A little over four weeks ago I met my son for the first time. He is an unbelievable blessing to our lives. Your parents may have said that you were cute as a child or you may have kids of your own that you found to be adorable. I am sorry, but you were heinous compared to my son.
As I look down at Patrick, I think about the future, specifically reflecting on one question, “How will Patrick be affected by having me as a dad?” Essentially, I wonder how I am going to screw him up and how I can minimize the damage. And yet I know that I will be one of the most influential forces in his life. Our family will radically shape the trajectory of his life, his motivations, his passions and so on.
We are struck by the shootings of young people in Ohio and an immediate question we have is, what was his home life like? Last night I read of a high school teacher, father and husband, who left his job and his family to movie in with his daughter’s classmate and friend. And we ask, “how will it affect those kids?” Family is paramount in its influence upon our lives. it is a common denominator across the world as a generator of influence upon its members. So what kind of influence is the right one to have, and how do we prevent brokenness from tainting the influence out family has on our life?
We live in a world absent perfection and yet we are shocked when things are not perfect. I don’t know anyone who has “a perfect family” when you dig deep enough. Everyone has their struggles. And yet we still teach, and talk, and live, and cover up, as we should have a perfect family. Maybe we feel like it makes us look better to let people know that things were not perfect. Maybe, if we were honest, we would be a lot more disappointed in God if we had to come to terms with the pain we walk around with from our own families.
I think we have the illusion that having a Christian family means having a good family. We only have that illusion until we are part of a Christian family long enough. We are quickly knocked down to reality. Perhaps its abuse, perhaps its divorce, perhaps it’s a lack of love, a death, an illness. In my own life as well as my time as a pastor of young people, I have yet to come across parents or students who simply just have and have always had a perfect family.
Some issues in dealing with brokenness in the world we have mapped out pretty well. For example: the lack of fresh water? We say, “lets dig wells!” Lack of education? Build schools! But what about the brokenness in our family, in our very home? What does god have to say about that? What about the brokenness in our own family or the brokenness we have from our family?
The family I grew up in was one of divorce, substance abuse, anger, performance anxiety, loneliness, confusion, and the list goes on. How could God let this happen? I was just a kid? How come God let my parents divorce? How come God didn’t allow my brothers and sisters to have a “whole family?” Why didn’t God give me the perfect family?
Something I have come to realize about the God of the universe is a truth that is transparent and obvious and yet takes us far too long to realize: God doesn’t call us to be perfect; he calls us to be perfected. The reality is every single one of us has had brokenness in our family. Maybe it’s a divorce. Maybe it’s abuse. Maybe it’s neglect. Maybe its performance anxiety, always feeling like you wouldn’t be loved unless you achieved. Perhaps you were the black sheep of the family. Perhaps your were adopted and have struggled with that reality.
What came as a shock to me is that our notions and expectations of what a “perfect family” is are inconsistent with what we read about in the Bible. Modern cultural shaping of a nuclear family consisting of a mom and a dad, 2.5 kids and a dog may be the American dream but it isn’t necessarily a promise God has laid out for his people. God’s plan for family and redeeming us from that brokenness is far more profound. My story is a story of both pain and redemption when it comes to my family, and so I wonder, is it possible to avoid familial brokenness? Does God bless some and not others with the perfect family?
It is not. He does not.
When we “focus on the family” no pun intended, we set ourselves up to compare. Their family is better than ours. They have no pain we have a lot. God has blessed their family and not ours. Growing up, when my parents were struggling through a messy divorce I was in search of what could have been in my own family. My mom had moved away. My four brothers and sisters and I were struggling to find our own identities through, sometimes in less constructive ways such as drinking, drugs, acting out, inappropriate relationships, etc. I had a great friend whose house I would often hang out at. I remember sitting in his kitchen during parties as a middle schooler and talking on end with his parents. I was enthralled to be amidst what I believed was the perfect nuclear family. It felt warm, and safe. I felt like, although I had missed out, I could experience a remnant of what life should have been like.
Scripture tells us the story of God’s interaction with creation. We are part of that story, members or characters in the plot, participants in the grand narrative that is God’s work in the world. As I was thinking through my story and reflecting on how prominent and influential the role of my family has been within that story, I actually began to question what the typical Biblical family was like. I don’t mean, “oh Solomon had multiple wives,” sort of different. I was much more concerned with their interaction. Understandably the biblical family unit functioned differently that ours today.
From the begging of time we read of the brokenness of the notion of the perfect family. Adam and Eve start off well for a moment, until they both get into some trouble with an apple, a tree, a snake and God. Then what happens? Adam blames eve (just incase you were wondering, I have only been married for a year and a half, but its not good practice to blame your wife for things) Genesis 3:11-12 says this:
11 And he said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?”
12 The man said, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.”
Adam and Eve apparently resolve their marital spat and we read of their first two sons, Cain and Able. How did that end? Genesis 4:8:
“Now Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.”[a] While they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.”
Within a few chapters covering a hundreds of years we reach Noah. And here with Noah we think, “finally, here we see a family working right.” Noah and his whole family board the boat, everyone is safe, they survive the a great flood that wipes out everyone else they have ever known. We have no reason to believe that Noah’s family is anything but perfect, until we hit Genesis 9:20-27. Noah’s son Ham (the father of Canaan) disrespected his father. I know that today kids never disrespect their parents, but I guess times have changed… Noah’s response was this: Genesis 9:25-27:
“Cursed be Canaan!
The lowest of slaves
will he be to his brothers.”
26 He also said,
“Praise be to the LORD, the God of Shem!
May Canaan be the slave of Shem.
27 May God extend Japheth’s[a] territory;
may Japheth live in the tents of Shem,
and may Canaan be the slave of Japheth.”
Now you tell me if you think that maintains the perfect ideal family.
We hit Abraham who, just to mention a few things, disowned his wife on more than one occasion, almost killed his son, had a son with a woman that wasn’t his wife and then exiled them from the family.
We follow Isaac, Abraham’s son, who has 2 sons: Jacob and Esau
Jacob deceives his brother and father and steals his brother’s inheritance and enters into a long feud with his brother. Jacob has a large family with lots of sons. His son Joseph was his favorite however, which caused the other brothers to threaten to kill Joseph but instead just sell him into slavery.
So what do we do? Where do we go from here? I believe God has a plan for us, our story, and how our brokenness enables us to transform the world we live in. Perhaps the question is not, “How do we prevent this?” or, “How do we fix this?” but instead, “How is God calling me out of this and what is he calling me to?”
(Part II to come)