A dysfunctional family is one in which conflict, misbehavior, and often child neglect or abuse and sometimes even all of the above on the part of individual parents occur continuously and regularly, leading other members to accept such actions. (Wikipedia)
The Bible does not shrink from describing the reality of depraved lives. Consider the following event portrayed in Matthew 14:8-11:
“So she, having been prompted by her mother, said, ‘Give me John the Baptist’s head here on a platter.’ And the king was sorry; nevertheless, because of the oaths and because of those who sat with him, he commanded it to be given to her. So he sent and had John beheaded in prison. And his head was brought on a platter and given to the girl, and she brought it to her mother.”
Have you ever considered what effect this travesty would have had in the life of this young woman? Would she ever again have had a normal life? Would not the events of that awful birthday party have haunted her for the rest of her life? How will she have viewed her mother from this point on? Will she not have not been beset with this trauma again and again during times of stress in her life?
God’s people are also not spared from many of the tragedies of life, which for some meant having grown up in a dysfunctional family. Whether it was a father or mother who was in bondage to sin, a broken or loveless marriage, never having received love or approval, or even having unspeakable sexual or other abuses perpetrated against them as children, many continue to deal with the psychological and emotional fallout for the rest of their lives. Even as believers, their battle in dealing with the resulting trauma can consume them and negatively affect marriages and relationships, their ability to provide a healthy, nurturing environment for their own children, their careers, and even their spiritual health. How devasting when the effects of their forefather’s sins perpetuate themselves in generations to follow!
I will be the first to admit that for such a fortunate one as I, having grown up in a loving, Christ-honoring family, being able to truly understand what those coming from a dysfunctional family have gone through and continue to experience, is virtually impossible. Yet from years of having counselled with and trying to help those precious souls deal with such devastation in their lives, I can say without a doubt that their pain is real! I have dealt with young people struggling to break free of the anguish of their past, parents desperate not to pass on their struggles to their children, and even grandparents who were still suffering mentally and emotionally from the pain of their childhood.
How can such dear brothers and sisters be helped? Is there hope? Is there healing? Thank God, the answer is a resounding “yes”! Our God is great enough to deal with any and all such issues. The salvation that Jesus wrought on the cross is sufficient to not only redeem broken lives but to give healing and restoration to hearts and lives devasted by sins, wrongs, and hurts. When Jesus said, “Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed” (John 8:36), He meant that for you and me! How can we be healed of the effects of a dysfunctional family?
1. Let Jesus set you free
If you’ve tried and tried to overcome the hurts of your past on your own, you’ve probably already come to the realization that your efforts, be they ever so intense, are not enough. But Jesus can set you free of your past, and He gives that remarkable invitation in Matthew 11:28, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Where all our efforts are insufficient, Jesus has unlimited power to deal with all our woes. Just bring all your hurts, your failures, your feelings of inadequacy and being treated unfairly to the cross and petition the Lord to take them and free you of them! God, as the source of all love, is certainly willing to do so. He longs to do so. He’ll set you free!!
This can be hard to do when, year after year, you suffer the effects of having come from a dysfunctional family. For many who have trials and issues in their life, the natural tendency is to point the finger of blame at others. And while others are often to blame in an abusive or dysfunctional family, many such victims allow bitterness to grow in their hearts, rendering them unable, or making it extremely difficult, to forgive. But the fact is that unless we forgive, we will never be free. Harboring bitterness will leave us in bondage.
And what did Jesus have to say about forgiving? The first thing He said after teaching us the Lord’s Prayer was, “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14-15). Forgiveness is vital! Dr. Erwin Lutzer, in his message What Your Father Should Have Taught You said, “What we don’t forgive, we pass on.” How true are these words! Not only does unforgiveness prevent God’s grace from working in our lives, not only does unforgiveness poison us personally, but we also pass that poison on to those around us. How tragic when that cycle repeats itself in the lives of our children!
You may have tried to forgive but the feelings of what you’ve suffered just well up and smother any attempts you’ve repeatedly made. Your emotions make you seem powerless to forgive. In such a case you need to realize that forgiveness is first and foremost not a feeling, but a decision. Just let go and ask for God’s help, and then commit to treating that person as if nothing had ever happened. As you live that commitment with God’s help, real love and happiness will grow! And know that God understands and has compassion for your struggle. Yes, that’s how wonderful our loving heavenly Father is!
3. Leave your hurts at the cross
This means bringing them to Jesus and then abandoning them! Your heart and your mind are going to want to replay the wrongs committed against you again and again, but you need to unequivocally give them up! Yes, bring them to the cross and let them go. To quote Erwin Lutzer once more, “It is like taking a pitcher of water and pouring it out. And you may have to do this more than once.” Let me ask you, if you’ve completely poured out a pitcher of water, how much water will you be taking home again? And yet, maybe your experience has been that your “pitcher” seems to refill itself after a short while. Empty it again!
Leave the past at the cross and never attempt to take it up again, just as God irrevocably forgives our sins. And then guard your heart so the enemy doesn’t ensnare you with your past again. Give up your “right” to be a victim and leave it all at the cross.
4. Put your hurts on the altar of sacrifice
Consecrate your all to God and die to self. Ask Him to cleanse the inherited depravity and fill you with His Holy Spirit. Once self is “dead” and consecrated to God, how much power do the hurts of the past still have over us? They should be completely gone, replaced with the power of the Holy Spirit poured out into our hearts by a constant stream of God’s love (Romans 5:5). Love such as this can’t be contained and spreads to those around us. It is love that sees that those who have wronged us may have struggled with exactly the same struggles that defined us. How wonderful when the power of love and forgiveness in our hearts sets us free to genuinely love and forgive!
If you continue to struggle with the effects of having grown up in a dysfunctional family, why don’t you seek out a trusted pastor or spiritual advisor? And let the power of God’s love set you free. May His healing power restore your heart so that you can be truly free of a hurtful past. Psalm 147:3 says, “He heals the broken-hearted and binds up their wounds.” He would love to do that for you!