Posted by: Philip Rushton | November 9, 2015

Focus On The Dysfunctional Family

ParentingBeyondwebThis past Sunday we started a small group for parents that will be studying a book by Reggie Joiner and Carey Nieuwhof titled, Parenting Beyond Your Capacity.  The first session is titled, “Stock Family Syndrome,” where the authors talk about how parents are often weighed down by the expectation to have it all together.  Family life is inevitably full of challenges, but we often compare this reality to an idealistic image of a “perfect family.”  This is especially pervasive in a church culture where we often put a lot of emphasis on becoming good people.

Yet a quick search for a biblical model of the family shows us story after story of dysfunction and heartbreak.  Adam and Eve had a son that ended up killing their other son, Noah got so drunk one night that his kids found him passed out naked, Joseph’s brothers attempted to murder him out of jealousy but ended up selling him as a slave and then lying about it to their father, and Mary and Joseph left Jesus at the temple for three days and didn’t realize this until they were half way home from their trip!

A lot of times our conversations about parenting seem to pile on the guilt.  We read a book about how to parent and we discover 10 more things we aren’t doing right.  These biblical stories, however, give us license to name our reality.  They allow us to begin the conversation by talking about the disappointments, challenges, and heartbreaks we encounter in our family life.

Furthermore, these stories remind us that these hard things in life do not disqualify us from being part of God’s plans.  The fact that these stories are in scripture point us to the hope that God is still at work in the midst of what we face.  Indeed, as we engage with these stories in more depth we discover that the focus of scripture is not so much on the family but on God.  The Bible is a grand narrative of how God is able to enter into human brokenness and bring about redemption and hope.

For example, when Joseph looks back over the turmoil he faced when his brothers sold him as a slave, he says to his brothers, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”  Somehow God was able to enter into the dysfunction of this family and use this situation for good.

Yesterday our group reflected on where we see God in the midst of the hard parts of parenting and family life.  It was beautiful to hear some of the answers.  Some reflected on how they encounter God through the community of faith.  In the midst of the challenges of parenting, God is often providing support through of the body of Christ.  Others spoke about how the hard seasons of parenting force them to their knees in prayer.  God often uses these experiences to expand our faith and draw us closer to Him.  We also explored how family life can become a context for our spiritual formation.  The challenges of parenting can shape our character as we are forced to confront our anger, pride, and doubt.  This is also true for our kids.  Some in our group spoke about how the hard situations our kids face provide opportunities for them to mature and grow.

There is an interesting article going around on Facebook today about a recent survey that suggests that kids from religious homes are less altruistic than kids from non-religious homes.  I wonder if part of the reason for these findings is that religious families sometimes struggle to create a culture where it is O.K. for us to be honest about our shortcomings and struggles.   If we are pressured to put up a front that we have it all together then we are never able to get to the root of the problem.  We are forced to cover up our brokenness with a veneer of piety rather than experience a deep inward change.

The scriptures, however, invite us to go deeper.  These stories of dysfunctional families give us a license to be honest about the reality of our brokenness so that we can experience a deeper healing.  For, in the midst of the pain, struggle, and heartbreak, is a God who is able to weave these strands into a hopeful tapestry.  These stories encourage to persevere through the challenges we face and to look for the ways God is at work in the midst of the mess.

Perhaps this week you might reflect on where you have seen God at work in the heartbreaking moments of family life.

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