Rewind a thousand years or so, and family life was extremely different than the way we live today. Your identity came from your family, and around 1066 AD, when communities began to grow, surnames were adopted to differentiate between all the Johns, Williams and Marys in Britain. Their surnames were adopted based on occupation, location or sometimes were even based on nicknames (Long, Young, White, etc.) Take for example the Cooper family - the origin of their name denotes that they are the town's barrel makers. Perhaps you are from the Wagner family: you'll be looking forward to a lifetime of wagon making! What about Susie Baker? Well, that one is pretty self-explanatory.
I find something quite comfortable and naturally simplistic about the idea of family names connected to your family identity. Maybe this is just a romantic notion, one that suggests we can label each family, and say: "You will be known for building" and to the next family "Your job is to bring healing". Fast-forward to this day and age, and you see that most youth throw off the confines of their family heritage in an effort of self-discovery. Who am "I" supposed to be? What am "I" good at?
So is there any possibility of a family walking together, arm in arm, in a single direction and vision? What would we look like as a family?
I think for our generation, your "family name" has less to do with occupations and careers, and a lot more to do with overall passions and purpose. Now, I'm not talking about your legal last name, but when people think of your family, what are some of the first characteristics that come into their minds? Hopefully the word "busy" is not the first thing that pops into people's minds!
The words I feel would be great descriptions of a family are things like: Compassionate, Generous, Joyful, Adventurous, Friendly, and Warm to name a few. Further to these characteristics, I believe that having passions and goals that you subscribe to as a family would strengthen your family identity.
Now I will get personal. My husband is a pastor. Inevitably, this is a career choice where we have little say how people will look at us - most often, with a magnifying glass! I imagine that anyone reading this blog can immediately call to mind some pastor's family -whether in a positive or negative context, and the proverbial "PK - Pastor's kid". Growing up in church, I had my eye on quite a few pastors and their families myself - and often babysat for some of these families. There are probably very few careers that bring you more in the public eye and under the scrutiny of so many people, than that of a Pastor.
So the question becomes, how do we identify with the role of being a pastor's family?
For many years I resisted the idea of being in "the ministry". I felt that I had seen far too many fakes and flakes. It didn't make sense (and it shouldn't) that so many pastors said one thing on stage, and yet had disconnected marriages and families at home.
This is where the identity comes in. Most jobs don't require you to bring your work home with you. If you are a lumberjack, you needn't wear boots and flannel and carry your chainsaw to the dinner table. (Although I'm sure some men out there would think that sounds appealing.) That's where pastoring can be different. It isn't a role that you should put on like a uniform. It is far more about who you are, inside the home and out, than any training or program or conference you have attended.
However, this is where it can get frustrating. I personally have struggled with the idea that our lives are not our own. My husband's job asserts a level of commitment that is high. We are, essentially, on-call day and night. Even if we are out of cell-phone range, the Holy Spirit may speak to our hearts and ask us to pray for someone in the congregation. Oh, and did you notice that I'm saying "we"? One of us is on payroll, but I need to support my husband in his calling as a minister, because we are made to walk together and serve as one before God.
How about the rest of the family? I have always wanted our kids to feel a part of our decisions and a part of the important things we do. This doesn't mean we consult them and "ask for their blessing" before we make a decision - but I don't ever want them to feel shuffled to the side, as if they are second-class members of the family. I don't want them to see us doing important things and being passionate about ministry, without realizing that they can (and should) be a part of it. I believe that when God calls someone to the ministry, He is completely aware of both the spouse and children of this person, and therefore He calls the entire family. I think it is key that our kids see themselves as part of the team and that we give them opportunities to help and be involved. Their ability to be kind, compassionate and generous to the people in our lives is a big part of being in the ministry as a family.
What if you are just a "regular" family? I suppose that is where you discover your unique family culture and characteristics. Are you adventurous? Then, as a family you can passionately pursue adventurous things. If you enjoy company, then teach your kids as a family to be hospitable - even your toddler can set the table nicely, and be ready to share toys with any visiting guests. This is where you set the standard. You can say to your kids: "Andersons" are generous. That's who we are as a family. When you make statements pertaining to your family's characteristics whether they are ones you desire to see or have already attained, it is as though you are setting up signposts for your children (and yourself).
So my challenge is this: Seek out your family identity and vision. Give your kids a sense of purpose and direction, to establish who they are in a chaotic, disconnected world. For a society that is so technologically connected, I see a lack in the lasting deeper and more meaningful areas of connection. By developing your identity and vision as a family, you give your children (and yourself) something by which to anchor your lives. This develops roots, and even when storms come, because they most certainly will come, deep down inside you know where you came from. You know who you are and you will be known for who you are.