Understanding Family History Creates Strong Cultural Identity

We talk a lot about changing culture at Vanguard Creative, because we believe that vanguards ought to be cultural influencers.  That doesn’t mean thumping your Bible or legislating morality.  I think we have proven that those tactics don’t work.    Cultural influence is about being a person that others want to emulate.  It’s about changing current structures to reflect God’s values so that His blessings can be released.  We don’t want to beat people over the head with our religiosity.  Instead, we want them to be so taken with what is happening in our lives that they choose to make a shift.

 Culture Doesn’t Change Overnight

One of the biggest challenges to changing culture is that it takes time.   The issues that we wring our hands over today didn’t just suddenly shift into popular acceptance.

 We let it happen.

We got apathetic and we didn’t listen to the warnings.

And now we are here.  So what do we do?

Day by day, we start rebuilding in the right direction.  One of the best places to begin is with our kids.  The cultural identity we build in our children will shape the future.  We can do a lot of great things for God in our own lifetime, but it won’t mean a thing if our kids don’t have a strong cultural identity.

 Joshua Made A Big Mistake:

Joshua was one of Israel’s greatest military leaders.  He served God and conquered the Promised Land for Israel, but he made one huge mistake that shifted the destiny of the entire nation.

 7 The people served the Lord throughout the lifetime of Joshua and of the elders who outlived him and who had seen all the great things the Lord had done for Israel. 10After that whole generation had been gathered to their ancestors, another generation grew up who knew neither the Lord nor what he had done for Israel. 11Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord and served the Baals. 12They forsook the Lord, the God of their ancestors, who had brought them out of Egypt. They followed and worshiped various gods of the peoples around them. They aroused the Lord’s anger 13because they forsook him and served Baal and the Ashtoreths.  Judges 2: 7, 10-13 NIV

So Joshua and his peers did great, but the next generation absolutely fell apart.  They stopped serving God and began to gravitate toward the culture around them.

Why did this happen?

It says the children grew up without knowing the Lord or what He had done for them.  Evidently, Joshua’s generation was so focused on the battles in front of them that they neglected to build into their kids an understanding of who they were as a people.  The children didn’t have a spiritual identity.

Joshua missed an important lesson from Moses.  The Bible says that Moses took Joshua with him whenever He went before the Lord.  He built in Joshua an understanding of who God was and how he was to relate to Him.  In time, Joshua established his own unique relationship with the Lord (Ex. 33:11).  With his identity rooted in God, he was able to lead the next generation forward.

Unfortunately, the next generation didn’t have that foundation.  Maybe their parents were caught up in the battle for success.  Perhaps they grew complacent once the battles were over.  Whatever the case, their children didn’t understand their history and they hadn’t personally experienced the presence of the Lord.

 Knowing Where You Come From Is Important

Joshua’s story shows us that understanding your personal history is crucial to developing a strong identity.  Science agrees with this.  I read a recent article in Dallas Child Magazine that highlighted some important insights.  The article discussed an Emory University study that compared children’s knowledge of their family history with their emotional health. Unsurprisingly, the children that knew the most about their family had higher levels of self esteem, and a stronger sense of control over their lives (Poisso, 2014).

When a child understands their history, it provides a sense of identity.  It validates who they are.  Sarah Feuerbach, Ph.D., says that when children know how their family fits in the world, they are better able to do the same for themselves.  Without this understanding, self-esteem is based solely on their own experiences (Poisso, 2014).  Anybody that made it through junior high knows how hard that is!

Having a strong sense of identity is key to helping a child navigate through life.  When difficult circumstances arise, they can draw from family experiences.  Seeing how a family member handled difficult times builds confidence for when they face their own challenges.

Teaching kids their spiritual history is just as important.  They need to know how God fits into their personal history.  They ought to know simple things like:

  • When did mom and dad get saved?
  • When did our family embrace Christ?
  • How did faith play into a family member having to make a difficult decision?
  • How did faith bring healing and hope in a time of tragedy?
  • What spiritual mistakes has our family made?  What were the effects?
  • How has walking with God produced a blessing in our family line?

When they understand how God connects to their family history, it further solidifies their sense of identity.  It gives them a practical foundation to draw upon as they make their own life choices.  When the cultural norms of the world pull at them, they will have a firm foundation to stand upon.

But What About The Family Skeletons?

We all have some stories we would like to forget.  Some are embarrassing and some are painful.  What should you do with that part of your history?

It can be tempting to want to protect your kids from the bad stuff.  Not being honest is a mistake. 

If we don’t communicate about the divorces, deaths, financial tragedies or abuse, then our children will process what happened through their own limited emotional development.  The story about Uncle Joe being the life of the party might be funny, but the pain his alcoholism created isn’t.  Life is about mistakes and obstacles.  We need to teach our children how to war together with God so that they can rise above the battles in their own lives.

Being honest about mistakes you or someone else in the family made can help your child to understand the costs of bad choices.  Every family has tendencies toward certain struggles.  We need to equip our kids with the tools to avoid them in their own lives.  Your honesty and humility now may save them a lifetime of heartache later.

 7 Tips For Sharing Your Story:

Sharing your family history is not always easy.  Kids don’t necessarily want to sit down and hear a history lesson, so you need to be creative.  I gleaned a few points from the article and added a few of my own.

  1. Keep it authentic: Draw on stories that relate to what they are going through right now.  Let the messages and values you want to convey come out organically.
  2. Keep family photos around to prompt conversations.  
  3. For younger kids, let them play private investigator:  Have them pretend they are investigators and give them a series of questions they can ask family members.  They’ll have fun while discovering their history.
  4. Collect a family history they can research on their own:  Some kids prefer to explore on their own.
  5. Invite them to join you in your journey:  Share your experiences with the Lord.  Invite them to join you in times of prayer and worship.  Be vulnerable regarding your own faith struggles.
  6. Don’t be afraid of sharing the difficult stories: You don’t need to get into all the details, just share at a basic level that conveys the important lessons.
  7. Remember to include your family’s spiritual history.  Show them how God has personally interacted with their family over the years.

Cultural change isn’t going to happen overnight, but it’s also not as hard as it may seem.  We can work at it everyday through the identity we build in our kids.  Give them a solid foundation and sense of who they are and when they are pulled by the cultural norms around them, they’ll stand firm in the strength of their identity.

How about you?

How do you build a sense of identity in your children?  What challenges have you faced?  How do you handle the difficult parts of your family history?  I’d love to hear your feedback.


Poisso, L.  (2014).  The Story Of Us.  North Texas Child April, 2014.