagreements.
Tim: My style.
Dennis: Yes. You know, we didn't have the same list, we're two different people. Well, we developed a list of four or five core values for our family. Now, what you have is 14. Now, that makes me feel guilty.
Tim: Yeah, yeah, I could help you a lot.
Dennis: You really can. How did you come up with your list of 14?
Tim: I started with the Ten Commandments, and I worked through …
Dennis: … now, see, right there, see, he's already put me in the pile, Bob …
Bob: … he started biblically.
Dennis: Because I have less than 10, I couldn't have possibly pulled it out of the 10 Commandments.
Bob: Well, you started with Jesus' summation of the Ten Commandments, "Love God and love your neighbor."
Dennis: I did – and then the Great Commission.
Bob: You were just more New Testament than he was.
Dennis: So I summarized – oh, okay …
Bob: … how's that?
Dennis: Thank you.
Tim: He's a New Testament person.
Bob: That's right.
Dennis: Okay, so you started with the Ten Commandments.
Tim: So I started with the Ten Commandments – tried to work through all the ethical teachings in Scripture, and, you know, the Proverbs, for example, have a lot of ethical wisdom, and obviously Paul's letters are full of, Jesus' teaching the Sermon on the Mount, and other passages, and tried to ask myself, "If I really ask what are the values behind the ethical teaching, what's the positive behind the negative," if I could put it that way. You know, when God says you shall not covet, what's the value that's being protected by telling you not to covet. Well, I think it's contentment. So what are the core values that stand behind those negative teachings? And you could argue about my list or your list. You know, you could write it different. The values overlap. They could be a number of different values included within them. I wouldn't say this is God's list.
Bob: You don't have the infallible.
Tim: Not yet.
Dennis: Well, he did start with the Ten Commandments, though, now.
Tim: That's pretty good.
Dennis: That's a pretty strong authority at that point.
Tim: But I think I could say in this 14 are all the commandments of Scripture. I mean, they're represented there somewhere. You might have to think a while to figure out where they fit, but I've tried to be comprehensive, because I think one thing we make a mistake on sometimes – I think families a lot of times do this – they have one or two values that they really know well, and they do a good job on it. You know, like, some families – hard work. And hard work is a biblical value, but some families, that's the end of their list.
Bob: And we should say hard work is one of the 14 on your list.
Tim: Absolutely, it is. But I think, for example, I think sometimes parents neglect to realize that for some kids they can learn hard work through sports. Now, that may seem a little heretical, but, actually, I think some kids do learn more about hard work from practicing sports and really taking them seriously and being devoted to them than they do from washing the dishes. My sister's family, they are musicians. They love music.
Now, there's different ways to be a musician. You can be a musician who is very gifted but very undisciplined or you can really apply yourself to the gifts that God has given you and learned to work hard at it. And they did.
Dennis: You know, we started this broadcast out with me feeling guilty for my kids' rooms not being clean. Our family is also a musically challenged family. We don't have any …
Tim: … now you're really feeling bad.
Dennis: I really am feeling bad. So if you really – if you do compare …
Bob: … what are you guys any good at?
Dennis: You know, we're still looking for it. Here's what I'd like to do, in all seriousness. You have 13 more values. We have our four or five that we came up with. Bob, have you and Mary Ann hammered this out?
Bob: I don't have any formal list. We need to do this, don't we?
Dennis: Well, I'll tell you what I'd like to do – I'd like to put Bob's new list and Barbara's and mine, all right? And your list …
Bob: … I'm going to go home and do this tonight, is that the idea?
Dennis: Well, at least by the time this broadcast is on the air, yeah. And what I'd like to do is I'd like to do two things. I'd like to put your 14, Tim; Bob's, undoubtedly it will be …
Tim: … it will be longer than ours.
Dennis: No, it will be "Bob's Non-Negotiables," that's what it will be. And it will be laminated on a card. This is the key, Tim, it's the power of lamination – and we'll put ours on the Internet at FamilyLife.com, but we'll also park a practical project on the Internet that will help couples begin to interact around what their values are. This will be a great project for singles, too, just to say, "What are my values, as a single person?"
Bob: This is a project you and Barbara developed a couple of years ago that a lot of couples have used and found it helpful. In fact, I would encourage those who are in the first five years of your marriage – maybe you don't have kids yet – start now hammering this stuff out. Get it down on paper. Get the culture established so you're not playing defense later on. But, by the same token, if you've been married 25 years …
Dennis: … it's not too late …
Bob: … you can start. I know that, because I have the assignment now, and I've been married 25 years. We have that list on our website at FamilyLife.com. You can also order a copy of Tim's book on our website, and I'll tell you how we're going to do our project. We're just going to read Tim's book and come up with our list.
Dennis: There you go, okay. I thought you were going to say you were going to read Tim's list and make it yours.
Bob: Well, we may borrow heavily from it. The book is called "Never Mind the Joneses," and we have it available in our FamilyLife Resource Center. You can call us at 1-800-FLTODAY to request a copy or go online at FamilyLife.com. And, I'll tell you, those folks who are really serious about setting some goals and doing this right, they'll go through the core values project that you talked about that's on our website at FamilyLife.com; they'll get a copy of Tim's book, "Never Mind the Joneses;" they'll also get a copy of Robert Lewis's book, "Real Family Values," and by the time you have read Tim's book and Robert Lewis's book and gone through the core values project, you'll be on your way to having some serious values set for your family. And anybody who wants to order the two books together this week, Dennis, we're going to add, at no additional cost, the audio of our conversation with Tim on either cassette or CD.
Ask for more information about any of these resources when you call us at 1-800-FLTODAY or the details are online when you go to our website at FamilyLife.com. All right?
You know, as we think about the subject of our family's values, we live in a culture today where the culture is pressing against the values of many of our families – many of the values that we hold dear as a family are now very counter-cultural ideas – things like modesty, things like the definition of marriage, things like setting boundaries for your children. We feel an urgent need here at FamilyLife to be able to speak more clearly and more directly into the culture on these issues. Not that we're trying to reform the culture, but we're trying to make sure that the voice of godly people is not drowned out. We're trying to make sure that as you try to determine what your family is going to look like, you are being influenced as much or more by the Scriptures as you are by what the culture is trying to send your way.
In order to do that, we need to hear from as many of our listeners as possible here during the month of August. This is a critical month for us. It ends our fiscal year. We're looking ahead to the new year. We're looking at the challenges that are there for us in the culture. We're saying we need to turn up the volume on a lot of these issues, and if we're going to do that, we need to know that we've got the financial support to be able to do that. We need to hear from as many listeners as possible.
So if you can make a donation online or by phone, we would appreciate it. You can call 1-800-FLTODAY and make a donation, or you can go to our website at FamilyLife.com to donate. Your financial support is crucial to our ability to try to tackle some of these issues head-on in the months ahead. So if you can, make a donation, we'd love to hear from you.
Now, tomorrow we want to talk about what ought to be everyone's number-one value for their family, and I already know what's going on my list at the top of the list. So I hope our listeners can tune back in as we talk about that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We'll see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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