Creating a thriving family culture


“You know it’s bad,” a friend said, “when I reach for my phone before I kiss my wife good morning – or when I’m staring at the device in my hand while my kids munch their cereal at the breakfast table.”

So many of us live lives of hurry, worry and striving. While families in many parts of the world struggle to get clean water, good nutrition, basic safety and medical care, our fast-paced and competitive lives in the West make it difficult for us to be fully present to one another. As a society, we are materially wealthy but relationally poor.

Busyness and distraction are enemies of family thriving. If we aren’t intentional about our decisions about time, money, work and activity, then the scripts of our culture are likely to drive us towards choices that will wear us out and take us away from the things that matter most.

“Learn the unforced rhythms of grace” is how Eugene Peterson translates words spoken by Jesus to weary and worn out people like us. (Matthew 11: 28-30, The Message) By following Christ’s example, we can learn to be unhurried, at peace and fully present to one another. There is enough time for what is essential.

As one of our teachers, Dallas Willard, famously quipped, “If we can’t get through the day without feeling rushed or hurried then we are probably trying to do something more or different than what God is asking of us.”

We never intended to create a hectic life of busyness, stress or distraction. We were simply following the achievement and success narratives passed on to us.

At the time our three children were born, Mark worked full time and was also enrolled in graduate school. Our life was a blur of dirty nappies, sleepless nights, piles of laundry, work and an unending to-do list.

Childcare, career and financial pressures pulled us away from each other and pushed us towards unhealthy and unhelpful ways of managing stress. Our lives felt fragmented and disconnected. One day we woke up and realised that we weren’t the family that we hoped to be.

One of the best things we did was to stop and reflect: “Is our normal working?” and “Do we like where our choices are taking us?” We knew we needed to change. Some of the changes we made were big. Eventually Mark quit graduate school and switched jobs.

But some of the most impactful choices we made were small. We started experimenting with Sabbath practice, taking a full day off each week from work, household chores and even social obligations. We had a conversation together about what really matters to us and developed a family purpose statement.

As a family we want to:

  • Love God and people.
  • Nurture healthy family dynamics.
  • Use our gifts to serve.
  • Offer hospitality and care, especially to those who suffer and struggle.
  • Live gratefully, creatively and sustainably.

It was energising to articulate our deepest values and get them down on paper. We printed our statement and put it on the front door of our house, in the kitchen and on the bathroom mirror.

Once a week, we set aside a time to talk as a couple about how we want our values to shape how we spend our time – what we will say “yes” and “no” to as a family.

The two of us gradually realised that to live out our family purpose effectively, we needed a shared rhythm of life that really worked for us. We began playing with a weekly routine that would help us do this.

  • Thursday night became dad and kid night so that Lisa could get space to herself.
  • Friday night became family night, when we swam at a local pool, watched a movie or played games at home.
  • Saturday became our chore day, the time when we did deep cleaning and home maintenance.
  • Saturday night was our date night.
  • And Sunday nights became our hospitality night, when we invited a group of high school students to hang out at our house.

It also helped us to have designated times during the week for a family meeting and one-on-one time with each child. Establishing these shared rhythms protected time for what we felt was most important – listening to God’s voice, caring for one another, welcoming people into our home and serving needs in our community.

Seasons of life change and so do our rhythms. And sometimes our lives still get too busy or distracted, but we know we are always being invited back to the “unforced rhythms of grace.”

What is most important to you and your family?

What do you need to say “no” to in order to prioritise what matters most?

What daily, weekly and seasonal rhythms will help you live your deeper purpose as a family?

Mark and Lisa Scandrette live with their three young adult children in San Francisco. They are the authors of Belonging and Becoming: creating a thriving family culture (Lion-Hudson, 2017). Mark is one of the key creative shapers of the NINE BEATS Collective, an international project of artists and activists exploring – and seeking to practice – the beatitudes. Album and resources at

This article first appeared in Life magazine, issue 8