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I grew up in a 1950s sitcom home. I had a wise, hard-working dad; a beautiful stay-at-home mom; a wacky, smart-alecky little sister; and a psychotic howl-at-the-moon dog. We had it all. We lived in a simple middle-class house in a simple middle-class neighborhood, surrounded by sitcoms just like ours.

Of course, the Mills household was a Christian sitcom where evening worship and church attendance were a given. But even safely tucked away in my idyllic childhood, I began to notice that not everyone enjoyed the same kind of life I took for granted. There were classmates from single-parent homes. Others lived with relatives in a part of town that middle-class people seldom visited. I heard the word divorce whispered about and wondered why some of my friends would rather stay at school than head home at the end of the day.

To me, being a family meant walking in my front door, seeing love and respect in my parents’ eyes, and being reminded that I was worth something.

That was then. This is now.

Today, children have a 50-50 chance of growing up in a single-parent home. Each year thousands are born out of wedlock and find themselves being raised by a mom who isn’t a whole lot older than they are. Grandparents, uncles, aunts, and siblings are becoming substitute caregivers as birth mothers and fathers struggle to create livelihoods.

Religion, and its accompanying rituals, is falling out of favor. Church school? “Who can afford that?” In today’s society, the focus isn’t on the family. The focus is on survival—doing whatever it takes to pay the bills and enjoy the good life with what’s left at the end of the month.

Many of us can look back at the way it used to be and long for what’s been lost. But, we’re not living in the past. We’re living in the present. We need to learn how to be a family in spite of what’s changed.

A new understanding of family

I believe we need to take a long, hard look at what God had in mind when He created the whole concept of family. First, He created a man and a woman—Adam and Eve—and then He told them to “be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth” (Genesis 1:28). In other words, establish families with moms, dads, and kids. When the kids grew up, God intended them to do the same and their kids to do the same, on and on, perpetually, ad infinitum.

However, Jesus gave us a new insight on the meaning of a family. He was traveling from village to village one day, telling stories about farmers sowing seeds and lamps sitting on nightstands, when His mother and brothers showed up for a visit. Jesus was surrounded by so many eager listeners that the new arrivals couldn’t get anywhere near Him. So someone told Him, “Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to see you” (Luke 8:20). Without missing a beat, Jesus replied, “My mother and brothers are those who hear God’s word and put it into practice” (verse 21).

Suddenly, the word family took on a much broader meaning.

Later, Jesus made another startling statement on the subject. Just before His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, He told a crowd of listeners, “I tell you the truth, . . . no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and field—and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life” (Mark 10:29, 30).

So another way Heaven defines a family is as people who put God’s words into practice—even if that means separating themselves from what we humans define as a family. Even if we aren’t part of a traditional family, those are also family members who do their best to live Christlike lives, even if that means separating from their traditional families. They’re still brothers and sisters to each other.


Another basic element of a family centers on love. The Bible identifies two kinds: romantic love and divine love. The Song of Solomon—one of the books in the Old Testament—is all about romantic love, which finds its fulfillment in marriage.

But there’s another kind of love that identifies God’s ideal for a family like nothing else can. It flows from the heart of the same Being who brought our world into existence. “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you,” Jesus said in John 15:9. Three verses later, He added, “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.”

Thus, we have two foundations for being members of God’s family: (1) doing one’s level best to live a Christlike life, and (2) loving others with the same intensity that God loves us.

This means that being part of a family is within the reach of every person on earth. It doesn’t matter in what condition our earthly family happens to be—or if one even exists. Single parent, divorced, widowed, homeless, infirm, incarcerated, or orphaned—God’s family is available to everyone!

A new structure

This brings us back to our painful, divorce-ridden, child-neglecting, self-centered, sin-altered attempts to create earthly families. Being a member of God’s family sets the stage for fully enjoying the potential for happiness that is similar to that of the family God originally intended.

As part of the family of God, we discover abundant resources for building and maintaining relationships—tools that strengthen divine and romantic love and provide clear paths for our children to follow as they head down life’s road.

Traveling on this pathway to heaven, we learn that even if death, divorce, separation, or unfaithfulness happen within our traditional families, God’s core family remains, offering support and encouragement in times of frustration and deep sadness. Why? Because the members of God’s family have learned (or are learning) to love as God loves.

Within this framework, parents— whether they are one, two, grandparents, or aunts and uncles—who are attempting to conduct their households like God conducts His, learn to be in charge and to make tough decisions, even if those decisions are unpopular with their children. These households become training grounds for kids, teaching them to face life head-on rather than cowering from it and losing themselves in the fantasy worlds of Hollywood, unguarded social media, or wishful thinking.

Parents modeling God

Children see their parents (or parent) modeling a loving, faithful, forgiving God. They witness their parents bowing before the Creator of the universe, pleading for understanding. These boys and girls learn to respect others because they see the value their parents place on people of all nations—values learned through constant contact with the Word of God.

With the command “Love each other as I have loved you” ringing in their ears, moms and dads learn to trust, to be flexible, even to let go when necessary as their children grow and mature.

And, finally, when children see that their moms and dads are totally committed to their faith—that what they believe today, they’ll still believe tomorrow, and the next day, and the next, this realization gives grown children places to return to—secure homes built by happy memories that don’t change as the world shifts, as fads come and go, and as politicians flip-flop on important issues.

Christian writer Ellen White puts it this way: “The home that is beautified by love, sympathy, and tenderness is a place that angels love to visit, and where God is glorified. The influence of a carefully guarded Christian home in the years of childhood and youth is the surest safeguard against the corruptions of the world. In the atmosphere of such a home, the children will learn to love both their earthly parents and their heavenly Father.”

Starring role

So, do you want to know how to be a family? First, regardless of the circumstances of your earthly family, get as comfortable as possible in God’s global family, of which you’re already a member. You are God’s child. He’s your Father. You’ve got brothers and sisters in Christ of every color, creed, and credential. Ask yourself, How does my Father want me to treat them? What part am I to play in their lives?

Next, acquaint yourself with Heaven’s guidelines for successfully living in a sinful world. Those same principles of tolerance, flexibility, and a spirit of forgiveness will see you through the often tumultuous times of interacting with a spouse and children.

Then, and only then, fall in love. Get all giggly and shy. Write love poems and songs (Song of Solomon offers some terrific examples). Make an absolute fool of yourself for the one you love. Get married, have children, and bask in the glow of knowing that your earthly family is built on the everlasting framework of God’s global family.

Now you can star in your own sitcom!

How to Be a Family

by Charles Mills
From the September 2012 Signs