When it comes to parenting, how are you feeling? Is your family the picture you had in mind? The truth is, we are all holding pictures of what we think a family is supposed to be.

Everywhere you go, you are reminded of how ideal families dress and act. For just a moment, take a closer look at one of the model families that some of us aspire to become.

They’re the Stock family: Rob and Allison Stock and their two children, Tyler and Emma. He’s clean-cut, wearing a name-brand shirt and expensive jeans. Her hair is long, her smile is endearing, and her teeth are white and straight. Tyler is two and a half years

older than Emma, and they hold the door for each other every time they enter a room. The sun is shining, and a picnic basket sits just outside of camera range.

The perfect family, wouldn’t you say?

So many times our focus becomes the picture we have created of a certain kind of family. We build up the Stock family as though every family ought to be like them. And everything’s great until we realize the Stock family isn’t a real family. They are what their name implies: a stock image from a photo bank. They’ve been Photoshopped.

They’re just four attractive models who were paid to do a photo shoot so shopping malls, clothing stores, grocery chains, and even churches can use their image to create the illusion of something that doesn’t actually exist.

Of course, the Stock photo does just what it’s designed to do. It portrays a picture of a perfect life and creates dissatisfaction about our own life circumstances. In the real world, though, the Stocks may be quite different from that photo. Rob might be a pharmacist battling a prescription drug addiction, and Allison is increasingly depressed because of their credit card debt. Tyler suffers from ADHD, and Emma is in therapy after she was caught tearing the heads off her Barbie dolls.

None of that is true, of course. But it is true that this story is much closer to reality than what the stock image portrays. It’s closer to where most families actually live.

Reality looks different for every family.

Maybe it’s an addiction. Perhaps an affair or a divorce. Or an out-of-control son or daughter. For many of us it might be less dramatic, a weariness that comes from living in the tension of sharing the same square footage with people you say you love. Or maybe the fatigue stems from the stress of career dissatisfaction, a marriage that has gone flat, too many nights out with the kids at soccer, or the sheer boredom of the suburbs. For others, it’s an uninvited guest that shatters family life—an illness or an accident, someone gets fired, something goes wrong.

Regardless, what you hoped for is no longer what you are living.

But the common denominator is this: We are left holding an image of family we will never be able to realize. We look at the Stocks and say, “That’s not us … but we still feel an incredible pressure for it to be us.”

We’re steeped in the reality of family life. Reality looks different for every family.

Family is messy.

Parenting is hard.

There is no single model.
And if you go to the Bible to find the ideal model, the families there are not what you may expect:

NOAH had a drinking problem.

ABRAHAM offered his wife to another man.

REBEKAH schemed with her son to deceive her husband, Isaac.

JACOB’s sons sold their brother into slavery.

DAVID had an affair, and his son started a rebellion.

ELI lost total control of how his boys acted in church.

Clearly, God is not trying to paint a picture of an ideal family. I sometimes wonder if God included bad examples of parenting in the Bible to give the rest of us hope.

So what is He doing? He’s not trying to give you a better picture. He’s writing a story. It’s a story with multiple chapters, a story that’s unfolding, a story that is a process, not a point in time. A story with multiple opportunities as you go along—not a snapshot, but a plotline in which God desires to reveal Himself over and over again.

God’s story is a story in which everyday faith becomes a reality. A story where we have a chance to redefine our relationships. A way to start again. It’s a story that gives every family and every parent a chance.

The Bible demonstrates with surprising candor that God is interested in using broken people to tell His story. In fact, according to Scripture, broken people are the very best ones to tell the story of God. Broken people are the primary characters featured in almost every story.

It seems like God is more interested in using broken people than He is in creating a better picture. It’s as though God is saying, I’m going to use families, composed of broken people, as a platform to demonstrate to the world that I am a God of restoration and redemption.

We can breathe a little easier to learn that God is not nearly as interested in putting a picture in front of us as much He is trying to tell a story through us.

If you were to invite God into your less-than-ideal story and learn to cooperate with whatever He wants to do in your life, the dynamic of your family could radically change.

If your picture is not where you want it to be at this time, you may be tempted to throw in the towel. Don’t focus on the picture. Focus instead on the bigger story God desires to illustrate through you.

(This is an excerpt adapted from Parenting Beyond Your Capacity by Reggie Joiner and Carey Nieuwhof.)