“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” Luke 10:41-42
When Larry Alexander learned that he had eighteen months to live, his world came crashing down. The prospect of experimental surgery offered some hope, but the future was pretty bleak. His wife, Anne, then pregnant with their third child, faced the stress of having to raise their three children, provide for the family and nurse a man who faced the prospect of losing his life.
While most families would have cracked under that stress, the Alexanders did not. In fact, as they later looked back on what could have been a tragedy, they believe the stress only brought them closer together. Larry didn't succumb to the injury which threatened his life. The former college professor was never able to go back to the campus and cannot hold down a regular job, but, in spite of the financial hardship they have faced, he believes their family has been enriched by the ordeal. "We don't have the money we used to have," says Larry, "But most of the time, we find ways of managing.... We're basically a very close family."
Do you ever wonder why stress causes some families to break up while it only strengthens others? That was the question that intrigued two sociologists. Drs. Nick Stinnett and John DeFrain began studying 3000 families that had undergone stress. The Alexanders were one of them, and they eventually published their findings in a book entitled, Secrets of Strong Families.
Studying the traits of families that responded favorably to stress situations, they found six common factors. Now before I give them to you, ponder the issue for a minute. What causes some families not only to survive under stress but actually thrive under it? If you were to sit down and make a list of the factors that you believe would carry your family through a crisis, I'm wondering if it would include the six which the study found. They are as follows: 1) Commitment; 2) Appreciation; 3) Communication; 4) Time together; 5) Spiritual wellness; and 6) Determination to cope with crisis. Now, to help you integrate these qualities into your family, let's flesh out the outlines.
Families that survive under stress have a cohesiveness that comes by enjoying each other, by worshiping together in church, by realizing that a family is God's plan for our lives and no matter whatever happens, you stick with the clan. Take the Alexanders as an example. They are normally in church twice on Sundays, both morning and evening, and then attend Bible class on Wednesdays. Unless Anne's work schedule prevents it, she and her husband are at school functions, supporting their three children with their presence.
The two researchers who wrote the book found that families that function well under stress go beyond casual church attendance, they pray together in the home, they take time for personal meditation and Bible study. Their commitment to God embraces a commitment to their family. There is a cohesiveness that goes far beyond the average. They play games together, they talk together, they actually enjoy each other. They refuse to take each other for granted and contribute to each other's welfare.
One thing that impressed me was the quality of appreciation. They aren't afraid to express love with hugs and kisses. They haven't forgotten how to help each other, to say, "Thanks, Mom! I appreciate your help." Hopefully, you will never face the stress which confronted the Larry Alexanders, but I do hope you will develop the stress insurance which guarantees your family's future, no matter what it holds. The fact is that sooner or later every family faces a time of stress, and having the tool in place to handle it can make it work for you instead of against you.
Resource reading: Luke 10:38-42.