After I saw the second half of the film I wrote in my diary, “All the anger that has welled up in me at various times during my life, and that overflowed especially during my recent burnout and recovery, has actually been my reaction to the deepest of unresolved conflicts.”  Then I wrote the sentence which I couldn’t share with you until you had seen the film: I lost my family when I was a boy. I don’t understand why it took me so long to see this.”

In Antwone Fisher’s case, he lost his family when he was a baby. This had a profound effect on his life. In my case, I lost my family when I was 5 years old.  But if you know anything about me, you’ll say, “John, you didn’t lose your family when you were 5. You had a mother and father, and a sister, and two brothers. What do you mean, you lost your family?”

Well I did have a family, but I didn’t, which sounds like a contradiction, but it isn’t. It appears to be a contradiction─ and a contradiction is a conflict─ only because I need to explain further. (By the way, I believe that all contradictions would yield real understanding if people only had the patience and took the time and really listened long enough with an open mind  to all the facts.) So hang on and let me explain.

First let’s  look at Antwone Fisher’s case. He had a family, and he didn’t. The fact that he was cut off from his family when he was placed in an orphanage as a baby meant that he lived his life without a family. But he had a family─ he just wasn’t aware of it.  Does that make a difference? All the difference in the world. Why? Because a family is a unique social institution created by God to provide the environment needed for becoming a complete human being.  Without a family we are only partially complete. And when you try to live life only partially complete, you can’t do it.

Antwone is a good example. Although he was physically mature, he couldn’t handle the conflicts of life. Whenever there was a conflict of any kind he invariably reacted in anger and violence. When he was teased by his buddies he reacted in anger. Why? Because deep down inside the great unresolved conflict of his life was waiting, brooding, ready to burst out whenever he was stirred up by a new conflict. When the conflicts of life stir up anger it’s because a large unresolved conflict is lurking deeper down inside,

What was Antwone’s larger conflict? He was continually plagued by the realization that his mother didn’t think he was worth anything. She had given birth to him while in prison and she was supposed to come get him when she got out, but she didn’t. As a result Antwone had to suffer for years in orphanages and then at the house of his foster mother, Mrs Tate, who told him continually that he was a burden, that he wasn’t worth anything─ and she abused him physically and mentally.

What we don’t see at first glance is that physical and mental abuse is only the surface tragedy. The real tragedy is not action, but inaction─ for instance, when we are never told that we are loved, that we are needed, that we are valuable. Why is this important? Because it instils in us a sense of value, of worth. Is this important?

It is absolutely vital. It should be the fundamental goal of education, really. If a human being is not led to understand his true worth, what good is all the education he is given? But how do you build a child’s worth? Love. You love him, you show him you love him, you tell him you love him.

What happens if you don’t? He feels unwanted, unneeded, a burden, “another mouth to feed”. To justify his existence he then tries to please, struggling to prove himself: “See? I’m worth something!” When he succeeds he is told, “Not good enough.” When he fails he is told, “See, I told you so, you’ll never amount to anything.”

Now can love and worth be taught in an institution? Not in the sort of institutions I’m familiar with. I remember being reprimanded once for skipping classes in high school and was told, “our government funding depends on your attendance.” That’s not what I needed to hear. Before my day they had truant officers who went after kids playing hookie; by my day they didn’t even bother. It’s in situations like these that we see why institutions can’t do it. They can’t look a child in the eye and say, “we love you; we missed you; you’re important to us; we care about your life; when you’re missing we will come to find you because we care about you.”

Lets face it, the secular society sends out only one signal loud and clear: its every man for himself’; only the fittest need survive; if you’re not a contributing member of society you’re a burden and we don’t need you. You’re worthless. Like the boy in the children’s movie Aladdin:you’re a street rat.” Ever wonder why a generation of kids identifies with Aladdin?

This issue is key. You cannot raise a healthy child without a family. However, you can raise a healthy child without a family if you provide what a family should provide. This is why some of us who had families have wound up fighting with problems that come from not having families. If your family did not show you and tell you they loved you, or if love was conditional, you might as well have been an orphan.

This also leads to a bigger picture. We cannot hope to have a sense of worth without relationships to other people. If the only people we know demand perfection from us, or question our worth, or demean us, or hate us, we shrink to become shrivelled angry little souls. On the other hand, if a community of people genuinely appreciate us, love us, need us, we actually flourish even though we are orphans—witness Anne Shirley of Anne of Green Gables.

A wise person once said, “it takes a town to raise a child.” How true! It is in our relationship with other people that we recognize our own self worth. This should begin in the home and should be true of the whole society. The reason we have a whole society filled with so many lonely people, alienated, anxious, angry and struggling with a lack of self worth─ is because it takes real, loving relationships to build human beings. We all ultimately get our true sense of worth from our relationship to others.

Now this brings up the final point. I said that I lost my family when I was five. I did. And so did my mother and father. We left Germany when I was a boy. What I didn’t realize until Antwone Fisher stepped into the front door of his Auntie Annette’s house, is that family is not mother and father.  Family is brother and sister and grandfather and grandmother and great grandmother and uncle and great uncle and great-great-great auntie… Every one of us were born into a BIG family, if only we were allowed to see it. Why is this knowledge  important? Because our sense of worthy is established and confirmed by family, or those who treat us like family. Why? Because belonging in a family and being an important member is not established by works, or money, or fame, or talent ─ it is established by birth. You are worth something by right of birth, and always will be─ forever.

When Antwone walked into that livingroom filled with smiling faces, faces genuinely glad to see him, overjoyed to be reunited with their long lost kin─ when great Grandmother reached out to hold his hand and said, “Welcome”─ all his internal conflicts were answered in a heartbeat. Why? Because unresolved conflicts can only be resolved by identifying and reconciling their root cause. His feeling of worthlessness, his loneliness, his alienation─ were caused by the fact that he had no loving relationships and when he finally found them they met his greatest need instantaneously.

I said much earlier that the resolution of Antwone Fisher’s conflict reveals what is at the root of most of our society’s problems. “ What Antwone finds, in the end, is what our entire civilization needs to find.” Is this taking it too far?

Not at all.

Our society is filled with lonely, alienated, insecure, unhappy people. A million people pass each other in the street and yet there is no relationship between them. Relationship is the source of a person’s sense of worth. Love is the fuel that keeps the fire of life burning. Without relationship and love we are like the walking dead.

Our civilization has seen the destruction of the family and the disappearance of the small town. All that is left is the Mega Metropolis. What families we have, we see them at Christmas. Our old folks are cordoned off in retirement homes. Our toddlers are in daycare. Our youngsters are latchkey kids lost in cyberspace. Our teenagers are in high school. All of these are institutions whose primary fixation seems to be money─ not because it was meant to be that way at the beginning, but because  it seems that without  an overemphasis on money these institutions can’t function.

None of this is Jesus’ way. His solution has always been family. It’s in the Book, folks.  And in the Book is the key to everybody’s recovery, because the Book documents a strange fact that seems to have been forgotten. As Tolkien wrote in The Lord of the Rings,  “and some things that should not have been forgotten…were lost.” Look into the genealogies in the Bible, for instance.[1] See the lists of names there. Think about it deeply. Follow the lineages back from your own heart where you now sit and you will discover that your family is bigger than you ever dreamed.

You belong to something so big and wonderful it defies words to describe it. The best words to ever sum it all up come from Ephesians.  In Ephesians 2:12  we are reminded that before we are Born Again,  we are  outside the Family: “That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world.” But after we are saved, we are adopted into God’s Family, the biggest family in the world: Ephesians 2:19 “Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God.”

Nobody who gets Born Again into God’s family is an orphan. All of those who have taken Jesus Christ as their Saviour are now members of His family, and His family stretches back to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob— all the way back to Adam!

And think about this― maybe you’ve been interested in meeting all those OT saints for yourself: Abraham, and Moses, and Noah and even Adam. Do you  see now that they are just as excited about seeing  YOU, as you are interested in seeing them?

Why? Because you are family!  All of us who are saved will one day soon meet the whole family. It  will be the greatest Family Reunion in history!

The benefits of finding your family ─ I mean really finding them─ are immeasurably great.

Antwone Fisher did it. What about you?


Postscript: there are many more applications and implications to the ideas confronted in Antwone Fisher. Think about them and share them with others. Perhaps you can see the relationship between anger and unresolved conflicts. Put your thoughts and feelings and discoveries into words and share them with your family and remember ─ if you are Born Again, I’m your brother  John.  [2]

[1] Matthew 1:1-18/ Luke 3:23-38 for example.

[2] And if you’re not, but want to be, talk to me and I’ll show you how you can join the family.