“Family”. The word conjures up all kinds of emotions in us. Some are sweet and sacred. Some are sour and scandalous. But blood is blood and we’re somewhat bound to these people God saw fit to place us in way-back-when.
My family of origin was one of avoidance, fear, and disconnection. My dad dodged confrontation at all costs by running behind the newspaper or into the shadows of a movie theater to escape the life he didn’t bargain for. My mom was sadly sick almost always and had a deep resentment of my dad’s healthy body. She could easily become angry, sarcastic, and somewhat violent towards him.
Then I married into another brand of dysfunction. My husband’s family is confrontational, highly successful, in-your-face, and controlling. So, let’s just say that the combination of our genetics created and interesting emotional roller coaster in our marriage. There were many times I wanted to run away from them all and my husband wanted to fight with them all.
But as Christians now, how do we navigate this familial journey with tact, truth, and grace?
I can only tell you that for many years I failed at this miserably. When I felt emotionally violated because I could not rise to the perceived standards placed upon me by my husband’s family, instead of recognizing my own value and worth, quite often I hid. Feeling like I could never meet their expectations, I retreated into a place of avoiding them, as I never felt able to have a clear path ahead of me in the way the Lord was showing me. My own past left me feeling weak and insecure, using alcohol and drugs to ease the pain of reality. The mantra replaying in my head was, “escape, run, hide, flee!” Anything but standing up to the truth that had been revealed to me, that I was made in the image of my God and I had profound value and worth, despite the constant criticisms.
As I have been on this healing journey over the past 10 or so years, I can tell you that extending grace and remaining aware of God’s presence even during altercations has made a world of difference. I now know who I am. I no longer feel subject to the value or lack thereof that’s been placed upon me by anyone, not even those closest to me. Learning to walk in freedom has, ironically, been a discipline that I had to grasp. As I’ve apprehended (as scripture has asserted time after time) that I have been made in the image of God, that I am fearfully and wonderfully made, that I have purpose, gifts, and a destiny, I have also learned to respond rather than react to perceived threats to my personhood.
As my mind has been truly renewed (not just a mental ascent to my position in Christ) I see myself as valuable, creative, loving, kind, trustworthy, and loved. I’m more aware of the self-defeating self-talk that has historically taken me down a destructive path and caused me to run away from confrontation. Having a renewed mind is giving me the ability to keep my love on with the people I want to run away from (or punch in the face!) and listen more deeply to what fuels their domineering personalities. God is showing me where their insecurities lie. He’s teaching me to ask them questions and to think deeply before I respond to their occasional caustic words. He’s also teaching me that my knee-jerk reactions to their stuff was fueled by the deep wounds of my past. As those wounds become healed by the pure love and compassion of Christ for me, I can offer the same to those who offend me.
Reality is that I have to live among those who are unaware of their argumentative spirits. I can hate them, ignore them, fight back with vengeance, slander them, obsess over them, or avoid them. But I believe with all my heart that the Lord is calling me to love them well. And what does this love look like? Well, currently it appears to keep me in a place of understanding, yet not allowing myself to be bullied or oppressed. It means answering them clearly and succinctly (when confronted) as to why I have this hope inside. It means walking with Jesus no matter what road He takes me down and keeping my eyes fixed upon HIM, in all His humility as, “…when he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.” (1 Peter 2:23)
Is your family life less than peaceful? Is it chaotic, confusing, or condemning? Take heart. Know how deeply loved and valuable you are. Walk in the security and freedom of Christ. Get healing from your past heart damage. The internal/eternal peace of God will give you all that you need to wear these genes.