Editor's Note: The following is a report on the practical applications of Suzanne Woods Fisher's book, Amish Values for Your Family: What We Can Learn from the Simple Life, (Revell, 2011).
Amish people tend to build strong families. They rarely divorce, report that they enjoy spending time together, and often see their children choose to remain faithful to Christ after they grow up.
But you don’t have to be Amish to build a strong family. The success that the Amish experience in their family lives doesn’t come from joining a particular denomination; it comes from living by certain values. If you learn from their examples and apply those same values to your own family, you can strengthen it. Here’s how:
Give your children the best gift of all: time. Make spending time with your children a high priority when you’re making lifestyle choices and planning your schedule. The Amish spend lots of time with their children, and children want their parents’ time more than anything else.
Teach your children new skills. Give your children as many opportunities as possible to learn new skills – from cooking to carpentry – just like the Amish do. Keep each of your children’s interests and talents in mind, and try to teach them skills that will help them do what they’d like to do and can do well, as well as practical skills that will help prepare them for adulthood.
Include your children when you’re serving others. Rather than getting childcare for the times you’re doing volunteer work to help people in need, include your children whenever possible. Let your children work alongside you doing age-appropriate tasks and seeing firsthand how volunteer service changes people’s lives for the better.
Turn off stress by turning on humor. When you’re feeling overwhelmed by stressful circumstances, take a cue from the Amish and look for the funny side of the situation, which will release some of the stress of dealing with it.
Enjoy close relationships with extended family members. Amish people are often close to people in their extended families, such as grandparents, in-laws, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Instead of focusing primarily on your nuclear family (only your spouse and children), reach out regularly to extended family members. Honor the elder members of your family by including them in your family’s activities as much as possible rather than regulating them to the background.
Enjoy strong friendships with others in your community. The Amish community is a close one because neighbors develop strong friendships. They get together often to enjoy fun activities (like game nights), they worship together, and they drop everything to help when their neighbors are hit with a crisis and need practical assistance and prayers. Make it a high priority to reach out to others in your local church and neighborhood to build strong friendships that will bless you all.
Fight materialism with contentment. Follow the Amish example of viewing money and the material things it can buy merely as tools to use when appropriate rather than ends in themselves. Ask God to help you be content, no matter how much your family’s financial income is or how much stuff your family owns. Be sure to keep this value in mind during the Christmas season, since it can help you stay focused on worshipping Christ rather than buying things.
View your family as a team that works together to achieve common goals. Expect every family member to share in the responsibility of the errands and household chores that must be done to create and maintain a healthy home. Let everyone know that their work is valued. Encourage all family members to respect each other and work to resolve conflicts peacefully. Emphasize that all of you are working to serve God and each other for mutual benefit.
Enjoy nature and take good care of it. Just as Amish people spend lots of time outdoors in God’s creation and try their best to treat it with respect, you can spend time in nature whenever possible (from hiking to picnicking), teach your children how to take good care of it (such as by taking care of animals as pets), and model creation care for them by making environmentally responsible choices for your household (such as conserving energy and recycling).
Pray for and with each other often. The Amish follow a pattern of praying for each other as they go through each day, and also praying together during regular family prayer times. Incorporate prayer both for and with your family into each day.
Take your marriage vows seriously. When Amish people say marriage vows, they see those vows as promises made to God rather than just their spouses, so they make every effort to be faithful to those vows and rarely break them. Give your own marriage as much commitment and effort.
Discipline firmly yet gently. Hold your children accountable for their actions, and when they misbehave, discipline them. But instead of venting anger on them (such as by yelling at them), ask God to help you remain calm like Amish people strive to do when disciplining their children. The balance of accountability with gentle respect will encourage your children to learn better ways to behave.
Place your trust in God’s sovereignty. Amish people believe that God knows what’s best for them, so when situations don’t work out as they’d hoped or planned, they have faith that God is working out good purposes through those situations – even when they’re difficult to go through. Ask God to give you the faith you need to trust in His sovereignty for your family’s life together. When you catch yourself worrying, pray about your concerns and trust God to do what’s best in response.
Forgive. When people sin against them, the Amish follow God’s command to forgive with His help, and trust God to bring about justice in His own way and timing. Remember how much God has forgiven you, and let the gratitude that you feel for God’s forgiveness motivate you towards forgiveness in all of your relationships – with family members and others.
Let your children grow up. Amish people work to prepare their children for productive adult lives by giving them age-appropriate opportunities to take on new responsibilities, make their own decisions, and learn from their mistakes. Be willing to let go of your children gradually as they grow, while teaching them to work hard and think critically about the situations they encounter. Keep in mind that when you let go of your children, you invite God to take hold of them and work powerfully in their lives.
Adapted from Amish Values for Your Family: What We Can Learn from the Simple Life, copyright 2011 by Suzanne Woods Fisher. Published by Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group, Grand Rapids, Mich., www.revellbooks.com.
Suzanne Woods Fisher is the bestselling author of The Choice, The Waiting, The Search, and A Lancaster County Christmas, as well as nonfiction books about the Amish, including Amish Peace. Her interest in the Anabaptist cultures can be directly traced to her grandfather, W. D. Benedict, who was raised in the Old Order German Baptist Brethren Church in Franklin County, Pennsylvania. Benedict eventually became publisher of Christianity Today magazine. Suzanne is the host of an Internet radio show called Amish Wisdom, and her work has appeared in many magazines. She lives in California. Visit her website at: http://suzannewoodsfisher.blogspot.com/.
Whitney Hopler is a freelance writer and editor who serves as both a Crosswalk.com contributing writer and the editor of About.com’s site on angels and miracles (http://angels.about.com/). Contact Whitney at: firstname.lastname@example.org send in a true story of an angelic encounter or a miraculous experience like an answered prayer.