John Livingston

Happy Families are all Alike

“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

I first read those words 46 years ago. Arguably the opening sentence in Leo Tolstoy’s ANNA KARENINA is one of the most famous opening lines in all of literature. Before I ever thought of becoming a husband, a father, or a “Papa”, these lines were cause for self-reflection and introspection. They mean more to me now than they did then—with one caveat: Even happy families have times of unhappiness, and in those times of unhappiness families can become stronger.

It may come as a surprise to the younger members of my family and many of my readers, but I wasn’t alive in 1870 when this great Russian Christian novel was published, but as we pray in The Great Doxology (The Glory Be) “….as it was in the beginning it now and ever shall be…” Human nature never changes. The conditions under which we live may change, but our underlying desires and hopes for those we love and the temptations that underlie our own individual human natures never change. Great minds throughout the ages have tapped into these themes. The Prophets and Kings and Psalmists of the Old Testament, the Apostles and Saints and Church fathers throughout modern times, the sages of ancient Greece and Rome, Shakespeare, Sun Tzu, Mandarin Philosophers Hindu, Muslim, and Buddhist writers all speak in terms of “Universals”. It is only the modern day “humanists” who believe that human nature “evolves” and is different today than at any other time in history. The argument for a “new social structure” is based on feelings and opinion not on reason, logic, faith, or an understanding of history.

Anna Karenina is a story about a woman and a family’s self-destruction. The core themes of the novel center around family, sexual attraction, and individual and corporate identity. The tension that plays out as these themes unfold challenge and, in several instances, but not all there is hope, destroys individuals and families.

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Over the past Thanksgiving holiday, our family came together not without drama like many families are feeling today. If one wants to read about family “drama” read Genesis 3: Political issues, economic challenges, and even questions about the utility of “family” arose. Issues about sexual identity and “selfness” and traditional values and the difference in the concepts of “tolerance” vs. “acceptance were debated with vigor. Two factions within our family delt with the debate differently. The first wanted to “tiptoe” around controversial issues and not talk about them at all. This seemed to me to create more tension.

The second group “talked things out”. Listened to the other side and frankly resolved little. But I must say the process of opening to each other increased our closeness. I hope we can always continue to talk without hurting feelings.

I found that when talking to “non-believers” using words like “sin” and “forgiveness” aren’t helpful. The Christian context and predicate for the way we live our lives aren’t accepted by many people. I cannot imagine navigating the trials of life without that context. Their use of words like “racist”, “homophobe” or “fascist” when describing my beliefs are equally repulsive to me. What needs to be stated up front is that any open expression of alternative ideas in our society is precisely because of the Christian underpinnings of our Founding. Free Speech, Press, and Religion and the implied freedom of conscience and action are not practiced in “totalitarian”, “fascist” “racist”, or bigoted societies. Go to Saudi Arabia, Russia, or China if you want to see firsthand the difference between tolerance and acceptance. Go back in History just a few years to Nazi Germany where Jews, Gypsies, and Christian Catholics were murdered at the hands of THE STATE operating within the laws created by a humanist ethos with no bases in morality. No “wokeness” in those societies!

So, what in my most humble opinion makes “Happy families alike”? UNCONDITIONAL LOVE. The example for me to follow is God’s love for me. The love of a loving father or mother or papa or grandma has for their child is absolutely “unconditional”. There is nothing a child or grandchild of mine could do that would make me stop loving them unconditionally. Someday I hope, all in my family will be able to understand why me and my wife can love in such a way. It is not because we choose to love that way, but because God extends His Grace in a way that we can choose to love that way. If any person I love understands that fact alone, they should never in their life feel alone, ostracized, bullied, or marginalized.

We are all made in God’s image and before Him our spirits are “perfect” and each of us is made unique with special gifts and talents. We are both made to be “perfect and unique” and thus are special and loved. We are all made to Glorify His name. You don’t have to believe that to know why I believe the way I do. If you know why I believe you should be secure in the love that surrounds you.

“Happy families are alike because they surround themselves with “Unconditional Love”. “As it was in the beginning is now and ever shall be”.

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