Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Spend Time With Your Family

Dear Friends,

I was at a restaurant in Alhambra and noticed a young family who had just sat down at a booth in front of me and across the aisle. Mom looked to be in her early thirties and dad maybe a few years older. Their son was about eleven or twelve. I thought back to when I was that age and our family went out for dinner. It was always a special occasion whether we were celebrating a birthday or it was just a night out with the family. The place we went out to most often was my favorite restaurant, El Cholo on Western Ave in Los Angeles. That was when it was still the original converted California bungalow in the 1950's. According to my mom, the ladies’ restroom still had the bathtub in it. This was back in the days when none of my friends had even heard of this “Mexican food” and it would be another decade before Taco Bell came to town and converted authentic Mexican cuisine into the Americanized fast food that it is today. El Cholo in the 50's was the perfect family restaurant. For only $1.50 you could get a drink, soup, two entrees, refried beans, rice and all the handmade corn tortillas you could eat. We were there so often, we knew many of the family members who owned and worked at El Cholo. But what I remember most was our own family time. At home we always ate our dinner at the table together, but at the restaurant, it was extended family time – my dad, mom, ten year old sister and two year old brother. Our family talked and laughed. We loved being with each other. We were what made it a special occasion.

When I saw the young boy with his parents in the Alhambra restaurant, all the happy memories of spending time with my own family came flooding back. Then the boy pulled out a “Game Boy” and started playing with it. He partially turned away from his mom to face the window so that he could ignore his parents and be completely by himself. His father began texting or emailing on his smart phone. The mom swept her place setting aside and set up a laptop on the table in front of her. They were interrupted by the waitress to take their order and again interrupted once their food arrived. All three ate with one hand, while texting, swiping, tapping, typing and playing video games with the other hand. When they finished eating, they put away their electronic devices and left. During the time they were there, they never looked at each other. Not a word was spoken. They had cocooned themselves off into a world unto their own. The three preferred to be by themselves than with each other and you didn’t need to be a family systems therapist to see the dysfunction in this family caused by the deprivation of closeness, connection and communication.

In this century, as people have turned from “face” relationships to Facebook, reliance on social media for their relationships has created a poverty of social isolation and desolation. Polls show that from children to seniors, there is an epidemic of loneliness in our country. Our Nation’s suicide rate has increased sharply in the 21st century and one of the three factors causing this tragic increase is the person’s perception they are alone in the world with no or few close personal relationships and that no one really cares about them. Suicide rates for both adolescent girls and women aged 45-55 have tripled in the past thirteen years and the leading cause is depression that is being fed by social isolation and loneliness. As mental health experts turn toward sociological explanations and psychological preventions to fix unhappy people, the answer to our feelings of isolation and loneliness may be better found in what we chose to do on Sunday morning.

According to Gallup polls, the happiest people in America are those who are actively religious and regularly go to church. Jesus said to “Love God” and “Love One Another.” Matthew 22:37-39 Our love for God is not dependent on our church attendance. I’ve had people say to me that they don’t have to go to church to find God and they find Him on their daily walk, in the sunset and in the quiet of their own back yard. I tell them, “Of course you do! God is not confined to a building on a Sunday morning between 9:30 and 11:00!” But the New Testament is filled with scripture showing that the early Christians became a family of believers by attending church together. Hebrews 10:24-25 God created us to be in relationship with one another. You can be with people at Costco, at Dodger Stadium, in a movie theater, at a neighborhood biker bar or at church. But if you want relationships that will drive away those feelings of isolation and loneliness, I’m going to recommend church. 

My family experience when I was young seems remarkable in comparison with many families today, but there was nothing special about us. That was when most families attended church together and our family dynamic was simply the “norm” during that time in our Nation’s history. Your own family dynamic may or may not have looked like mine but that is in our past. And today, for many of us, our biological family is scattered or deceased and we now find our family relationships at church. Your church family is your tribe. Your social connection. Your support group. Your friends with hearts of compassion. It is where you love one another and another will love you. Where you are  genuinely cared about and missed when you’re not there. In your church family, you are connected to those God has given to you and to whom you have been given. And at a church where people love God and love one another, you will never feel lonely or isolated. It’s your family. Amen?

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