It’s 7.28 p.m. on a Wednesday evening; just two minutes to go until it starts. A few last minute browsers hurry from the bookshop to the main auditorium to join the crowd pushing through the doors to find their seats. As the lights start to dim and the ushers close the doors, all is set for the speakers to take the stage and the evening to begin.
Just a few minutes later, a man sprints up the stairs and bursts into the foyer. After only just finishing a busy day at work, he’s driven hurriedly across the city. He’s not at all sure how this evening will help him be a better dad, but he really loves his son and wants their relationship to improve. Right now, he feels spent, weary, frustrated and almost done.
An usher welcomes him with a smile and an enthusiastic, “Enjoy the event.” He musters a hasty reply, “At my wits’ end.” Not the best greeting, but it’s how he feels. Juggling a demanding job with family life has become more than challenging in the last few months. Tense with the combination of stress and exhaustion, he finds a seat at the back of the hall.
As the event unfolds and the speakers share their stories, he begins to relax and occasionally smile. Suddenly, he finds himself laughing with the rest of the audience in recognition of a typical teenager/parent scenario. As he makes his way home, he realises that unexpectedly his mood has lightened. Yes, he’s still tired and he knows that there are probably still some battles ahead, but he’s encouraged. He knows that he’s not alone, other parents are going through the same challenges, and he knows that things can be different.
The event that story refers to was run by Care for the Family, a charity I started that aims to make a difference in the lives of people like this man and his son. Next year we will be celebrating 30 years of running events and producing practical resources for couples and parents. Our aim is to strengthen families in the good times and support them when life is tough. This year alone we are running more than 50 public events, participating in major conferences and festivals such as Spring Harvest, Big Church Day Out and New Wine, and we continue to expand our courses, training, books, DVDs, podcasts and other resources. We love to meet people everywhere from Belfast to Bradford, Eastbourne to Edinburgh and towns and cities in-between when we hold our events as well as connecting with people online through our website or on Twitter and Facebook.
“What we want to do in Care for the Family is strengthen families in the good times and come alongside them when life is more difficult. Even in the toughest of times in family life, we want you to know that you are not alone.”
Our passion is to strengthen marriages, equip parents and support those who are bereaved. Family life is a joy and a blessing, but we all know that troubles can come along and suddenly our family can feel fragile. Single parents, parents caring for a child with additional needs, bereaved parents or those widowed young face particular challenges, and we all have to deal with the pressures of our modern lifestyle and culture.
One of our priorities at present is to give parents confidence in raising their children in a digital age. We want to provide them with practical advice on screen time, social media and consumer culture, as well as helping them deal with serious issues such as online bullying, grooming and pornography. Safeguarding our children from potential dangers is vital if we want to help them take full advantage of all that digital technology has to offer.
“It is too easy to make the internet a scapegoat for the pressures on our children today. We need to realise that the problem doesn’t lie in the internet itself, but in the choices we make in how we use it.”
Katharine Hill, UK Director of Care for the Family and author of Left to Their Own Devices? Confident Parenting in a World of Screens (Muddy Pearl)
This year we are running two new events specifically for men or for women to strengthen them as individuals, encourage them, affirm them in their identity and challenge them to make a difference in their home, workplace, church and community. The Free to Be events for women earlier this year were sold out and received incredibly positive feedback from the hundreds of women who came. Later this year, we will be launching In the Arena, an event for men that gives practical, tested advice about how to deal with some of life’s challenges. Our two speakers come from very different backgrounds and have a vast range of experiences. Gerrit Bantjes was a British Army paratrooper and a fitness coach at Cardiff Rugby Club. Regular drills or training routines helped prepare him to be effective, building up strength and resilience for when he needed them most. Philip Jinadu leads Woodlands Metro, a thriving church in the heart of Bristol, and he too understands the need to be ready – not just in his role as a busy church leader but as the founder of Love Running, an initiative that encourages people to get fit, make friends and change the world.
“In the army we repeated battle drills – tactics and routines – so that we could react rapidly to events. Playing rugby, we practiced drills until we could do them with our eyes shut. Drills are an essential ingredient for high performance and success. Drills save lives. As men of faith this becomes even more paramount.”
This mindset has shaped the In the Arena event. Gerrit and Philip will talk about how we perform in some of the main arenas of life – our work, family, health, faith and friendships. Sharing insights from their experiences of both triumph and adversity, their aim is to strengthen and empower men at every stage of their lives – to help them be ready for whatever life holds.
All of us are in life’s arena and we will face challenges, uncertainties or difficulties that can really test our integrity, resilience and character. In the Arena looks at what we can do to be ready to deal with those issues that can affect our most important relationships, our work and our inner, spiritual lives.
The image of ‘training’ and an athlete’s determination is in the Bible: “Run to win … … with purpose in every step” (1 Corinthians 9:24,26, NLT). We want you to have that same sense of purpose in your life, so don’t miss coming with your friends to In the Arena where you’ll enjoy a great evening of encouragement and some helpful ideas.
There are seasons in family life when many of us feel like the man I wrote about at the start of this article. Perhaps you, too, feel weary or frustrated, and if that’s you right now, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. At Care for the Family we see enough heartache and pain in a week to last a lifetime. We know that there are often no easy answers, but we want to come alongside you and offer what support and encouragement we can.
A couple of years ago, a woman approached me in the interval of one of our evening parenting events. She said, “When I was a little girl, your books used to be on my parents’ bookshelves, and then their marriage went through a difficult period and they were helped by watching your Marriage Matters video.” (I remember filming it in the Wembley Conference Centre in 1991.) She continued, “When I got married, they gave us a copy of The Sixty Minute Marriage book, and then a little later when we were having a tough time in our relationship, we watched your 21st Century Marriage DVD. We came through that time and now my husband and I run Care for the Family’s marriage courses to help other couples.”
I felt about 112.
My hope is for Care for the Family to go on touching lives for another 30 years and beyond – not just for our sake or the sake of our children, but for our children’s children. When we strengthen family life, we affect the very foundation of our society and change all our tomorrows for good.
Here are a few routines or ‘drills’ to remember that will help to strengthen some important areas of your life and relationships:
Building your marriage
Being a dad
Guarding your heart