“If the apostle Paul was a clinician, he would suggest the diagnosis of our times is relational chaos,” Morgan Medlock, an experienced millennial, Adventist, Harvard-trained psychiatrist and health policy expert, said in her keynote presentation at the recent 2023 Adventist Conference on Family Research and Practice.
The fully online event is part of a partnership of the Adventist Church’s General Conference Department of Family Ministries and three entities at Andrews University: the Department of Discipleship in Lifespan Education at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary; the School of Social Work; and the Institute for the Prevention of Addiction. In 2023, the conference was headlined as Families and Emotional Health under the motto, “Hope, Heal, and Thrive!”
In her keynote, Medlock, also a Master of Divinity graduate of the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary, reflected on the social situation according to what Paul described in 2 Timothy 3:1-5. The apostle wrote that “in the last days … men will be lovers of themselves.” Medlock then connected it to the lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on families, and then shared biblical principles that can help families to recover and move “from breakdown to breakthrough.”
Medlock described many families’ current situation. “Our relationships have broken down because, according to Paul, even in the church of God, there is no relational intimacy with the Spirit of Christ.… So, we have a plethora of churchgoers but not enough Spirit followers.”
She said that we should understand the pandemic in the context of Paul’s diagnosis. “It was so much more than a health crisis,” Medlock said. “It uncovered the condition of our heart.”
The pandemic uncovered relational disorder in our families, Medlock explained. “We saw an increase in adverse childhood experiences. We saw an increase in anxiety and depression, middle age crises, parental distress and trauma, and households in disarray.”
She shared how even secular authors are acknowledging the chaos reigning in many contemporary families and its disastrous effects on institutions and society in general. As the pandemic was winding down in the United States, Medlock reminded her audience, the United States surgeon general issued two warnings — about a youth mental health crisis and about the epidemic of loneliness.
“Both crises are primarily relational,” she emphasized, citing studies on the devastating effects of social media addictions, for instance, on family relationships. “Many young people feel abandoned, and the only meaningful relationship they can develop is with a virtual platform.”
A Chosen Family
Secular authors are stating that the solution to family relational chaos is to adopt a “chosen” family, or, as an expert defined them, “the people who will show up for you no matter what.”
From a spiritual standpoint, Medlock said, “we have a chosen family, [which] is not created through artificial relationships with drifting individuals. That chosen family comes from none other than the Son, Jesus Christ, who said, ‘You did not choose Me, but I chose you.’ ”
Our chosen family, therefore, does not come from those who gather around to support our lifestyle and viewpoints, Medlock emphasized. “It comes from being in relationship with Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” She explained further, “The biblical view of chosen family is that as we develop intimacy with Jesus Christ, we are in fact able to participate in the intimacy that He has with the Father.”
Jesus loves us as He is loved by the Father, Medlock said as she quoted John 15:9. This is the basis that allows us to love other people, she added. “The antidote for our times is in fact intimacy with Jesus, and participating in the intimacy that exists between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,” Medlock said.
Worthy of His Love
In the last part of her message, Medlock shared what she called “three pillars” of religious intimacy.
The first includes living “under the Father’s declaration expressed at the baptism of Jesus: ‘This is my beloved Son; I am pleased with Him,’ ” she said.
“This declaration of the Father was bestowed upon the Son before He had worked any miracles … before He had done something worthy of that declaration,” Medlock said. “When Jesus chooses us as His family, the declaration that was bestowed upon Him is now bestowed upon us.… And the implications are that when Jesus chooses us as His family, I am loved because Jesus says I am; I am righteous because He says [so]; I am accepted because He says [so].”
Transparency and Trustworthiness
The second pillar includes living with the Father’s transparency, Medlock said. “The Bible teaches that the Father has given all things to the Son, and the Son then in turn sees what He sees the Father do,” she explained. “When Jesus chooses us as family, He says that ‘all things that I hear from my Father I have made known unto you.’ Being a chosen family biblically means that we have a transparent relationship with the Son,” she said.
The third pillar implies trusting in the Father’s trustworthiness. Jesus had security in His Father’s love for Him. He knew His Father was trustworthy, Medlock explained. “When Jesus chooses us as a family, He gives us the same security,” she said.
Following this model will be transformational for our families, Medlock emphasized. When we accept being part of God’s chosen family, we are empowered by the Spirit to love our families as the Son loves us.
“This intimacy we have with Father, Son, and Holy Spirit empowers us to love others not according to our family history but our spiritual history,” Medlock said. “Through the power of God’s Spirit … the relational chaos of our times loses its grip on us.… We can now forgive others as we have been forgiven. We can now have a family that is rooted in empowerment, coming along aside to build confidence and inspire us in our families to be who God created us to be. Our families’ greatest need is not a method, but a person, Jesus Christ, to take us from breakdown to breakthrough.”