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Framework for Family--An Introduction

Updated: Mar 15

What brings you in today?

Therapy is chock-full of great questions. How did you grow up? Who raised you? How did they raise you? These are just a few of the questions I ask the people who come through my door. Your answers to these questions greatly impact the way you live in and relate to the world. Early in your childhood, you got about the business of creating a system so that you could function and survive. Because of this, regardless of your awareness, you have some kind of system by which you interact and relate with the world in which you live.

In my early childhood and into my college years, I created and adopted a dysfunctional system. As a counselor, most people come into my office because they did the same thing on some level. Thankfully, by God’s grace, there is hope for those of us using dysfunctional systems to get through life. I want to introduce you to a system that was taught to me by my friend and mentor, Rick Rush. This system is the Framework for Family. It consists of key principles and priorities, and throughout the writings here, I will share these principles with you and discuss how they relate to your priorities.

Jesus said, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke on you and learn from me because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and my load is not hard to carry” (Matthew 11:28-29).

I believe that any system for living that you adopt should exemplify this verse. Before you get ahead of me, I am not saying this is the only way to live your life, and I am not saying this framework is perfect. If you have a framework that works in your life, go for it. Do not feel compelled to change. However, if you've struggled to maintain peace and order in your life, stick around. If the promise of peace, joy, and an abundant life seems like a pie-in-the-sky dream, this is the place for you. This framework will change your life. Let’s start with the foundational principle that is the glue for our Framework for Family.

Principle #1: Relationship

Principle of Relationship: All of your life is lived in relationships. How you live determines how you relate, and how you relate determines how you live.

The Principle of Relationship describes why those questions about your family of origin matter so much. Life is lived in relationships. These relationships include how you relate to God, your spouse, children, work, church, neighbors, and more; additionally, how do they relate to you? There is not a single moment of your life that is not experienced in the context of a relationship. All of it starts at home because your family of origin is the first training ground for how you do relationships. Therefore, every single bit of your life is a relationship to something or someone.

In the early 2000s, I was introduced to this principle for the first time while being discipled at an Arby’s in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. I came there completely exhausted after having been a Christian for only four years. When I first accepted the Lord, I experienced emotional freedom and peace, but I was quickly losing hope for keeping it. In an answer to prayer, God led me to a man who would become like a father to me. During my senior year of college, Rick sat with me for 2 hours each week at that Arby’s. He answered all my questions, and when we weren't meeting, he answered all my phone calls.

Rick taught me how to live life well as a Christian. One of the most profound things he ever said was, "Accepting Christ is the greatest moment in your life, but it's just a moment. What you do with the rest of your life as a Christian will stretch into eternity."

In short, Rick taught me that how you do life as a Christian matters more than how you came to know Christ. Unfortunately, few people focus their time and energy on learning how to do the Christian life well. Instead, they focus on a brief moment and hope it lasts them a lifetime. That is not the way God intended for you to live. If you are going to have peace and live an abundant life on this side of heaven, it's going to take a lot more than a singular moment. At some point, you are going to have to accept the fact that your entire life, top to bottom, consists of relationships and that how you choose to relate will determine the ebb and flow of your life including the successes and failures, the rewards and consequences, and ultimately your very own purpose and meaning for existence.

Principle #2: The Framework

Principle of the Framework: A framework provides relief from exhaustion and anxiety. It gives you peace and security in the storms of life.

As I mentioned earlier, we all have a system we use to go about doing life that we started creating in our childhood. Life is hard and it moves fast. The older you get, the faster it moves, and the more weight your decisions carry. Your system, your personal framework, must be able to handle the things life throws at you. Otherwise, your life will feel like a chaotic, out-of-control whirlwind. This is the very opposite of the peace that Christ promised. This makes the Principle of the Framework a necessity for everyday living because the inability to prioritize your decisions means they will pile up and inevitably they will bury you alive. At the time I am typing these words, I have been following this framework for 20 years. Just as Rick promised, just as Christ promised, the framework has never failed. It has given me peace, order, and joy in this chaotic world.

In one way or another, I have taught this same framework to just about everyone with whom I have come into contact. As I’ve grown in knowledge and experience as a professional counselor, I’ve added some things, but the basic framework Rick taught is still at the foundation of how I operate in life. I have experienced freedom and witnessed it in the lives of others, which is why I want to share it with you.

A friend of mine, let’s call her Stacy, who I have been working with for years, envisions the framework like forts we used to build when we were children. One day she was reminiscing and telling me that when her children were toddlers they would build forts in the house. They would throw a blanket over a chair, call it a fort, and have the best time. She noted, “It's super unstable, but cute for what it is. With my kids, as they got older, they started making way more elaborate forts. One summer they built a four-room blanket fort outside and the neighborhood kids camped out in it overnight. Some rooms were equipped with lights and fans and it even had a cooler for snacks. The way you talk about the principles and the need for a framework made me think about how sometimes we just do the best we can with our fort, but then life gets more complicated and it's like putting a weight on top of a blanket fort. No matter how fun it was, the whole thing will collapse. The foundation and structure of our lives have to be able to withstand the growing up part of life when things come faster and life gets harder and when the storms come. Otherwise, the blankets all fall in. Blanket forts are loads of fun for a moment, but not sufficient for mature living.”

Stacy is absolutely right, and when I first heard her image it brought me to tears. I thought, “So many forts, so little time.” Which is why it is so important for you to grasp this principle. If you’ve been building forts in the backyard and hoping they would withstand a hurricane, keep reading.

Principle #3: Priority

The Principle of Priority: You become what you prioritize.

I have a theory: perhaps you have tried really hard to make things work, but time and time again, they just keep falling apart. Sound familiar? You call out to God for help, and it feels as though He is keeping something from you, some secret equation for how all this is supposed to go down. Sound about right? Trust me when I say, it doesn’t have to be so complicated.

Please don’t get me wrong, I am not trivializing your pain and suffering. Your pain and the loss of your dreams for life and family matter. I am not saying what you have been through does not matter. I am saying it is time to shift your focus to what matters most…your future.

The Principle of Priority says that you prioritize that upon which you choose to focus. Furthermore, what you prioritize is what you will do with the life that has been given to you. This means that you will become what you prioritize.

This life and your family will always produce challenges. The simple framework I teach does not guarantee perfection, rather it promises a God-given joy or supernatural peace amid the inevitable storms of life.

Beware: “simple” does not equal easy.

What we do during the trials we face, and how we respond when the world closes in, is what is most important. Because this is true, priorities must be included with the Principle of Relationships and Principle of Framework listed above. When we add all the principles together, it looks like this:

1st Priority: Your relationship to God.
2nd Priority: Your relationship to your spouse.
3rd Priority: Your relationship to your children.
4th Priority: Your relationship to your work.
5th Priority: Your relationship to your ministry.

The Framework for Family

Relationship+Framework+Priority= The Framework for Family

The Framework for Family combines the principles of relationship, the framework, and priority. Even better, this framework is laid out in this order in Ephesians 5 and 6! Don’t believe me? Check it out for yourself.

And there you have it, your very own Framework for Family. Got it? Good! It’s that simple! Remember: simple does not mean easy. Depending on where you are in your journey to rebuild your life, will depend on how difficult it is to adopt this framework. Either way, whether you’re doing a small remodel or overhauling your fort to a mansion, maintaining a sense of hope and determination is key to living a healthy and joyful life that is pleasing to God.

Pleasing to God

I know the Framework for Family is pleasing to God for two reasons.

First, He wants you to experience joy and peace. Like any good father, God loves giving good gifts to His children. I know this to be true because Jesus said, ”Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you then, although you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him?” (Matthew 7:7-11).

It took me a long time to come to a proper understanding of this passage. The negative core beliefs taught to me in my early years had to be eroded enough to accept - in faith - that God is good. Becoming a father helped immensely with this process.

As a good God, He is a good Father who desires to give me everything my soul truly desires. It seemed ludicrous to believe there was nothing I could or should do to earn His love and His blessings. There are no strings attached by which I could make Him love me more - or less.

As absurd or foreign as this may sound, it is absolutely true. God loves you, and He wants what is best for you. He wants you to experience joy and peace through Him.

Secondly, I have to answer the question “Why?”. Why does God want good things for you and your family? Again, the answer is simple to understand, but it is not easy to accept. God wants your family to be a signpost to those who do not know Christ. In Matthew 5:14-16 Jesus preached, “You are the light of the world. A city located on a hill cannot be hidden. People do not light a lamp and put it under a basket but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before people so that they can see your good deeds and give honor to your Father in heaven.”

Your Father in Heaven wants good things for you because they point people to Him. When we engage in healthy living, our lives serve as a signpost, pointing the way to Him - our good Father. Ultimately, Jesus wants the entire world to come to honor and love Him.

Healthy Family: A Picture of the Gospel

Your life, made up of all of those relationships including your family, is one of the best ways you can proclaim the Gospel to those who have not accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior. The family is a driving force behind all that is good and all that we enjoy. It is intended to be a reflection of the deep interpersonal relationship between the Creator and the created. From the beginning of time, family has been a key component in God’s communication with the world. And because God places a high value on the family, we must do it too.

When the Church family systems look just as lifeless and dysfunctional as the world’s family systems, we misrepresent Him to those who desperately need their Redeemer. For those of us who follow Jesus Christ, if we don’t do family well, then what cause do they have to honor anything we do or believe in?

Imagine with me for a moment that the Body of Christ was made up of thriving and successful families, full of joy and peace. Do you think the world might be more interested in something we have to say as we point them to Jesus? If you’re still reading, chances are that you find yourself in a place where the doing of family has not been going well.

I have another friend, let’s call him Ryan. Recently I was eating breakfast with Ryan, much like Rick did for me many years ago. As we spoke, it became clear to me that Ryan needed a framework to help him effectively prioritize and filter through the overwhelming situations through which he was negotiating. His family was in trouble, and they were experiencing the consequences of some poor decisions he made as a father regarding drugs. He had never learned what it meant to be a father growing up, and he grew up with some significant disadvantages. He was trying to make it work on his own, and it just wasn’t happening. Finally, out of desperation, he asked God to intervene on behalf of his family.

Know what happened? God did it! Ryan began prioritizing his relationship with God above all else, then his spouse, then his kids, and then his work. Things started flowing and peace and joy entered back into Ryan’s home after a long hiatus. It was a beautiful thing to watch.

Let’s Get Started

I implore you to ask God to be the head of your family! He will redeem your past, and sow peace, righteousness, and joy into your future. I promise!

You won’t have to do this alone. I will help you do it, along with several others who have helped mentor and encourage me over the last twenty years. The Framework for Family is easy to understand, but there will be times when it is hard to do. There will be times when you are faced with a difficult decision and you need some advice. It’s okay. The Framework works because it honors God, and He will move heaven and earth to get you where you need to be. As you seek His wisdom, He will be glorified and the world comes to know Him. Don't waste any more of your time.

Let’s move onward and upward to life in Christ and begin with the 1st priority: your relationship with the Father.

About the Author:

Dr. Corley is a Licensed Professional Counselor Supervisor (LPC-S) in Missouri and Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor (LCPC) in Kansas. He specializes in marriage counseling and trauma recovery. This is an excerpt from his series called Framework for Family. If you have a question or comment for the podcast please call 1-800-410-6829.

If you think you might need some help in this area. Click the image below and give us a call. We are professional Christian counselors, bringing healing to the family, giving hope for the future.

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