8 Pieces of Advice from Ellen White’s Counsel for Families
Family—it can be the source of the most wonderful and frustrating parts of life. And it’s in the family that individuals develop their identities and learn the behaviors that either propel them forward or hinder them in life.
Ellen G. White, a key figure in the Seventh-day Adventist Church, believed it was important to write about families because they form the foundation of church and society and are meant to reflect who God is.
Often, though, the hardest people to get along with are the ones we love the most. After all, they’re the people that know exactly what buttons to press to frustrate us.
But despite the challenges, the family can be an influence for good when Jesus Christ is our foundation. When we turn to Him for wisdom, He teaches us to live with grace toward one another—and give ourselves grace too.
In this article, we’ll look at the insight Ellen White received from God. We’ll cover 8 major themes she highlighted for families:
- Make God the center of your family
- Maintain a sacred circle of privacy
- Seek unity
- Allow for individuality
- Prioritize character development
- Share responsibilities
- Minimize family stressors
- Create a restful home environment
Let’s get started.
1. Make God the center of your family
The most important principle Ellen White highlighted all throughout her writings was faith in God. She wrote:
“Religion in the home—what will it not accomplish? It will do the very work that God designed should be done in every family. Children will be brought up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.”1
That’s because faith and commitment to God is the wellspring for every other good and beautiful thing in our lives. Through Him, we receive the characteristics of the Spirit that are vital in life: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22–23).
Faith in God, on a practical level, may look like:
- Carving out time for personal prayer and Bible study during the day
- Praying together as a family over big decisions
- Discussing a Bible passage over a meal
- Getting involved at church
- Exercising grace in your interactions with your family members
And as you model these behaviors, it’s much more likely that those around you, including children, will desire the same in their own lives.
What about a family with unbelieving members?
Maybe you have a family member or spouse who has different beliefs than you or isn’t a Christian. What then?
Ellen White, in numerous instances, saw that it was a tendency for those whose spouses were not supportive of their beliefs to become emotionally distant or even consider leaving the marriage. After all, it seemed like their views on how to live life and raise children were so different!
Even so, Ellen White emphasized that ending the marriage was not the answer. Neither was a stand-offish attitude.
Instead, she advised Christian spouses to set a consistent, patient, and loving example through simple things like:2
- Exhibit caring and supportive behavior, anticipating their needs (without compromising your own beliefs or needs)
- Exercising patience and consideration
- Focus on (and acknowledge) the positive traits of your spouse, not only on differences and challenges
- Avoiding condemnation, criticism, or pressure to “convert”
2. Maintain a sacred circle of privacy
Ellen White taught the concept of the “sacred circle” that surrounds the family.
By this phrase, she was referring to a sense of privacy that should be kept around a family to protect one another’s hearts. It creates security and trust because family members know that what they share, including their faults, will not be shared with others.3
This doesn’t mean that a family should never seek outside help, such as that of a counselor. It also doesn’t mean keeping quiet about abuse.
But it does mean being cautious of how family matters are handled.
There’s no benefit in airing dirty laundry. Except in severe cases like those listed above, no one outside of the family circle needs to know every single detail about their difficulties, sibling rivalry, or a spousal dispute. It’s best if those things are handled within the walls of the household, if possible. It doesn’t have to be anyone else’s business.
Loving our family members means guarding their feelings and their dignity.
3. Seek unity
Unity is not the absence of disagreements. It’s being committed to one another despite disagreements. While differences are inevitable, what matters is that we are making an effort toward compromise, empathy, and understanding.
But it’s easy to get caught up in arguing over little differences and blowing them out of proportion. Our selfish nature makes us want to prove we’re right.
In counseling families, Ellen White warned about this:
“Parents should be careful not to allow the spirit of dissension to creep into the home; for this is one of Satan’s agents to make his impression on the character. If parents will strive for unity in the home by inculcating the principles that governed the life of Christ, dissension will be driven out, and unity and love will abide there.”4
Children are quick to see the inconsistencies between their parents, so she encouraged parents to set the example of unity.
This might look like tabling a discussion that doesn’t seem to be making headway and returning to it after prayer. And it might involve setting aside personal preferences to come to a point of compromise and a united plan.
But ultimately, this unity begins with both spouses coming closer to Christ and the principles in His Word.
Ellen White used the illustration of spokes in a wheel. The closer the spokes are to the center of the wheel, the closer those spokes come to one another.5 Similarly, the closer family members come to Christ, the more united they’ll be.
To build unity in your family, first seek personally to draw nearer to Christ through Bible study and prayer. As you do, you may find Him pointing out areas in your life where you need to let go of your preferences to seek the best for those around you.
But we should note that the unity that comes through Christ is not uniformity. More on that next.
4. Allow for individuality
Love and respect are vital characteristics in a flourishing home, but they aren’t possible without the values of free will and individuality.
For this reason, Ellen White repeatedly reminded people that “none should consent to be mere machines, run by another man’s mind. … Stand in your God-given personality. Be no other person’s shadow.”6
When giving counsel to a woman who was contemplating marriage, Ellen White encouraged the woman to ask whether “she [will] be allowed to preserve her individuality, or must her judgment and conscience be surrendered to the control of her husband?”7
When these boundaries are crossed and the atmosphere of the home becomes toxic, step out of the situation and do not hesitate to ask for help for yourself and protect your children.8
5. Prioritize character development
The home is the first school of children and the place where they learn important character traits that they’ll carry with them into life. As much as you can, make this your priority at home—above running a business, being financially successful, or even keeping your home clean.9
Ellen White encouraged parents to “cut out everything else from your life that prevents this work [raising children] from being done, and train your children after His order.”10
Through day-to-day life activities, such as chores, sibling relationships, and play, look for opportunities to instruct your children in principles such as the following mentioned in Ellen White’s book Child Guidance:11
- “Lead your children to be overcomers. Teach them to look to God for strength.”
- “Tell them that He hears their prayers.”
- “Teach them to overcome evil with good.”
- “Teach them to exert an influence that is elevating and ennobling.”
- “Lead them to unite with God.”
Even as you teach your children, find ways to intentionally build closeness with them. You could eat one meal together as a family each day, read together before bedtime, or set aside uninterrupted time to play with them.
6. Share responsibilities
Ellen White viewed the family unit as a team that shares the responsibilities of the home rather than leaving them all for one person.
She put it this way:
“Every member of the family should realize that a responsibility rests upon him individually to do his part in adding to the comfort, order, and regularity of the family…. Each member of the family should understand just the part he is expected to act in union with the others. All, from the child six years old and upward, should understand that it is required of them to bear their share of life’s burdens.”12
Start your children young by giving them age-appropriate responsibilities. For example, a six-year-old won’t be ready to mow the lawn or cook a full meal but could probably fold towels or pair socks.
7. Minimize family stressors
Stress can come in many forms—deadlines at work, church responsibilities, after-school activities, and more. That’s why Ellen White wrote:
“Troubles may invade, but these are the lot of humanity. Let patience, gratitude, and love keep sunshine in the heart though the day may be ever so cloudy.”13
Set boundaries to prevent the stresses of work or other responsibilities from encroaching on the family.
They may be time boundaries—choosing not to pick up the phone or answer work emails after 6 pm or during family mealtime.
They may be emotional boundaries—practicing optimism and finding ways to destress, such as playing a game with the kids, going for a walk, or planning a picnic.
8. Create a restful home environment
With the emphasis on character and spirituality, we might think that our external surroundings don’t matter. But Ellen White saw both character and environment as important. She said:
“While we are to guard against needless adornment and display, we are in no case to be careless and indifferent in regard to outward appearance. All about our persons and our homes is to be neat and attractive.”14
Having a neat and clean house can help create a peaceful environment—a place where family members will want to spend time together.
To foster this atmosphere, find ways to get everyone involved.
For example, all family members can be responsible for keeping their rooms clean and chip in to keep the rest of the house orderly. Children can help sweep, wash dishes, take out the trash, and more. Make seasonal cleaning, like raking leaves, cleaning the garage, or dusting cabinets, an opportunity for the family to work together.
Begin with little changes in your family
You may feel like you don’t have the “perfect” family—that there’s no way you’ll be able to meet the ideal.
But that’s not how God works. He calls us to aim for the ideal, but He has given us principles we can apply regardless of the circumstances we may find ourselves in.
So take one step at a time, incorporating little changes. God has promised to give you His grace and guide you along the way.
Honestly, we’ve only scratched the surface when it comes to Ellen White’s counsel. To see more of what she had to say about families, take a look at her book The Adventist Home.
And if you’re wondering how to improve your marriage—a foundational part of a family—find some simple principles on our page about Ellen White’s guidance for marriage.
- White, Ellen, The Adventist Home, p. 322. [↵]
- Ibid., p. 349. [↵]
- Ibid., p. 177. [↵]
- White, Ellen, “Manuscript 53,” 1912. [↵]
- White, Ellen, Letter 49, 1904. [↵]
- White, The Ministry of Healing, p. 498. [↵]
- White, Ellen, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 5, p. 362. [↵]
- White, The Adventist Home, p. 348. [↵]
- White, Ellen, Child Guidance, Section 8, pp. 161–190. [↵]
- White, The Adventist Home, p. 324. [↵]
- White, Child Guidance, p. 172. [↵]
- White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 2, p. 699. [↵]
- White, Ellen, The Ministry of Healing, p. 393. [↵]
- White, The Adventist Home, p. 22. [↵]
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