Last year, my friend’s family was heading to their mountain house to ski and she was really dreading the trip. “It’s just that with my family, it’s always a week of giving for me, without getting much back,” she said. She has tough relationships with her siblings and there’s been a recent divorce in the family, which complicated everything.
Have you ever felt that way — like you wished your family were just easier?
You may be grieving over a prodigal — a child is gone, and you don’t know where he is. A sister has distanced herself from you and will not speak to you. You have no relationship with a parent, 2 of your own children are estranged and will have nothing to do with each other. Because of these family hurts you may feel anger, shame, guilt, and embarrassment.
Because of your own family of origin, you may lack the knowledge of how to build a strong family yourself.
Just the word family can evoke pain.
When we look at someone else’s family, they seem to have it altogether. As we compare our family to theirs, we feel like a failure.
It is helpful to realize that there is always “data missing.” We don’t know the struggles, fears, and failures of that family. They too are self-centered, sinful people who hurt each other, say things they regret, and make big mistakes.
Beware of falling into the comparison trap. This trap invokes jealousy, encourages self-pity, and can damage friendships. No one chooses the family into which they are born, and no one determines the personality (makeup) of their child. This is God’s choice.
If we are honest, each of us will feel many times in different seasons of parenting, “Ok, I have ruined this child.” In one of my moments of saying this I sensed God saying,
Susan your ability to ruin your child is not nearly as great as my power to redeem him (or her).”
This truth has made a big difference in my life.
We must remember that God created family.
It was His idea. In the beginning He was part of a family — Father God, His Son Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. But that wasn’t enough, so they created man, Adam. Then God said it was not good for man to be alone, so He created Eve as a wife for Adam.
Through their disobedience sin entered family units. Even so God did not give up on family. Family has continued ever since.
Family has a broad meaning. We usually think of family as a dad, mom, and kids. But throughout both the Old and New Testaments we see family described as large tribes, small units, particularly the family of the church. A family might include singles as well as married people, young people, and old people.
God knows that we are not meant to be alone. We need one another. The big concept here can be summarized in a single word: together.
However, Families are MESSY.
There is no perfect family. We are all a mess to some degree. Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest are only images. Behind every perfect photo is a self-centered person. One who has used ugly words, done awful things, hurt other people, and even discovered they don’t like themselves very much.
It helps to remember that God is not shocked by our situation, by our wounds, or by our history. He’s seen it all. And there’s nothing He can’t forgive, nothing He can’t change, and no one He can’t heal. As Luke says, “For nothing will be impossible with God.” (Luke 1:37 ESV) So no matter where you come from or your current marital status, you can be the first of a generation of a healthy family.
We long for healthy family relationships. We want our children and grandchildren to love the Lord and to love each other. This may be the greatest desire of our hearts.
How do we begin to turn a fractured family into a healthy family?
Three things will help:
Let Grace Rule.
You may have a difficult relationship with your daughter-in-law. You wonder if she likes you. Or your son may be in a hard place, and you feel him withdrawing from you and the family. Cousins may not have much in common or may even dislike each other. Decide to set aside your assumptions (which could be false) and choose to let grace rule. This may involve using kind words (Proverbs 16:24) or remaining silent when offended. (Proverbs 17:28).
Solomon says it this way:
A person’s wisdom yields patience; it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense…Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.” (Proverbs 19:11; 16:24)
Be quick to forgive.
We need to be quick to ask for forgiveness and quick to forgive. I talk about this a lot, but the truth is, you may never actually feel like asking for forgiveness. Do it anyway. We do it because we’re commanded to, not because we feel like it.
We are also to forgive others, even if they don’t ask for forgiveness. When Jesus taught the disciples how to pray the Lord’s prayer, He told them to pray, “Forgive us our debts (sins) as we have also forgiven our debtors.” (those who sin against us). Jesus doesn’t say if that person who hurt you asks to be forgiven, then forgive. Instead, He calls us to take the initiative, to forgive anyway. No matter what. Forgiveness does not automatically bring good feelings or restore trust. These take time and the help of the Holy Spirit and often good counsel.
I believe that forgiveness is the most important ingredient in the family. God willing, we are raising future husbands and wives. How will they know how to forgive their own spouses and family members if we don’t practice this in our homes?
Is there someone in your extended family that you need to ask for forgiveness? I encourage you to go now. You cannot control their response, but you can be obedient to God and trust Him for the results.
Assume the Best
A sister or cousin or adult child or even a parent has not been in touch with you. It’s easy to assume they are mad for some reason, or simply don’t like you. However, it’s possible that their behavior has nothing to do with you at all. They may have real pain in their own life of which you have no knowledge. Life is hard for everyone. Do not assume the worst. Instead assume this person needs your love. Take the initiative and reach out to them.
Two adult siblings were at odds with one another. Both had children. A family gathering wasn’t particularly appealing to them, but because they wanted their children to know each other they came. As these cousins built friendships, the adults began to experience healing in their relationships. Sometimes it will take the next generation to lead the elders.
Whatever your family situation is, God knows all about it — many more details than you know. He has the whole picture: the wounds, the causes, the failings, the potential. He is the one who loves to redeem. Matthew reminds us,
With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:26)
My friend went back to the mountains with her family this year, and things had changed for the better. Over the years, with love and prayer, and some difficult but open conversations, things have dramatically improved with some of her family relationships. Praise God!
Sometimes this takes a long time, and we don’t always get the results we want. But we can keep working and praying and loving.
God created family and it is good.
Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” Hebrews 4:16
He will give His grace abundantly.
You will find many of these concepts and others in my book Cousin Camp. Gathering family members together for a reunion is one way to bring about healing and grow new friendships. This book includes ideas for adult only reunions, extended family get togethers and a grandkids camp.
You may also want to read:
- Mothers-in-Law and Daughters-in-Law: Women Share Their Hearts
- Mothers and Adult Daughters: Understanding One Another
- Facing Conflict with Friends, Family, or Fellow Church Members? Do These 4 Things.