Over the next few weeks I plan on writing about the connection between a lack of communication and family dysfunction. As I’ve been reading through the book of Genesis I have noticed that, even in the great families of faith and God’s favor, when communication wavered, dysfunction thrived. My prayer is that the piecing together of events, over several generations, will bring hope for healing and a plan for health and freedom for our families, thousands of years after the lives of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. This is the first post of the series.
I’m not sure there is anything more healthy than open communication. I’m also fairly certain that much if not most of our dysfunction is caused by a lack of communication and, at times, outright miscommunication. If we are honest, we all have some measure of dysfunction at work in our lives. We’ve got cultural pressures, generational influences and family expectations; we are not sure what we are supposed to be, but we live much of our lives hearing what everyone else thinks about us. How do we rise above all of this and become confident in who we are, in what God is doing in us and functional in our relationships with others? I believe it all comes down to communication, sharing honestly what we are both sure and unsure of and listening closely as those joined to us share the same.
There may not be a more miraculous or dysfunctional family than that of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. God spoke to Abram when he was 75 years old and told him to leave his home and his family and go to a land that God would show him, and that God would then make him into a great nation. The miraculous part of this was that Abram had no children, his wife Sarai was barren. Abram, whose name meant “exalted father” even though he had no children, (talk about cultural pressure and family expectations) and Sarai obeyed God, they took a chance, they stepped out in faith, they packed up and moved on, trusting God to lead them to a place they had never been so that He could do for them something they had not been able to do for themselves. Abram and Sarai set out in faith, but they also walked in unbelief. They trusted God for a miracle, but they also continued to fear for the worst. The truth is, they didn’t just leave their family and their home because they were sure God was going to do something great for them, it was also to get away from the weight of disappointment that surrounded them. Having no children, in their culture was considered a curse from God. It meant there was something in them that was so dark, so bleak that God would not bless them. It meant that Sarai was a failure as a wife and that Abram was less than a man. When they packed up to leave Haran, they were not just moving toward God’s promise, they were running from their disappointment. The problem is that our wounds are not healed when we leave a place of pain, if we don’t deal with our hurt, we simply carry it with us to our next place, where it creates even more disappointment and shame. Running from hurt doesn’t heal our wounds, it merely changes the bandages.
Twice Abram (later having his name changed to Abraham), asked Sarai (changed to Sarah), to tell the people of the land they were moving through, to tell people that she was his sister. His reason for this was that she was so beautiful that he feared that if men knew that she was his wife that they would kill him so that they could have her for themselves. Abraham’s disappointment in having no children was so rooted in his heart that he lived in constant fear that God’s promise would not come to pass. Nearly 24 years after he first received the promise from God, he finally confessed to Abimelech, king of Gerar, that from the day that God called him to leave Haran he had lived in fear that someone would kill him to take Sarah from him. Enough faith to leave everything he had and everyone he knew, enough faith to circumcise himself and every male of his household, enough faith to wander about for 25 years in a land he had never been to before and yet enough disappointment and fear to give away his wife twice. That is what we can call dysfunction.
My question is this, why didn’t Abraham and Sarah talk about this place of hurt and fear in their lives? Abraham told Sarah he feared for his life, why didn’t she encourage him that God was able to protect them? Abraham, in classic dysfunction, told Sarah that if she loved him she would go along with the plan to say she was his sister. Sarah clearly agreed but it seems to me that a conversation is all it would have taken to reveal how bad this plan was. The problem was that the fear and disappointment did not only belong to Abraham. Sarah, after about 10 years of wandering and waiting, went to Abraham and told him to take her maid, Hagar, to be his wife so that he could have a child with her. Sarah had left disappointment in Haran only to wander in disappointment in Canaan, she became overwhelmed with it and believed she had to do something about it. Why didn’t Abraham say no? Why didn’t he tell her that he believed this promise from God was not only for him but for her, that together, they would see the goodness of God, the fulfillment of the promise and the healing of their hurts?
In a few days I will write about the next generation, Isaac and his wife Rebekah and we will discover that the miracles of Abraham and Sarah were passed on to them, but so was the dysfunction. If we don’t address the wounds of our hearts now we pass those same wounds and that same lack of communication on to those who come after us. It’s not just children though, we pass it on to those we fellowship with, those we lead and are joined to by God. As much as it seems like it will hurt to talk about it, if we are battling disappointment and hurt today, the only way to keep it from moving forward with us, is to expose it before we start to move. I encourage you, don’t take the hurt of the past with you into your next season of life. Sit down and talk about it, tell your spouse, your children, your parents, your pastor or your friends. Don’t carry the disappointments, hurts and shame to your next relationship, job, church or birthday. God only exposes what He desires to heal, so sharing the hurts in our hearts won’t lead us to be condemned, they will lead us to be healed; sharing the great disappointments in our lives won’t lead God to reject us, they will lead us to discover God’s eternal acceptance. The more I read Genesis, the more I realize that it didn’t take God 25 years to give Abraham and Sarah the child that He had promised them, but it took 25 years for Abraham and Sarah to give God the deepest, darkest places of their hearts. We can’t undo what has been done, but God can unravel the knots that have been tied in our hearts. Whether it’s what the world says you should be, what your generations have conditioned you to believe that life is supposed to be or what your family thinks you should be doing, don’t just hear God and go; hear God, take off your weights and share His promise. The more open our communication the less room there is for dysfunction. We are not freed simply by the truth we know, but by the truth we share, “encourage one another daily, as long as it is called ‘Today,’ so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.”