Note to Reader: My heart aches for those of us who have been wounded by the sins of abusive family members. Please note I’m not referring to abuse when referencing conflicts or wounds caused by family members in this article. If you or someone you love is suffering abuse of any kind, please contact a professional and seek help immediately. I am praying for you as I write this note. You are not alone.
Honoring God When Loving Family Ain’t Easy
While some folks enjoy healthy and holy communication within godly familial relationships, some of us endure more than our fair share of seemingly endless family drama.
Too many of us are grieving over estranged relatives or heartbroken watching loved ones reject family as they battle addictions.
A few are tired of those who blame others instead of taking responsibility for their poor life choices. Some struggle with family members who instigate arguments, shame or belittle, hold grudges, judge harshly, or gossip.
Family members mock or persecute us because of our faith. Some have lied to us or about us, stolen from us, cheated us, and some have even verbally, emotionally, or physically abused us. (Please see Reader’s Note at the beginning of this article.)
How are we supposed to respond to folks who exaggerate or deceive to prevent others from knowing who they really are or what they’ve really done to us or others we love?
But wait . . . what if some of us are the people I’ve just described . . . or have been that person in the past?
What if we’re the ones who need to seek forgiveness and ask God to change us and help us make amends and work toward restoring or renewing relationships with those we’ve hurt in the past?
The fact is, it just ain’t easy honoring God when we realize we’re all imperfect people who have a tough time loving our kin or being lovable ourselves.
Over the last couple of years, the Lord brought me through some heartbreaking relational conflicts. I wrote a six-part series entitled “Radical Forgiveness” as I prayed over broken or barely surviving relationships with family members. As of today, I have continued praying over several of those still-broken relationships.
Family strife is a fact of life that we don’t have to allow to steal our joy or destroy the genuinely loving relationships we can experience with God and others.
It’s tempting to get stuck on the merry-go-round-of-complaints, get caught up in being angry, get even, or get as far from the drama as humanly possible. Instead, we can take a closer look at how God worked in and through familial discord in Scripture to help His faithful servants thrive despite family strife.
In Genesis, we see how Jacob favoring Joseph caused his other sons to hate their younger brother (Genesis 37:3-4), so much that they sold him into slavery (v. 28). They even lied to their father for years (vv. 34-36).
God remained with Joseph and blessed his life (Genesis 39:2-6). Though he wasn’t exempt from more painful trials or injustice (vv. 9, 11-20), the “LORD was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love” (v. 21). Whatever Joseph did, “the LORD made it succeed” (v. 23).
Instead of allowing his experiences to taint his attitude or shake his faith, Joseph honored God by living with integrity and treating others with love, compassion, and kindness (vv. 6-7).
Two years of being wrongly imprisoned didn’t stop Joseph from glorifying God (Genesis 41:14, 16). Rejoicing over the family the Lord gave him through marriage, Joseph proclaimed, “God has made me forget all my hardship and all my father’s house” (v. 51).
Joseph was happy. What could possibly go wrong?
Well . . . those scoundrels who sold him into slavery showed up. For the first time in years, Joseph stood face-to-face with the strangers he recognized as the brothers who betrayed him and his father. Though Joseph wasn’t upfront with his siblings when they came begging for help, he didn’t fake forgiveness either.
God gave him time to process his emotions (Genesis 42-44). Even though Joseph had plenty of reasons to be mad, he didn’t cast blame, hold a grudge, run to Pharaoh and gossip about his brothers, or demand punishment.
Joseph accepted how God had caused him to thrive despite his suffering. He didn’t waste time trying to prove to the world that his brothers were wrong for what they’d done.
Instead, Joseph trusted that the Lord had remained in control and stayed with him through everything that had happened in his life (Genesis 45:5-9). He knew from experience God could bring good out of painful circumstances (Genesis 50:20). So, Joseph didn’t fear extending grace, or being generous in love and kindness (v. 21).
As we deal with challenging familial relationships, God can empower us to surrender to His mercy, live in the freedom of forgiveness, and love others as selflessly as He loves us.
God will stay with us, protect our reputations, guide our steps according to His perfect will, and enable us to experience peace and joy as we choose to honor Him . . . even when others do not.
Unfortunately, since we’re all imperfect people who live in a fallen world, family members will hurt us and we’ll hurt those we love. But we can protect our mental, emotional, and spiritual health by placing our trust in the Lord.
We can ask Him to help us make time to process our feelings, remain calm, and be courageously and respectfully honest with Him and others.
We can ask God to help us create and respect healthy and holy boundaries, as we honor Him with our words, attitudes, thoughts, and actions.
We can trust the Lord to give us all we need to keep on praying for and working toward building stronger familial relationships.
And we can thrive as we honor Him . . . even if our closest family relationships end up being connected through Christ’s blood (The Church) instead of our genealogy.
Father God, thanks for helping us honor You in the ways we love others in healthy and holy ways. Though sometimes it’s unsafe, unhealthy, or unwise to restore a broken familial relationship, please help us trust we’re all in Your hands as we choose to forgive and pray we will all be forever changed by Your love and grace. In Jesus’s name, Amen.
How can we benefit from extending forgiveness to someone who doesn’t apologize?
How does it help to know forgiveness doesn’t mean excusing, ignoring, justifying, or minimizing sin?
How does it help to know reconciliation doesn’t require us to pretend things are fine or the same as before (restoration), or better than ever (renewal)?
How can we honor God when we can only show love from afar, because a familial relationship is reconciled through forgiveness on our part, but not physically or emotionally restored?
How can we honor God and love family members who do not want a relationship with us?
Radical Forgiveness Series
Part 1: Radical Forgiveness Begins with a Prayer (July 7, 2017)
Part 2: Radical Forgiveness is Loving Obedience to God (July 15, 2017)
Part 3: Radical Forgiveness Frees Innocent Victims (July 24, 2017)
Part 4: Radical Forgiveness is Possible (August 5, 2017)
Part 5: Radical Forgiveness Diminishes the Power of Hate (August 14, 2017)
Part 6: Radical Forgiveness Requires Us to Accept God’s Forgiveness First (August 23, 2017)