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Footprints on Our Hearts comment (0)

July 31, 2014

By Bob Terry

Footprints on Our Hearts

Many people walk in and out of our lives, it has been said. The question is what kind of footprints do they leave on our hearts. That is especially true of family members. Sometimes the footprints of loved ones are sweet and precious. Sometimes they are as painful as if left by someone carelessly stomping on our hearts. 

That family life is important to God is beyond debate. When God created humanity He put man and woman in relationship as the first family (Gen. 1:28). He instructed them to be “fruitful and multiply.” God’s intent was for family to be the basic building block of society and that remains unchanged. 

The Bible teaches family members were to care for each other. Even in the midst of the dreadful story of Cain slaying his brother Abel (Gen. 4), one finds the implication that just as Cain was to be Abel’s keeper, family members today have responsibility for one another. Both the Old and New Testaments contain frequent references to ways family members are to care for one another. 

The well-being of others is a guiding principle. The Ten Commandments taught children to “honor” their parents. When the apostle Paul repeated this commandment in Ephesians 6:1–4, he added that parents are not to treat their children in ways that provoke anger. No family member is free from responsibility for the welfare of others in the family. 

Importance of family relationships

In our society that is a difficult concept to understand. American individualism emphasizes the individual, not the family. We sometimes miss that though Noah was the righteous one as recorded in Genesis 6:9, it was Noah’s family that was saved from the Great Flood. The Bible and most other cultures stress the importance of family relationships. 

It is to our detriment that we dismiss family ties and responsibilities so easily. Instead of family being the place where we work to do our best by one another, too frequently family is the place where we tread on the love of one another. 

We lose patience. We snap. We behave rudely. The tone of our voice conveys insensitivity. We fail to listen. We place personal desires before family plans. We insist on our own way. In short, we show contempt for those who God intends to be dearest to us. The footprints we leave are often rough and mean. 

Such behavior is so widespread in the United States that psychologists have done numerous studies. They often ask why Americans, including Christians, are frequently kinder and more considerate of strangers than of family members. 

Psychologists have even identified patterns of behavior including people who enjoy accolades for doing nice things for others but never do anything special for their own families. 

Many of the studies point to the same conclusion — the focus on individualism. The one captured by his/her self-importance takes for granted that family members will endure their bad attitudes and behaviors. They expect families to be there for them no matter how family members are treated. 

But love, even God’s love, has to be accepted and returned. To be saved one must not only believe that Jesus is the Son of God, one also must publicly confess Him or identify with Him (Rom. 10:9–10). We are taught to love God with heart and soul, mind and strength (Luke 10:27). The process is clear: love is offered; love is received; love is returned. 

When one ignores love, flaunts love or fails to return love, love dies. It is no wonder that in such cases family members may echo the words of God as recorded in Genesis 6:3 when He said, “My spirit will not always strive with man.” A more modern translation might read, “I will not put up with this forever.”

Whether it is the rude child or the insensitive parent or the self-consumed spouse, the result is the same. The footprints left on the hearts of others are painful — memories to be forgotten rather than moments to be treasured.

A study at the University of British Columbia found that when couples who had been in long-term relationships with each other began treating each other the way they did on a first date, their morale boosted significantly. One of the researchers noted, “We make an extra effort when meeting strangers because we want them to like us.” 

Practice basic etiquette

How ironic that with strangers we are polite, kind and considerate but we take family members for granted. Perhaps a starting place to build respect for one another and joy in the company of family members is to practice basic etiquette. 

For many families, there is another necessary step — letting go of anger toward one another. Anger cannot be blamed on someone else. Anger is our own emotional response to some action or event. We have to own our own emotional responses including our anger built up over time.

Holding on to anger mars relationships, limits understanding and hinders reconciliation. No good thing comes from holding on to anger, especially against a family member. 

Anger distorts reality and clouds judgment. It blocks out the present and focuses on the past. Holding on to anger only hurts the one carrying the grudge.

It was Jesus who said, “If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matt. 6:14–15). That applies to how we live in families.

None of us are perfect, for “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” All of us need to be forgiven by God and by family members for our transgressions. And all of us need to forgive one another, including family members, as we have been forgiven by our Heavenly Father. 

We learn. We love. We grow as individuals and as a family. Together we work at making footprints on the hearts of family members that are sweet and precious because family is important to God and it is important to us. 

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