When Family Becomes a Lifeline, Not a Limit

3 humanistic myths and 3 spiritual truths about the importance of family in our lives.

Late one midsummer night, I had just spent my last dollar ordering a pizza with some friends at UC Santa Barbara while taking summer classes, and I became very ill soon after.

With no money left and my friends having little to spare except for their sympathies, I realized a sobering truth:  The very people I was eager to be away from – my family – were now my only lifeline.

Up until that point, I viewed my parents and sisters as limiting me from doing what I wanted, where I wanted, and however I wanted. Yet that night at 10:30pm calling my parents for money and medicine, I was confronted by the stark reality that I was never limited by them; in fact, I was limited without them. 

My selfish ambition to achieve and “fly solo” through life blinded me to my deep deficiency and inability to build intimacy or care for anyone other than myself. Rather than appreciating the love and empathy my family had surrounded me with, I chose detachment and status-seeking as my lifestyle, until I finally discovered a relationship with God years later.

Today with a family of my own, including a child with special needs, God continues to call me to embrace a spiritual reinvention – which is to develop such a deep love for my family that it reshapes my priorities and pursuits.

And do not be conformed to this world any longer with its superficial values and customs, but be transformed and progressively changed as you mature spiritually by the renewing of your mind focusing on godly values and ethical attitudes, so that you may prove for yourselves what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect in His plan and purpose for you.

Romans 12:2 AMP

Such a reinvention begins with getting beyond superficial thinking to deeply transformative; from being humanistic to spiritually mature.

Moses is an inspiring example of spiritual reinvention. From initially resisting God’s destiny for him (Exodus 4:1-17) after having been a fugitive from Egypt (Exodus 2), he learned to become deeply attached to God, his people and passionate for God’s purpose (Exodus 33:12-23). How did this reinvention happen?

It began with allowing God to train and change his mind through his family. God reinvented Moses from being a humanistic person haunted by his shortcomings (Exodus 4:10) into a spiritual leader trained and destined to lead God’s people. 

Here are 3 myths from which God had to break Moses free in order to see his family as a lifeline rather than a limit, to ultimately live out God’s purpose.


Humanistic Myth #1: “My family limits my effectiveness. I’m better equipped alone.”

Spiritual Truth #1: “Through my family, God equips and teaches me how to love.”

1 Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian, heard about everything God had done for Moses and his people, the Israelites. He heard especially about how the Lord had rescued them from Egypt. 2 Earlier, Moses had sent his wife, Zipporah, and his two sons back to Jethro, who had taken them in.

Exodus 18:1-2 NLT

At this point in his life, Moses was leading approximately 2 million Hebrews from Egypt through the wilderness to freedom in a new land God promised. Not only was this a great undertaking, but I imagine it came with great stress for Moses (Exodus 5:22-23). 

From what we observe in Exodus 18:2, Moses sent his wife and sons away earlier, to focus on his job at hand. Too often when I’ve experienced work stress, I’ve chosen to push away or isolate myself from my family, selfishly thinking I’ll be “more effective” or “less stressed and distracted” to better focus on my job. 

The heart behind this myth and unspiritual thinking is an arrogant, godless belief – that I could accomplish humanistically what can only be done with the spiritual training God provides through my family life. In fact, family is a preeminent training ground for leadership and learning to deeply care:

If a man does not know how to lead his own family, he will not be able to take care of God’s church.

1 Timothy 3:5 ERV

I cannot learn to care for those God cares for if I don’t learn to care for those in my own family. Having been self-centered most of my life, there have been many times I’ve prayed and asked God to expand my capacity to lead and care for others. 

I’ve expected God to magically awaken me to suddenly become more loving and empathetic to others. Yet the entire time God had already been moving and answering my prayers. He gave me exactly the wife and children for whom I’d learn to uproot self-importance and rely on God to selflessly love.

“God works through my family as a lifeline for developing empathy, awareness, understanding, and compassion.”

Having a son with special needs has especially made me face just how limited I am in my love, empathy, and patience. In fact, without him and my family, I would never have been able to understand special needs, let alone, seek help from God and other peers to learn how to parent. 

God works through my family as a lifeline for developing empathy, awareness, understanding, and compassion. He opened my eyes to greater opportunities to connect with other similar families with special needs.

It was a lifeline to learning to make an impact in the community and through inclusionary programs such as E-Sports to change lives I would’ve never considered or encountered had it not been for my family’s unique needs.

Reflection questions

  • What spiritual qualities does God want you to develop and deepen in meeting the needs of your spouse and children?
  • How do you see the weaknesses or limits of your life and family as a lifeline to grow spiritually and to capitalize on new opportunities to change lives?
  • Have you embraced the fact that God’s purpose for your life is intertwined with your family’s unique needs and qualities?
  • How is God training you to develop spiritual qualities through the process of building your family?

Humanistic Myth #2: “My family obstructs me from my priorities.”

Spiritual Truth #2: “Through my family, God reshapes my priorities.”

While Moses was leading God’s people through the desert, his father-in-law Jethro decided to pay a visit, and specifically to reunite Moses with his wife and sons. As we read the rest of Exodus 18, it is clear by the end that God orchestrated Jethro’s visit, to teach and train Moses to reshape his priorities.

5 Moses’ father-in-law Jethro came to Moses in the desert. Moses’ sons and wife came with Jethro. Moses was camped near the mountain of God. 6 Jethro had sent a message to him. It said, “I, your father-in-law Jethro, am coming to you. I’m bringing your wife and her two sons.”

Exodus 18:5-6,13-20,24-26 NIRV

For Moses to lead God’s people into the next stage of their journey, God first reunited Moses with his family. In turn, he would also teach Moses he could no longer lead alone for such a great task. 

By having his family now with him, along with the wise admonition of his father in law Jethro, God was giving Moses a lifeline to developing stronger leadership, by prioritizing the raising up of other leaders, rather than insisting on addressing all the people’s needs alone.

13 The next day Moses took his seat to serve the people as their judge. They stood around him from morning until evening. 14 His father-in-law saw everything Moses was doing for the people. So he said, “Aren’t you trying to do too much for the people? You are the only judge. And all these people are standing around you from morning until evening.”

15 Moses answered, “The people come to me to find out what God wants them to do. 16 Anytime they don’t agree with one another, they come to me. I decide between them. I tell them about God’s rules and instructions.”

17 Moses’ father-in-law replied, “What you are doing isn’t good. 18 You will just get worn out. And so will these people who come to you. There’s too much work for you. You can’t possibly handle it by yourself.

19 Listen to me. I’ll give you some advice, and may God be with you. You must speak to God for the people. Take their problems to him. 20 Teach them his rules and instructions. Show them how to live and what to do. 21 But choose men of ability from all the people. They must have respect for God. You must be able to trust them. They must not try to get money by cheating others. Appoint them as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens.

22 Let them serve the people as judges. But have them bring every hard case to you. They can decide the easy ones themselves. That will make your load lighter. They will share it with you. 23 If this is what God wants and if you do it, then you will be able to carry the load. And all these people will go home satisfied.”

Exodus 18:13-23 NIRV

Moses’ reunion with his family was a transformative moment during which he had to learn to re-order his life spiritually – family and his people’s needs would be completely met rather than chronically neglected.

There’ve been too many times where I’ve blamed my family and viewed them as an obstruction from “fulfilling God’s priorities” in my life. Not only was I deeply deceived and blinded by my vain conceit, but my priorities were completely opposed to God’s. 

I learned that much of the futility and frustration I felt from my ineffectiveness to lead and help others was rooted in having the wrong priorities. I was too busy blaming my family, rather than having the humility to allow God to reshape my priorities through my family.

24 Moses listened to his father-in-law. He did everything Jethro said. 25 He chose men of ability from the whole community of Israel. He made them leaders of the people. They became officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. 26 They judged the people at all times. They brought the hard cases to Moses. But they decided the easy ones themselves. 27 Moses sent his father-in-law on his way. So Jethro returned to his own country.

Exodus 18:24-27 NIRV

Moses grew in humility and effectiveness that day, by heeding the instruction of his father-in-law Jethro. He decided to limit himself to the most essential people in his life, and this was a lifeline out of burnout, and for all the people’s needs to be met, rather than indefinitely delayed. 

What I’ve often viewed as an inconvenient interruption in my life or work (especially when these “interruptions” seem to come from my family) is actually God stopping me to discover a spiritual lifeline – often through reshaping my priorities so that both my family’s needs and those of many others are cared for rather than neglected. 

Reflection questions

  • How is God trying to reshape your priorities through your family – from being humanistic to spiritual, self-centered to God-centered?
  • Whose life does God want you to inspire and change through how you build and prioritize your family?
  • Are you experiencing spiritual breakthrough or personal burnout? What does this reveal about your spiritual priorities when it comes to your family and relationships? 
  • Do your priorities reflect God’s priorities when it comes to building your family and the lives of others, rather than your own success?

Humanistic Myth #3: “My family imbalances my life.”

Spiritual Truth #3: “God balances me through my family.”

All throughout the Scriptures, those whom God chose to work through and change the world never began as a finished product but rather often imbalanced in heart, character or emotional maturity.

This balancing was necessary to fulfill God’s destiny for each individual God called. It also necessitated being spiritually influenced by close relationships to become well-balanced for God’s purpose. We see this not only with Moses with Jethro, but in David and Jonathan, Paul and Barnabus, Ruth and Naomi, and many others.

18 Now the Lord God said, “It is not good (beneficial) for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper [one who balances him—a counterpart who is] suitable and complementary for him.”

Genesis 2:18 AMP

I’ve often pursued personal achievement over personal attachment in relationships. It’s led to using and hurting many, and building shallow relationships rather than meaningful ones of depth. 

This made me very imbalanced in building relationships – often demanding more from others and making room only for my personal agendas and ambitions, rather than admiring and advancing the interest of others. Only through my family has God continually uprooted the deep selfishness that has led to building one-sided, imbalanced relationships.

This underscores a spiritual truth: No individual is ever meant to go it alone in life, especially when it comes to living out God’s purpose. 

9 Two are better than one because a good return comes when two work together. 10 If one of them falls, the other can help him up. But who will help the pitiful person who falls down alone? 11 In the same way, if two lie down together, they can keep each other warm. But how will the one who sleeps alone stay warm against the night? 12 And if one person is vulnerable to attack, two can drive the attacker away. As the saying goes, “A rope made of three strands is not quickly broken.”

Ecclesiastes 4:18 Voice

Alone, we remain ill-equipped and often imbalanced to handle and complete God’s purpose. We are only stronger together. That day in the desert with his father-in-law and family, Moses learned this invaluable lesson of taking care of family and God’s people by sharing leadership with others, rather than leading alone.

Starting from my marriage, to the birth of my daughter and then my son, God has continually taught me that my place in life is not to achieve “#1 status”, but to get my esteem and satisfaction from being #4 in my family. It’s the only way to build intimacy in my marriage and family and to humble myself in leading and making others greater.

“Moses learned this invaluable lesson of taking care of family and God’s people by sharing leadership with others.”

This reminds me of Jack Campbell, in “The Family Man”, an extremely ambitious man who’d prioritized career advancement and achievement above all else, including his relationship with the woman who loved him, Kate Reynolds.

On Christmas Eve, he was given a brief glimpse of what his life would’ve been like had he chosen relationships over ambition, and for the first time experienced what a balanced life and family would’ve been like. This led him to ultimately realize he’d been missing out on the satisfaction and happiness in life he’d been in pursuit of. 

He’d been fighting for the wrong things and missing the very thing he’d been longing for – his wife and family.

In the latter days of Moses’ life – we see a reinvented man – from one who initially pursued isolation by exiling himself, to later becoming internally strong, balanced and deeply attached to his people and family.

He finally learned that the lifeline to discovering his satisfaction and security was not based on his abilities or qualifications, but on those he was attached to most – God, his family and friends.

12 One day Moses said to the Lord, “You have been telling me, ‘Take these people up to the Promised Land.’ But you haven’t told me whom you will send with me. You have told me, ‘I know you by name, and I look favorably on you.’ 13 If it is true that you look favorably on me, let me know your ways so I may understand you more fully and continue to enjoy your favor. And remember that this nation is your very own people.”

14 The Lord replied, “I will personally go with you, Moses, and I will give you rest—everything will be fine for you.” 15 Then Moses said, “If you don’t personally go with us, don’t make us leave this place. 16 How will anyone know that you look favorably on me—on me and on your people—if you don’t go with us? For your presence among us sets your people and me apart from all other people on the earth.”

17 The Lord replied to Moses, “I will indeed do what you have asked, for I look favorably on you, and I know you by name.”

Exodus 33:12-17 NLT

Reflection questions

  • In what areas of your life or your leadership are you imbalanced?
  • How does God want you to be humble in allowing your family to balance you? In learning from them?
  • What spiritual decision can you make to become more attached to God and your family? To become stronger together with your family, than as an individual?
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