Priorities in Family Life

Do we ever give a thought to the priorities in our married life? We are all told “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbour as yourself” (Luke 10:27). This quite clearly states that our first priority must be our personal relationship with God. We must develop this relationship, learn to praise and worship our Lord and Saviour, talk to him, and importantly, listen to him and discern his will for us. If we truly put God first in our marriage, we will be blessed with a truly sacramental relationship, which will enable us to minister daily to our spouse, and in turn bring Christ into our marriage in a very real way. If God is not first in our marriage, but instead our spouse or children are, then our marriage is idolatrous, and about this we are told, “You shall have no gods except me” (Exodus 20.3).

Our second priority, we should note, is to love ourselves. This is not a narcissistic love, but recognition that we are a unique creation made in the image and likeness of God. So we need a sense of self worth and self esteem, before we can reach out to others. We cannot love others until we can love ourselves.

After ourselves, our priority is to love our neighbour. Our most proximate neighbour, if we are married, is our spouse. After reading St. Paul’ s letter to the Ephesians (Chapter 5), we should be in no doubt as to our wife or husband being our next priority relationship. This is the highest relationship between humans spoken of in the Bible. The only relationship where God said, “the two shall become one body”. Unfortunately, very often our children are given priority over our spouse and this is a violation of God’s priorities. It is a disservice to our children, because it breaks down the important and essential role models that we as parents should be able to give our children. A very common result of putting our children before our spouse is that we very often drift apart as husband and wife, and this passes unnoticed over the years, because we are so involved with our children. It is only when the children start to leave home, that we realise we have little or nothing left in common with our spouse, a very common cause of martial disharmony. We would do well to remember that we made a commitment to our spouse “till death parts us” and we should reflect at the same time that our children are only “lent” to us for a number of years!

Our children must of course have priority after our spouse, as it is our duty to love, nurture, feed, clothe, educate, discipline and pass on our values of God in our lives, to them.

Where do our priorities lie outside the family? Priorities, in a sense, take on a different aspect outside our family, where we are primarily concerned with our time and energies; now we are more concerned with those to whom we can best witness our Christian faith, this would seem to be those with whom we spend most time. Most probably, this would be our place of work, either as employee or as employer. We must witness to our faith by being respectful, effective and productive employees, or respectful, effective and caring employers. Paul speaks powerfully about occupations in his letter to the Colossians, (Col. 3:22–4:1).

Our next priority would be to those people with whom we are in day-to-day contact: local trades-people, the postman, those who live near us. Are we a witness to them? Do they perceive us as different? Do we settle our accounts quickly, or do we show care and thoughtfulness to them? We know what the answer to those questions should be, as Christians.

Our final priority is our ministry, if we have one. This may be surprising to some of us, but logically our ministry stands or falls upon the creditability of our lives in respect of the other priorities. For example, if our relationship with our spouse is seen to be bad, how can our ministry to others he taken seriously? Unfortunately, misunderstandings often arise because we confuse our ministry with our personal relationship with God. We may feel that being a parish council member or the MC for liturgies at our parish church is an expression of our personal relationship with God, but it is actually a ministry and as such should come after our other priorities. By exercising these ministries we may actually be neglecting our spouse, our children or both. This is clearly not God’s design of things.

We need to examine our priorities frequently, to ensure that we have the proper perspective in our family life. We should be ordered correctly as Christians, witnessing and living our faith to the full.