Mary Poppins and the chain of command
The chain of command—everybody has one. Everybody knows where they are in that chain, and it honestly clarifies and simplifies your life as a military member. As officers, you are in the upper echelons of the chain of command where your word and orders carry a certain level of authority. You know what it means to give a command and see it followed out by those beneath you. You have seen how this chain designates responsibility and is critical to maintaining order and accomplishing your mission. There is little wonder why it has been the governing structure for militaries for millennia. So what happens when you transfer that structural framework from your military environment into your family life? How does your understanding of the chain of command work itself out in your family system? And how does being an officer who follows Jesus as your Savior and Lord play into all of this?
Believe it or not, a great story to look at for insight into this topic is the classic Disney movie Mary Poppins. What you may remember as a lighthearted tale about a nanny and her two wards, is, upon closer inspection, really a story about a man, Mr. Banks, and what happens to his life and perspective on his family when his chain of command is disrupted.
The father’s favorite line defines so much about the family’s life, “Everything in its place and a place for every thing!” Mr. Banks is actually a banker, and he prides himself on running a “tight ship” as the ruler of his personal domain. While not a military family, the parallel is clear. The chain of command is regularly enforced and fearfully followed—until the old nanny quits, and Mr. Banks and his family meet the magical Mary Poppins.??In response to a strictly dictated advertisement, Mary Poppins appears, and the children are astounded by her joy, imagination, and magical adventures! She brings life and love and music into a very structured world, and Mr. Banks resists this change at every turn. Wishing for his children to exist only when it is convenient, Banks wants his nanny to know her place in the chain of command and execute his intentions!
What he doesn’t see is that Mary Poppins has connected with his children because of the love she gives them; and her attempts to include him in the adventure are attempts to encourage connection and love between Mr. Banks and his family. This special nanny understood that the chain of command has no true influence at home unless it is accompanied by love. Perhaps that’s how Mary Poppins represents what Jesus would want most in our families—not simply a structured and functioning group, but rather a connected, loving, respecting, engaging, thriving family unit. To misquote Mr. Banks, “Every person is loving and there is love for every person.”
Military families are usually fairly structured units. Sometimes, especially because of deployments, there is a felt need to have everything in its place before the military member leaves. Keeping the order seems to loom large and sometimes even becomes “the most important thing.”
We might be tempted to think of a chain of command as the ultimate guide for group structure, but what we see in scripture is the Lord encouraging a loving, purposeful order where each person’s dignity and worth is celebrated, and their contribution can be offered and appreciated. When you open up your family to the influence of love and begin to personally connect, you will be surprised by the response you get. Teens in particular are asking questions like, “What is my role in this family?” “Where do my gifts and abilities fit in?” “Does the family even need me?” It’s easy to see how your family could begin to grow and unite when you start discussing things like this!
Perhaps you have a mission statement for your family that drives your structured actions, or maybe you just feel like you’re barely hanging on and completely winging it. Wherever you find yourself on this spectrum, reaffirming your personal submission to Jesus and his love is a critical first step. Next steps may include some or all of these ideas—making God known, serving through Christ’s love, and working at unity.
When Mr. Banks’ very efficient and structured world collapsed around him, he did not lose the family’s respect as he feared, but gained their love and admiration. It was the personal connection with his family members and discovering the joy and hope that love can bring, which led to true transformation.
Three Scriptures to balance your chain of command
1. Making God known (Psalm 78:1-7)
The Lord gives us a glimpse into His purpose for establishing families. It shows how structure tempered with love is a powerful formula that creates families with legacies that last generations and faith that is nurtured and passed on from parent to child again and again. While the child’s role is to learn and obey, the parent’s responsibility is to actively love and pursue a life serving the Lord. This is how the glories of the Lord pass among your family and down through the generations.
2. Serving through Christ’s love (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)
Those you lead need to know you love them. The key to a vibrant, nurturing chain of command is love, which was modeled by the ultimate servant leader, Jesus Christ. This involves respect and appreciation and knowing your family members—they are all very different people made in God’s image!
3. Working at unity (Mark 3:24-25)
Stresses and strains of military life on people in a family unit are bound to create tension and flares of anger every once in a while. That’s pretty normal. Destructive families attempt to undermine and create failure and ruin for each other. This kind of competition of win/lose, crush and destroy is what Jesus warns against. Make sure that in your “family fighting,” you aim for a win/win where everyone is left standing and knows they are valuable and loved even if they disagree!
About Dave and Raine
Dave is a Christian Ministries professor at Judson University, special projects assistant for MCYM, and senior author/editor for the military teen website RezLife.com with American Bible Society. Dave’s daughter, Raine, is a freelance writer, reader, nomad, new wife, art historian, animal lover, Pinterest addict, horror fan and Christ follower.