Learning to Fit Into the Universe
About the Guest
We all struggle with submission at times, but it's something we have to learn if we're going to get along with others and fit into God's universe. So says today's broadcast guest, Tim Stafford, author of the book Never Mind the Joneses.
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
We need to learn submission if we’re going to get along with others and fit into God’s universe.
Learning to Fit Into the Universe
Bob: Are there boundaries for everyone in your family? Is there a sense of order? Is that important to God? Here is Tim Stafford.
Tim: When people lack the sense of ordered space – that's another way of talking about it – they don't know what's me and what's you. They don't know how to respect that. So that's the extreme, but even at very, very practical levels, to teach children where those boundaries are and to live within an ordered space, is a fundamental lesson, and it's one that God endorses.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, August 19th. Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. If having a little more order around your house is something that you'd value, stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us on the Thursday edition. We're talking this week about family values, and we have the family values candidate with us, don't we? The man who stands for family values …
Dennis: … the life coach of family values, Tim Stafford joins us on FamilyLife Today.
Bob: Vote for Tim. He believes in family values.
Tim: It's getting tougher every session.
Dennis: Tim is the author of "Never Mind the Joneses." He's a writer for "Christianity Today." What's the circulation of CT these days?
Tim: I think it's something like 160,000, but I haven't kept real close tabs on that, so don't quote me.
Dennis: He's written 20 books; been married for 27 years; has three teenagers; enjoys Little League backpacking, running not jogging, and reading.
I want to read something to you, Tim, because I want you to comment on this. This is a letter to Bob and me from a listener that, I think, when you talk about family values, this is where a lot of people are living today.
"Dear Bob and Dennis, Where do I begin? I'm at a brick wall in my marriage and family. I feel defeated, lonely, and a failure. I know all the right things to do. I've been trying to become educated through counseling, reading, your broadcast, and God's Word, on how to improve my family situation, but I just can't see the light. You see, my husband comes from a Christian background but refuses to follow God in his everyday life. My background is from a non-Christian family, and I'm like a sponge, absorbing every word from God and trying to apply it in my life and become more Christ-like. Our differences cause great strife in our marriage and with raising our four girls. Each day I see my family spinning out of control. The children don't listen to us, as they know that we have strong differences of opinion. They see us struggle with one another on simple beliefs and family values. They are smart and use this against us in situations, which exponentially affects the dynamics of our so-called family"
Now, listen to how she concludes this – "I clearly can see the brick wall approaching fast. If something is not done soon, we'll hit it, and the sight will not be a pleasant one."
Now, we've been talking about family values all this week. Here is a woman been married 11 years, she's living life without being together with her husband around their values. What do you say to her?
Tim: There's no easy response to that. They have to find a way to agree. They have to find a way to fit in together and come to common agreement. They don't have to be the same, but they have to agree on the same standards of life together. And that may involve some bending; that may involve some long discussions; it may involve some counseling; but that would be my first objective for her – can you find a way to fit into your husband's life, and can you find a way for the two of you together to find harmony about how you're going to live together and how you're going to live with these kids?
If being right, perfectly right, according to my idea of what right is, is far more important than our unity, then I may have a hard time ever coming to agreement. I've got to really see it's important for us to come to harmony and be willing to work at that. I'm not saying compromise my values but be willing to look at how those values are being worked out and find a way to work them out together.
Dennis: You know, with you having said that, I'm looking here at your list of 14 core family values that you and your wife have hammered out for your family, and one of those 14 is submission – submission to authority. It seems like that's one of the problems with this couple. She seems to be submitting to God. He seems to be disinterested in God. But you're saying, in your family, one of the core values you want to pass on to your kids is both a husband and a wife submitting to God but passing that on to the children and teaching the children they're under authority as well.
Tim: That's right. Just looking at the big picture, I think submission is a word that raises a lot of hackles; it raises a lot of issues in people's minds. If you really think about developing children into adults, you'd think, "What would it be like for a child to grow up not knowing what it is to ever been in submission to authority. What kind of person will that make? Well, that person is going to be in trouble. They're going to get fired from jobs. They're going to always be on the wrong side in school. They're going to be in the principal's office a lot. They're going to be on the wrong side of their coach if they're on a sports team. They're going to be fighting against the current. So they have to learn to accept fitting into the universe. That's what I call it. You know, the universe has a certain structure. You may not always like the structure. It may not be perfect, but people over you that God has put in authority in your life may not be perfect. But you understand that you've got a role to play, and that's to fit into that structure.
And we all do it all the time. When you go into a restaurant, and you don't just say, "I want to sit there." You can ask if you can sit there, but guess who's in control? The waitress is in control, or the waiter. They tell you, "You may sit there, and don't get up and get your own food. I'll get your food for you. You tell me what you like and, according to the schedule I set and, by the way, choose it from this menu. Don't just make up your own menu." And they have a certain authority. Now, that doesn't mean they're better than you, it doesn't mean anything in terms of status. It just means, right now, in this restaurant, they're in charge.
Now, kids learn this from a very early age – they learn that there is an authority. The first authority is their parents, and that's one of the reasons why, "Children, obey your parents," is a fundamental teaching of Scripture. It's not because the parents need the encouragement – well, sometimes it might be – but mostly it's because the kids need to learn to submit to authority, and they learn it first with their parents. They then begin to extend outward. They learn respecting elders. Now, respecting elders doesn't often get taught, but there are lots of specific things kids can learn how to – in terms of how to respect elders.
Some people like their children to address elders by their proper name – Mr. or Mrs. or Miss So-and-So. That's one way to show respect. Others, it's just a matter of standing up, looking them in the eye, giving them a handshake, learning how to introduce yourself and be polite. It's manners. Manners have a lot to do with submission. There are ways of teaching – fitting into the system, finding your place properly. Not just doing your thing, not just doing what you feel like doing, but finding your way to be part of the whole hierarchy, the whole system of life.
Dennis: And, Tim, what you're talking about here is why a family is the most powerful and most basic unit of a nation, and why, if a family stops functioning and doesn't teach the next generation to submit to authority, to obey the law, to yield to the rights of other people and not merely look out for your own interest, but to respect other people and show manners and look into their eyes, you can begin to see why, if the family breaks up, that nation will no longer be healthy.
Tim: Yes. I also want to say that I think families play an important role in modeling respect for authority of all kinds – respect for political authority, respect for church authority. We need to be careful about being overly critical in our conversation before our kids, and a lot of – let's talk about church. I mean, I don't know about your church, but my church isn't perfect, and I think most churches aren't, and it's easy to come home from church and criticize the music. Say, "I didn't like that. They didn't do a good job, and that sermon wasn't very" – you know, just to have roast pastor for lunch. What is that teaching your kids about the respect that we owe God's people and God's church?
Bob: You know, I remember as a child growing up, being taught things like the policeman is your friend. There were certain core values. We were being taught to respect authority.
Tim: Right. And I'm afraid, sometimes in our Christian community right now, that there is a lot of tension. We talked about culture wars and the sense of we're in tension with our culture, and we are. But we have to be careful that we don't, in the process of criticizing certain aspects of our culture, become fundamentally negative about the institutions and the shape of our culture.
Bob: Submission is the response of a spirit-filled life.
Tim: Yes, and I want to reiterate the point that it really starts when they are very young. They learn to fit in, to find their place under the authority of their parents, and the style that their parents show themselves, demonstrating submission to authority. The husband and wife operating in mutual submission, the wife in submission to the husband – all that has real fundamental value for the children in understanding this.
But I just want to say – this is a value that our society is working very hard to undermine, if it even exists in our society.
Dennis: You're talking about submission now?
Tim: Submission and also contentment, as they fit together at this point – accepting life as it is. And there is a raging sense of acquisitiveness and discontent and make things better for yourself that does not fit easily with this sense of acceptance and contentment with what God has given us and in the situation of life that He's put us.
Dennis: One of the things you wrote about in your book, Tim, that I really like – you said, "Adults know plenty of micro-managing bosses or nosey neighbors" – demanding neighbors, I might add – those are my words – "but they don't prepare their children for either of them. That really is true. That is going to be – those two situations most likely will be faced by every child as they grow up, either in their teenage years or when they become an adult.
Tim: Yes, they will. And how will they respond to it? And how they respond to it really will make a difference in how they relate to their neighbors, generally – in the case of the nosey or demanding neighbors – and how they relate to their boss in the world of work. That's going to tell a tale.
Dennis: So, Tim, as we think about building the core value of boundaries into our children, they're going to have to deal with a nosey, demanding neighbor or a micro-managing boss. How have you built this into your children?
Tim: Probably the first place it comes is in the commandment "Thou shalt not steal." When you learn that you have some things that are yours, and other people have things that are theirs. Now, that's something you probably start working on, maybe, when you're two, three, four years old, and it's a learned process. Most people find it quite difficult to learn that lesson. But the parents guide the child in understanding where those boundaries are. I have certain things that belong to me. My neighbor has certain things that belong to her or him. And when they get that concept clear, they can start learning – or – actually, at the same time that they're learning those values, they're also learning some other values about boundaries. They're learning, "My body actually belongs to me, and no one can touch my body except people that God has approved in that context – my parents, my doctor in certain situations. This is something that most of us feel a little uncomfortable about, but children really do need, in the world we live in, to know that they have boundaries, that they can asset, in terms of "This is my body, it belongs to me, it doesn't belong to you."
You know, to push it to a teenage level, I've talked to kids over the years about sexuality, and one of the most – one of the things I try to teach teenagers is that the proper answer to the question, which they are often asked – "Are you a virgin" is it's none of your business; that I have a sense of privacy that's appropriate to me. I don't have to answer anybody's questions about my private life. And I think parents learn to teach children not to violate other's property but also, as they get a little older, begin to give them a sense of private space, a place, some possessions, maybe allowance. I think this is one of the things that an allowance teaches children as they get older, is that, "No, you do not control all the world, but here is a little bit of money that is yours. You can spend it on candy, you can spend it on whatever you want to do. That's yours. It's private to you."
So I think through all these, and there are many ways in which the concept of boundaries comes through – they learn that I have certain prerogatives for my life, and you have certain prerogatives for your life. And we can negotiate on the boundaries. So if I have a nosey neighbor, I don't have to cave in and give in to everything the neighbor wants me to do. On the other hand, I have to respect that that person has certain prerogatives and rights and concerns to his property. And that's – it may not always be easy, but that's how you get along with your neighbors. You know, good walls make good neighbors.
Bob: We are not fundamentally people who like boundaries. We're fundamentally arrogant, proud, stubborn people. That's one of the reasons that we've got to transmit some of these values about boundaries and about submission and about contentment, because they go against human nature, don't they?
Tim: They do, but when people lack the sense of ordered space – that's another way of talking about it – terrible crimes are committed. That's what a rape is. A rape is a boundary crime. It's saying, "I do not respect your personhood." And when people are raised in chaotic circumstances; when they're raised in war zones; when they're raised in totally dysfunctional families; they don't know what's me and what's you. They don't know how to respect that. So that's the extreme. But even at very, very practical levels, to teach children where those boundaries are and to live within an ordered space is a fundamental lesson, and it's one that God endorses.
Dennis: I really like it, because you're ultimately calling a young person to take responsibility for his or her life early on, and then increasing that responsibility so they learn to protect themselves as they grow up into the teenage years.
Tim: And it is progressive. They start out with a small space, and it gets larger. And so parents have to be alert to the change of person, so they're not treating a teenager like they are a six-year-old. That won't work. That won't teach them to be responsible within their own responsibilities that God has given them. Those have to expand until they reach adulthood, and then they have adults' responsibilities.
Dennis: Yes, and if you don't take responsibility, and you don't protect your own life, there are those in this culture who will take advantage of you.
Tim: They will.
Dennis: They may not be a next-door neighbor; they may not be a boss. They may be someone of the same sex or of the opposite sex.
Tim: Well, this, as I alluded to in this question about are you a virgin, it really extends to other kinds of sexual behavior in teenagers and beyond teenagers. People who feel they have an obligation to be sexually active with someone who shows affection for them. That's a clear sense in which the person doesn't understand that they are in control of their life and their body, and it's their prize, their gift from God to be in charge of.
Dennis: You are exactly right, Tim. In fact, what we're talking about here in terms of teaching our children submission, contentment, and the whole concept of creating boundaries around their lives is the responsibility, first and foremost, of the parents. Husbands and wives have to have these values as a part of their lives. Then they pass them on to their children. And if they are able to make that handoff, what you see, then, are adults – young adults coming out of the family unit, who are able to begin to establish their own marriages and their own families. And if you can't get some of these things like this in place, think about some of the couples you've watched marry, who do not have a sense of personal boundary, and they get married, and they get used by the opposite sex. And that marriage becomes a very unhealthy situation.
The family unit is involved in a relay race. We are putting the baton in the hand of the next generation and passing on values that really will result in their well being, as a generation.
Bob: And we're going to do that. Whether we do it intentionally or whether we do it without thinking, and I think what we've been trying to say this week is that to do it intentionally will put you a lot farther ahead of the pack than to do it without thinking. And I'm not trying to compare us to other people because the book, "Never Mind the Joneses," says don't compare, right?
Tim: Right. And could I also add a word of encouragement that you don't have to have it all together before you can transmit it to your child. I think, in fact, the parents are also learning values as they go – at least I certainly have been.
Dennis: Well, you admitted earlier this week, you didn't have these 14 values at the beginning of your marriage.
Tim: No, I mean, I think they were there in embryo, but they've become articulated, I've understood them better, I've learned to live them out better, and that's part of the fun of raising kids, is you're learning, too. I think all of us would say we've learned a ton from being parents.
Dennis: No doubt about it.
Bob: Part of the fun; part of the pain.
Tim: That, too. We're going light on pain today, aren't we?
Bob: We encourage our listeners to get a copy of the book, "Never Mind the Joneses." We have it in our FamilyLife Resource Center, and you can call to request a copy or go online to order a copy. We also have a book by Dr. Robert Lewis called "Real Family Values," and we're encouraging families to get both books. Read through them – husband and wife ought to read through these together. There's a project we'd encourage you to do. You can download that project from our website at FamilyLife.com – work through that project together, read through these books together, and it will help you determine what your family values ought to be, and then you can help articulate those for your children and start passing them on to your children. But, again, do it intentionally rather than just kind of doing it without thinking about it.
Go to our website at FamilyLife.com, download the project, order Tim's book, get a copy of Robert Lewis's book. If you order both books together, we'll include, along with your order at no additional cost, the audio CDs or cassettes of our week-long visit with Tim Stafford. That comes out at no cost when you get both of the books. Again, the website is FamilyLife.com. You can also order by phone. Our number is 1-800-FLTODAY. That's 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY. So give us a call or go online and let us get some of these resources in your hand, all right?
You know, day after tomorrow we're going to have a citywide event taking place in Indianapolis. It's our third "Rekindling the Romance conference that we've hosted, so far, this year. We had the one a couple of weeks ago in Anaheim, and then last weekend, Dennis, you were in Minneapolis, and this Saturday I'm going to be speaking in Indianapolis, along with the Rekindling the Romance team. These have been great events, great days, and I think it's particularly important now for us to not only be helping to equip couples with biblical principles for Rekindling the Romance but also be standing in a culture for a biblical understanding of what the marriage relationship ought to be.
You know, this culture is trying to press us away from biblical values, and at FamilyLife, with everything we're doing – our events, our radio program, our website, our international outreach – everything here at FamilyLife is designed to press your family in a different direction; in a biblical direction to equip you with practical, biblical help for your marriage and your family. And it has felt to me, recently, like the cultural noise that pushes us in the other direction has been getting louder. And if it's felt that way to you, then it's time for ministries like ours to be able to turn up the volume and make sure we're being heard in this culture. That's what we're hoping to do in the weeks and months ahead, and if we're going to do that effectively, we need to hear from you. We need to know that you can stand with us financially in helping to support this ministry.
We are a listener-supported program, and all of the efforts of FamilyLife move ahead only if folks like you help support us financially. More than 60 percent of our annual budget comes from donations from listeners like you. So in August we're hoping as many of you as possible will call us or go online and make a donation. You can donate at FamilyLife.com, you can call 1-800-FLTODAY and make a donation over the phone. If you want to write a check and mail it to us, give us a call and someone will pass along the mailing address. But let us hear from you so that we can kind of get the volume turned up in this culture and make sure that biblical views are being heard along with the unbiblical views that are being trumpeted in all corners of the culture these days. Again, donate online at FamilyLife.com or give us a call and make a donation over the phone at 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY.
Well, tomorrow we want you to come back. We're going to continue to talk about how we cultivate biblical values in our lives and in the lives of our children, and we'll go through a whole list of some of the values you may want to consider for your family tomorrow. I hope you can be with us for 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.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas, a ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ.
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