Written by Tracy Kristoff //
There is a painting in our daughters’ room that reads: “A family is a circle of people who love each other. –Anonymous.” I imagine this statement reflects many families who have made a conscious choice to expand their lives through adoption. Adoption is a difficult choice for many people. It is not the societal norm when partners begin to plan their families. Very few people entertain the idea of bringing children into their homes who may look and act differently from themselves. Implicit and explicit racism still permeates our ideas of what “family” should look like and how people should parent. If you want to hear about family stereotypes, ask an adoptive parent about their experiences. You might be surprised, or even shocked, at some of the stories you’ll hear. When I reflect on that painting, I think of all the families in the world that this statement includes because, to me, it represents the power of sacred connections.
As a Marriage and Family Therapist, and an adoptive mother, I have seen the damage that occurs when a family circle is ruptured. In the midst of this chaos, people often become broken and wounded. It is in this wounded-ness that emotional walls are erected to protect oneself from harm. When we begin shielding ourselves from the pain, we also shield ourselves from love and loving connections.
Connections are key to creating family bonds that allow children to flourish in life. We were created to connect. Connection communicates to others how valuable and important they are to our lives. Connection creates safety and security and allows us to explore who we are in the context of our relationship. Connection even has the ability to heal emotional wounds. As a therapist, I know that connecting with a client is crucial for change. We are even called to connect when we feel vulnerable, which I believe is the most difficult part of being a parent. It is easy and natural to put up the wall when we are hurt by an interaction. Inversely, it’s transformative when we lay down our egos and find a way to connect even in life’s difficult moments. When our children experience authentic interaction, built on attunement and connection, they internalize that message and slowly begin growing into the creations God has designed them to be.
I believe the philosophical writings of Martin Buber in his book I and Thou are at the core of this sacred connection. We create a family by seeing the sacred in others, by delighting in the creation that God has designed. This is what Martin Buber identifies as the “I-Thou” relationship. The world is ever-changing and, according to Buber, we live in an “I-It” world. This is a world where others simply serve as a means to an end: the grocery clerk, the neighborhood barista, the server at the restaurant. With the inception of A.I. and other smart intelligence, we interact with technology at alarming rates. I believe that when we fail to nurture the “I-Thou” relationships in our lives, we are at greater risks for all our relationship falls into the “I-It” category. When that happens in relationships, we begin to view only our own desires and forget to see the sacred in our spouses and children.
The “I-Thou” relationship flourishes in the context of community and creation. When we ready ourselves for scared encounters in relationships – they will occur. The proof that an encounter has occurred is that WE ourselves experience change. We begin to see people in a different light and develop a loving responsibility for creation. If we act justly, seek mercy, and walk humbly with God then this path should light a way for our children so they too can look for the sacred connections in life. I can “talk” all I want about justice issues, but if I am not moved to love, to enter into the “I-Thou” relationship, then I am what St Paul,in his letter to the Corinthians, calls a resounding gong.
So, how do you take this philosophical thought and put it into action? For me, it’s my faith. My Christian faith tells me that faith and action go hand-in-hand. In the New Testament letter of James, chapter 2 verses 14-26 (NIV), the author writes about the intrinsic relationship between faith and actions. This intrinsic relationship has manifested itself in many different ways throughout my life: extending hospitality to strangers, volunteering, and serving at a homeless shelter for children. My husband and I both spent time serving at Covenant House, Florida, a shelter for at-risk youth. This ministry is dedicated to serving the children who live on the streets in both North and South Americas. The mission statement of Covenant House impacts everything I do, even to this day: “We who recognize God’s providence and fidelity to HIS people are dedicated to living out HIS covenant among ourselves and the people we serve with absolute respect and unconditional love.” Absolute respect and unconditional love is the crux of the “I-Thou” relationship. Everyday, I have the opportunity to demonstrate this relationship to my daughter by teaching her about the dignity of all human life.
We are called to acts of service even within our own families. Hopefully, these acts of service teach our children how to live lives of humble service, justice, and mercy, empowering them to seek justice for all God’s creation.
Tracy Kristoff is a Marriage and Family Therapist and a Registered Play Therapist who is located in Winter Garden, Florida. She currently works at Simple Pathways Counseling in Winter Garden, Florida. When she is not at work, she is playfully engaging with her husband, daughter, and two dogs.