“And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.” –Malachi 4:6
Now that most of us are stuck at home to avoid spreading sickness, it is a particularly good time to remember this classic passage about turning our hearts toward home, since our bodies are stuck home anyway.
I’m currently at home less than most people I know, since I’m still driving to work full time in my essential job as an ER veterinarian. But this passage came to mind as I was thinking about work related stresses.
This used to be a very popular verse among homeschoolers, during those enlivening and incipient years of the “homeschooling movement,” when my brave parents taught me at home under the watchful eyes of a government ready to punish them. Oddly, it’s been a long time since I heard anyone quote these beautiful words
But yesterday they flashing across my mind. They brought near-instant relief from anxiety about my workplace by reordering flip-flopped priorities. “Turn your heart toward your children, toward home.” It ripped my focus off performing for my boss and coworkers’ approval back to caring for my family.
A return to loving our family and spending the lion’s share of our efforts and attention on that love, is the central idea which stands out from this passage. I use the word “family” here because we need this kind of re-orientation in our hearts toward our spouses just as much as we do toward our children.
Ponder with me the following series of diagnostic questions sparked by these timely words of Malachi…
Am I really present at home with my family? Or do I spend significant amounts of my at-home time worrying about things outside the family (work, ministries, hobbies, etc.)?
How easy it is to be at home but not to really be there! Stressing about what a coworker said, or a case that went badly, or a writing project I really want to finish, or even just some fun thing tends to pull me right out of my family – even if we’re in the same room. It also wastes the time I have with them, and makes that time miserable by making me a cranky, sensitive old bear who’s no fun to be around. In family life, just like the rest of life, fighting to live in the now is a vital part of being happy and successful.
Do I hate being at home? If so, why? What can I do to change that?
It may be a revelation that it’s not good to hate being at home. Living a quiet life with our families is a good ambition, commended by God (1 Thessalonians 4:11). But in a real, fallen world, home has a lot of stresses. And in this time of pandemic when families are in close proximity for longer periods of time the stresses multiply by…well, a lot. So, it’s especially important to ask ourselves what we can do practically to make our homes pleasant places.
Can I spend more time actively playing with my kids, and less time trying to avoid them? Would it help to think more like a child myself? Empathy towards family members is always a vital way to turn our hearts toward them. Try to think about what your kids are feeling and then treat them like you’d want to be treated if you felt that way. Understanding how they feel is vital to treating them with patience and making your time with them a good time. I’ve heard about a rise in child abuse
Do I care more about what my wife thinks of me than what my boss thinks of me?
Jobs come and jobs go, but marriage should last a lifetime. Yet I often find myself expending way more emotional and mental energy on work related things than on impressing my wife. I ought to value my wife more than any other person on this planet (and I really do). But what does she see when she finds me stressing constantly about work, and then only nodding vaguely while she vainly tries to have a conversation? Am I proving that I value her? Maybe if I treated her with my full attention and brought the same effort into impressing her the way I did before we were married she would be convinced I value her.
In my mind do I work to support my family, or think of my family as a way to support my career?
Striving to do our best at work is a good thing. Loving our profession, being interested and ambitious in it, and trying to improve our skills are good things – especially when done for the glory of God. But we should not prioritize our profession above our family. God calls me first to be a good husband and a good father (and a good Christian) before he calls me to be a good worker. Sometimes riches and comfort can be a tempting reason to devote more effort to work. But what good will it do me if I gain the whole world and lose my children or my wife? I doubt a single person has thought on his deathbed, “Oh, I should have worked harder on that office project.” However history is littered with men who died alone weeping over a lost child or estranged wife. Whatever I can do to not be one of those men is well worth considering.
What could we do without so that we can spend more time together?
Maybe we don’t really need that raise. Maybe we don’t even need this job. Sometimes the list of things essential for living a happy life with our family grows deceitfully long, as we get used to affluence and entertainment. Certainly, a large part of being a good husband and father is providing well for your family. It’s right to want to give good things (even above the necessary things). But how many kids, when they really think about it, would prefer to have their daddy’s attention over having a new gaming console? Granted, it’s not a 100% statistic, but more time with Dad instead of more stuff will make them happier and healthier. Maybe it’s time to stop worrying about bringing home extra cash and started focusing on what we can do with what we have. Sometimes my own cravings for something I want drives an overabundance of workplace ambition. In that case, I probably don’t need whatever it is, and should stop being a selfish pig-hog. I need to turn my heart away from “stuff” and back toward home, in a family-centered type of contentment.
How can I use the time I have with my wife and kids well?
Let’s be strategic. Here are some good goals for family time:
- grow in Christ together
- have more fun together
- minster to the broken world together
- create beautiful things together (art, music, writing, etc.)
- learn and grow together (develop their minds, grow in maturity, etc.)
Here’s a quickly brainstormed list of things you could do to help accomplish those goals:
- Do family devotions with more regularity.
- Make sure you have church. Even if you can’t go to church because of quarantine, make a way to regularly fellowship and worship with other believers at the same time every Sunday.
- Sit down and have a drawing or craft time with the kids. There are some great online videos for this that my kids love.
- Teach the kids an instrument, or just sit at the piano and sing silly songs with them.
- Read more books to the kids.
- Read together with your wife, either the same book read separately or actually read aloud.
- Watch a movie together. Maybe there are better ways to develop mentally, but this can be something you and your family enjoy together and build some memories around. In fact, why not be purposeful about building memories around a movie? Print off some coloring pages with characters from the movie. Spend some time pretending to be movie characters.
- Sit down with your kids and help them write letters to people they know who might be lonely right now.
- Cook a feast together.
- Yell less. Explain more.
- Go ahead and say “I love you” more often.
- Laugh more. Try to be attune to what makes your wife and kids laugh. Try to notice the funny things they do more often.
- Are you working from home now? This might be a good time to show your kids more of your job and let them help you.
If God really is the “Greatest Good” (as Anselm argued in Monologion), if our very existence is intended for the purpose of “glorifying Him and enjoying Him forever” (as the Puritan Divines argued in the Westminster Confession), then there is no better shared passion to unite our hearts with our family.
John Calvin argues Malachi is talking about fathers and sons being united in a return to proper thinking about God. “…but since in course of time various notions rose among them, yea, monstrous dotages, since sincerity had become wholly corrupted, he now recalls them to their first condition, so that sons might unite in sentiment with the fathers, and fathers also with their sons, and become one in that faith which had been delivered in the law.”[i]
This is certainly a good interpretation of the verse in context, which prophecies the coming of the Son of Righteousness (Christ) and of Elijah (John the Baptist) in the New Testament period. A prophecy of rediscovery of the true faith is a wonderful way to link these final words of the Old Testament to the mature theology of the New Testament.
Matthew Henry writes on this chapter that the result of this great turning from the new Elijah’s ministry would be to “revive and confirm love and unity among relations, and shall bring them closer and bind them faster to each other, by bringing and binding them all to their God.”[ii]
Getting closer to God together is the best way to bring us together!
Don’t lose sight of spiritual things as you lead your stir-crazy family at home. Let’s do what we can to make Christ central to our family life. And then make our family life central to our work in this broken world.
[i] Calvin’s Commentaries. Bible Hub.
[ii] Matthew Henry, commentary.