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 second post of the series.
When I was a teenager my Dad had a rule that no phone call was to last more than 10 minutes, he was so serious about this rule that he had a phone with a timer in it that we were to make our calls from. When I would balk and complain, as teenagers do, he would tell me “it is not possible that you could have anything important enough to talk about that it would take more than 10 minutes.” As you may imagine, this particular rule was a point of contention for us. In general, I was and continue to be a rule-keeper, I like the order of rules, I hate the idea of punishment and so generally I follow the rules, even if I don’t like or understand them. This rule though, was just too much, I lost my phone privileges more than a few times when my Dad would walk in the room, check the timer and see that I had gone over. I must also mention, the timer didn’t just keep track of the current call, it stored the time of previous calls as well.
A couple of years ago, when my oldest son was just entering his teenage years, he began to talk on the phone more often. One day, I walked in his room and found him on the phone, again, and said, “It’s time to get off the phone, it is not possible that you could have anything important enough to talk about this much.” I walked out of the room and suddenly realized, I had just become my Father. Some things get passed to us naturally, things like our features, our health conditions, even our heritage and traditions. Some things get passed to us comically, such as unhealthy or unreasonable beliefs about teenage phone usage. But some things get passed to us dysfunctionally, things in our generational line, things that are hidden, covered over or just not talked about. These can be character issues, common temptations, shared struggles, related enemies and even repeated or familiar experiences. These are things that we are often too afraid or ashamed to talk about but by not talking about them we set the table for our children to repeat them.
I’ve written about Abraham’s battle with fear. He was a man of great faith, in fact, he was the father of faith, but he was also a man of great fear. He believed God for the promise of life but also lived in the fear of death. His faith caused him to follow God, but his fear caused him to protect himself. How can the same man set off from his home and family, leave everything to go to an unknown place believing that God was leading Him also live in constant fear that at any time someone would kill him? For some of us this seems duplicitous, we think or want people to “be what they are” without recognizing that none of us are fully what we are meant to be or going to be, we are all in process of some sort. Galatians explains this to us. Paul wrote in the fifth chapter that the Spirit and the flesh are in “conflict (other versions say “opposition”) with each other”. There is a battle going on in each of us, this should not be a cause for shame but rather a reason for confession. It’s not something to hide and handle but rather to share so that we can have help in the struggle. All the New Testament commands to confess sin, encourage, strengthen and exhort each other are calling us to invite others into our battle.
Abraham finally confessed his life of constant fear after giving Sarah, his wife, the woman who would be the mother of God’s promise, away for the second time. He told Abimelech, king of Gerar, that from the moment God called him that he lived in fear that someone would kill him so that they could have Sarah for themselves. Because of this fear, Abraham told people, in new territories, that Sarah was his sister, giving the opportunity for someone else to take Sarah to be his wife. Once the confession was made it seems that Abraham’s fear was broken. God’s promise was fulfilled over a year after the confession. Abraham obeyed God and painfully sent his first son Ishmael away. He even trusted God enough to follow God’s directions and offer the son of the promise, Isaac, as a sacrifice, believing that God would not rob him of the very thing he had promised and provided. We see that Abraham’s confession of his struggle with fear gave his faith the power to overcome that struggle.
Abraham passed his faith on to his son Isaac. Isaac learned from his parents, there is no doubt that he knew the story of his own miraculous conception and birth. He saw his father’s faith first hand and joined his own faith to it when he asked, “The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” Abraham responded, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” The next thing we see is Isaac, tied on the altar and Abraham prepared to sacrifice his son, his only son, whom he loved, as God described him. The faith Abraham had in God was tremendous, but the trust that Isaac had in his father is just as amazing. Isaac had certainly learned the goodness of God from watching and listening to his father, whether he had a faith of his own yet is unknown, but he had, at the very least, a trust in what his father believed in.
Abraham, didn’t just pass his faith on to Isaac, he also passed his fear. After the death of Sarah and Abraham, Isaac and his wife Rebekah had twin boys. Some time after that, there was a famine in the land and God spoke to Isaac, telling him not to go to Egypt, but to go where He would lead. God led him to Gerar, the same place his father had dwelled, the same place his father had given his mother away for the second time but then confessed to and was freed from his fear. When Isaac and his family got to Gerar, the men of the area asked about Rebekah and Isaac said, “She is my sister.” The Bible explains that he said this, “because he was afraid to say, ‘She is my wife.’ He thought, ‘The men of this place might kill me on account of Rebekah, because she is beautiful.” Like father like son.
We don’t just pass on the victories that we talk about we also pass on the battles that we cover up. Shame keeps sin hidden but it also keeps it alive. Sin is defeated when it is exposed, and God only exposes what He desires to heal. We don’t know every detail of the lives of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, but as I read about them I continue to find places where it seems that communication was lacking, and dysfunction was flourishing. How does a son repeat the sins, walk in the fears of his father? I believe the answer is because those fears and sins are not exposed, they are not communicated, he is not warned of them, so he is not prepared for them, they literally pass on to him. It’s not just in Scripture, I’ve watched this happen in families, in churches and in ministries, what gets dealt with in secret finds a place to hide until it can attach itself to whoever comes next. I’m not advocating public shaming or corporate confession, but I do believe that bondage is broken when struggles are shared. In the context of praying in faith, James wrote, “Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” I’d take this a step farther and say confess your sins and communicate your struggles, that’s the pathway to healing and downfall of dysfunction. I’m praying that we will learn to communicate freely so that we can begin to function rightly, in our homes, our churches, our marriages and our generations. Let’s share our struggles so that we can pass on our victories and put an end to grip of fear and shame.