A Review of Russell Moore’s “The Storm-Tossed Family”
“Kids are resilient.”
It’s a mantra I repeated to myself over and over again as I sat in my hospital bed in the high-risk unit of labor and delivery. I was 33 weeks pregnant with a likely partial placenta abruption, meaning every day I spent in that unit was a matter of life and death. In a haze of pain and fear, we left our children in the middle of the night and didn’t return home for a month. By the time it was all over, they had been cared for by multiple rounds of people from our church and ultimately my family in Florida—all in an attempt to keep life normal for three small children.
“Kids are resilient,” I kept telling myself. When their emotions and behavior told a different story, I reminded myself of what I, and everyone else, said over and over again. They won’t remember this. They are made to withstand change. They can adapt. When I was anxious they would have to return home without their baby brother (or worse, without either of us), I would tell myself that surely they could survive that trauma. In the difficult days after we all returned home (alive, but broken) I wondered if we would ever return to “normal.”
It took a long time.
And that’s when I stopped believing that kids are resilient. They might be adaptable, but resilience is reserved for the stronger among us. Resilience is reserved for those who have learned to adapt and cope over time. Resilience is worked into us; it’s not necessarily innate (though some are born with more resilient constitutions than others).
In the months following, I spent a lot of time trying to reconcile the difficulty my kids faced with what I knew to be true of God and the Christian life. As a parent, I am supposed to protect my kids, but suddenly the reality that I couldn’t protect them from the worst imaginable thing weighed on me nearly every day.
This is why I couldn’t wait to read The Storm-Tossed Family: How the Cross Reshapes the Home by Russell Moore. The title alone resonated with me. Storm-tossed? That’s us. Need to see how the Cross reshapes that? Yes, please. This book gave me language for my sadness over what my kids faced, but it also gave me solidarity. We are all storm-tossed because we live in a stormy world. I needed to hear that. I needed to hear that suffering and trauma, while incredibly difficult, don’t have to be the defining mark of a family. Maybe you do, too.
For me, the great difficulty of processing nearly dying, nearly losing my son, and throwing my kids into upheaval in the process is that it made the world suddenly feel unsafe. The world is unsafe, I just didn’t feel it as acutely before. What Dr. Moore does so helpfully is acknowledge this present darkness, while also showing us that there is a Savior who can’t be defeated by even the darkest traumas we face.
He begins the book with this theme, “in both the blessing of rain, and the peril of the storm, we lose all our illusions of control” (3). It is this “storm-tossed” theme that carries him through every page of the book, saying “the only safe harbor for a storm-tossed family is a nail-scarred home” (6). Christians know what these words mean. We’ve sung about those nail-scarred hands our entire Christian lives. But what does this have to do with trauma, loss, sin, and the difficulty that often rages inside our souls and our homes? Sometimes it can feel like we are living our worst life in our families, but Dr. Moore has hope for even this.
He says, “the worst thing that can happen to you is dying under the judgment of God, bearing the full weight of the sentence of death and hell. If you are in Christ, that’s already happened to you. You are not only a survivor; you are a beloved child, an heir of everything” (3-4).
Family has a way of removing a notion of feeling beloved, especially when suffering is clouding our view. With an empathetic word, Dr. Moore reminds the broken reader of what is already true—in Christ you belong to a family that cannot be shaken even by the worst traumas you face.
This is a theme undergirds everything he writes, even to the point of including an entire chapter on spiritual warfare. “Family is difficult because we live in a fallen world…Family is difficulty because family represents far more than just genetic lumping. The demonic powers care about the family not because they are in revolt against ‘family values’ but because they are in revolt against God.” (30). In other words, the battles we wage in our families have less to do with us and more to do with a devil who wants nothing more than to destroy the world that God has made. This is terrifying, but comforting. We know the end of his story, and we know the end of ours.
There are a lot of books out there on parenting, marriage, and family. I’ve never encountered one like this one. Many other books spend a lot of time focusing on how-to’s, tips for improvement, or even the positive things that can come from marriage, parenting, and family life. I’ve benefited from some of those books, but I’ve also often been left wondering if I’m the only one wrestling through the complexities and darkness that comes with life in a fallen world. Dr. Moore gets the human experience in all of its rawness, and from it he charts a path forward, not rooted in sentimentality or false promises of it all getting better in the immediate, but the promise that the Bible is true and one day Jesus is going to make everything new for good. Parents, siblings, children, and anyone who is connected to a family (which is all of us) will find this book a breath of fresh air because it’s not just a book on parenting or marriage. It’s a book on the church, a book on family values (or how we should rethink them), a book on the sexual union, a book on divorce, and a book on family trauma. There is something here for everyone, especially those who look at their family dynamics and wonder if there is hope for them.
It’s rare that a book on family can cover every aspect of the family, but this book does. Sometimes books on family can alienate one demographic of people, leaving its reach to a specific tribe. But there is no tribalism in Dr. Moore’s book, and I found that particularly freeing. At the cross we are all equally sinful, but all equally redeemed in Christ. There is hope for everyone in this book, no matter the tribe you find yourself in. Often authors want their books to reach a broad audience, but that’s a hard feat to accomplish. Few can, but Dr. Moore does it well and with care.
The book is not short, so it’s not one you could read over a weekend (unless you are a faster reader than me), but I think that’s the point. The difficulty we face in our families takes time to process, and Dr. Moore walks with the reader every step of the way. This book is meant to be processed slowly, letting the truths in it sit in our souls and heal all that is broken and discouraged. It’s a book that is meant to shake up our assumptions about family, or even crucify our family idols. It will make some people mad, probably for the very reasons it encourages others. And that is its greatest strength. I felt known and understood reading Dr. Moore’s book. And I imagine there are a lot of other people out there who need to feel known and understood, too.
What Dr. Moore shows us is that even the best families find themselves either in a great crisis or on the brink of division at some point. We are all “storm-tossed” because we live in a stormy world. This is not Eden, so we should stop trying to pretend that it can be. Maybe then we could see that, as Dr. Moore says, though the storms may rage, we are never alone. There is one who even the wind and seas obey (Matt. 8:27). “Whatever storms you may face now, you can survive. If you listen carefully enough, even in the scariest, most howling moments, you can hear a Galilean voice saying ‘Peace. Be still.’ If you give attention to more than just the winds and the wave, you might see some hands reaching out for you” (297). These are the same hands that bear the scars and wounds for you.
Kids might not be resilient. Parents might not be either. But Jesus is, and in that we have hope.