Serving Through Family Crisis
Biblical-Theological Foundation for Family Crises
In the Old Testament, the book of Job presents a dialog about suffering in terms of the relationship between the human being and God. His main topic is, “Why do the just suffer?” The purpose of this wonderful document (the book of Job) is to help us see crises as a time for us to grow and shape our character. This book has been interpreted by many as an intent to explain human suffering. Job lived through a great crisis; he lost it all in a “blink of an eye”—all he had worked hard for and secured slipped through his hands in a few moments. When we read the biblical passage, we find a godly man, who without a doubt stood out for doing good for himself and for his family. Even so, he experienced a circumstantial crisis. When facing this economic and family disaster, Job reaffirmed his faith, “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised” (Job 1:21).
Let’s consider great crises during New Testament times. Before Jesus came to this world in his human and divine form, many dangerous situations had provoked crises for the Jewish people. Some of those crises were: The rise of the Maccabees (167 BC–70 AD); King Herod the Great’s reign (37–4 BC); social, political, and economic discrimination during the Herodian aristocracy that left the people oppressed, poor, and hopeless; rebellious movements against Herod (Maccabees/ Zealots); Herod’s kingdom divided into three parts; the Roman government’s census to create an economic burden and servanthood; a loss of Israel’s identity as a nation and God’s chosen people, both in culture and religion; inferior condition of women in relation to men; moral corruption in leadership and authorities.
Regardless of all these things, Jesus understood how to handle each crisis and take care of the people in their suffering. He showed his capacity to be an excellent reconciler. Let’s consider some situations: Jesus showed compassion and ended the suffering of a crowd that had gone three days without food (Mark 8:1–10). He had a face-to-face encounter with the Samaritan woman, and she experienced acceptance, forgiveness, and salvation (John 4:1–42). In his dialogue with Nicodemus, Jesus discovered his real need—to be born again (John 3:1–15). Jesus presented the paralyzed man at the Bethesda pool the opportunity to make a personal decision (John 5:1–15). He gives solution and hope (Mark 10: 26, 27). He knows all details and puts our thoughts in order (Luke 5:17–26). He offers forgiveness and gives true peace (Matthew 5:21–26).
Important Definitions of Crises 
When we talk about crises, we are referring to that temporary state of disorder and disorganization usually characterized by 1) the individual or family’s inability to solve problems using known methods and strategies, and, 2) the potential to generate positive or negative radical results. Crises do not in any way represent an illness or pathology. They are part of the universal human experience.
An individual or a family may fall into a crisis when an unexpected event or circumstance is perceived as a devastating moment (for instance, the sudden death of a loved one). Another circumstance that may trigger a crisis is an event that can be interpreted as threatening (for example, losing a job or all finances). In the face of such difficult times, people often break down and seem unable to find an effective way to face it.
Both the crisis and its resolution will depend on a combination of factors, including both the triggering event and personal resources— family, community, culture, and religion. It’s expected for a crisis to last for a limited period of time. For better or worse, they can vary from a few days to a few weeks (a maximum of 6 to 8 weeks) to be resolved. Neither the person nor the family system tolerates high levels of disorganization during long periods. However, it is important to realize that grieving a significant loss takes much more than a few weeks or months. Grieving a loss may take years.
Types of Family Crises 
- Listen empathetically. This is most important. When you listen with empathy, it means that you are trying to perceive the world through the other person’s point of view.
- Refrain from preaching, lecturing, or giving advice. The best support you can give to a person in crisis is your presence and solidarity, not your words.
- Do not be intimidated by the expression of strong emotions. These emotions are normal and natural. Any person affected needs to express and vent his/ her emotions, not restrain them. Crying is healthy to an affected person.
- There’s not an easy response to human suffering. To acknowledge the mystery behind life and death, joy and sadness, or laughter and crying is what reveals the humanity in us and communicates hope.
- Know and accept your limitations. You cannot resolve all problems. If you realize that you cannot handle a situation, consult a colleague, or refer the person or family to a professional counselor or therapist.
- “A” represents reaching a relationship of openness and trust. It offers solicited attention, to listen without judgment, to consider the family in crisis and their capacity to confront the crisis, and to communicate this conviction. In summary, it is quick attention, listening emphatically, and evaluating family resources.
- “B” represents identifying the components of the crisis. It includes identifying and expressing feelings, defining the particular content of these feelings, adjusting the focus of attention when articulating what triggers these emotions, and recognizing the threat around needed resources.
- “C” means to combat actively. To identify, along with others, the resources the family has, and to establish achievable objectives. “C” counteracts paralysis and avoids dependence. The pastor/counselor pays close attention to the referred need. In short, “C” establishes achievable objectives and commits to action.
- “A” (Achieving a relationship of openness and trust). The pastor answers the family call and reaches out to the afflicted person by establishing an atmosphere of acceptance and empathy (the ability to see the world through the eyes of the afflicted one). He listens attentively to Pedro Rivera and avoids any judgment. The pastor keeps the conviction that people in crisis are able to face their crisis and move forward. As the afflicted person is heard and valued, he opens up to share with the pastor his fears, anxieties, guilt, pain, etc. The pastor does not lecture, criticize, or offer advice. He listens attentively.
- “B” (Be willing to go down to the basic components of the crisis and its emotional depth: identifying and expressing feelings). Then, the pastor works with Mr. Rivera to identify (call by its name) the predominant feelings. Mr. Rivera feels very sad (feeling) because he lost his house (matter) for which he worked long years. The matter (lost home) explains the feelings (sadness), and both together provide meaning. Now the pastor focuses on articulating with words the facts, threats, or danger that caused the crisis. This reduces anxiety, increases self- esteem, and enables Mr. Rivera to move to the next step of recovering the stability and taking control of his life.
- “C” (actively fighting/combating). This implies several things. First, the pastor faces the possibility that Mr. Pedro Rivera intends to take his own life or do something else that would be considered “crazy.” The pastor is not afraid to talk about death and suicide explicitly and asks straight questions in a sensitive way. “Mr. Rivera, have you thought of taking your life in the midst of this pain?” Secondly, the pastor identifies, together with others, the resources Mr. Rivera can count on (family, friends, church, community, savings, social assistance, etc.). Mr. Rivera admits, “Thank God that even though I lost my house I can count on my family … besides, I have faith in God … and my church.” Then achievable goals are set within a reasonable time frame, starting with the immediate needs— “Mr. Rivera, how long do you think you will be with your family in the shelter? What other options are there?” For example. The commitment to action counters the paralysis caused by crises and neutralizes dependency. Likewise, the pastor is alert to the possible need to refer the case to a professional or specialized support center when there is a danger of suicide or when the crisis has not been well processed.
Family crises can be categorized as circumstantial crises, developmental crises, structural crises, or abandonment crises. The circumstantial crises are unexpected crises. They present an unforeseen manifestation of stress rising out of external forces, unknown both to the individual and the family. Some examples include wars, illnesses, accidents, fires, earthquakes, coin devaluation, high living cost, etc.
Developmental crises in a family often happen when a family structure is unable to incorporate into the new developing stage of any of its members or the family itself. Some of these events may include migration or divorce. These events can be considered as vulnerable aspects experienced by every family and can result in a crisis.
Structural crises are a recurrent result of the internal dynamics and exacerbation in the family. Frequently, this type of crisis is the result of an intention to avoid changes. These crises originate from hidden, unresolved, and underlying tense moments in the family structure itself, before external forces or developmental stages. These are some of the crises most dysfunctional families suffer, including domestic violence and addiction.
Abandonment crises appear when dysfunctional or dependent members are present, when the help needed is specialized or difficult to obtain, and when the family loses control of those depending on them.