April 9, 2016

Dysfunction is a Choice

Gary Thomas — 

Dysfunction is a Choice

Statistics can be terrifying.

If a boy’s dad was abusive or unfaithful to his wife, the chances are overwhelmingly higher that he will grow up to be an abuser or to cheat on his wife.

If a woman isn’t nurtured by her mom and was raised by an addict, she is far more likely to be equally cold to her own children and become the kind of mom she despised when she was a child herself.

This is why some people who had such dysfunctional families of origin say they will never get married (since it was so awful for their parents) or, if they get married, they will never have kids (since it was so awful for them as children growing up in a house like that).

The Old Testament prophet Jeremiah offers tremendous hope, telling God’s people that just because they came from a dysfunctional home doesn’t mean they have to build one. “In those days, they shall no longer say, ‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.’” (31:29)

Jeremiah foresees a new possibility for God’s people: “The days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah…I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people…”  (29:31-34, selected)

Under the new covenant—the covenant under which Christians now live—we have a new empowerment, a new presence of God (the Holy Spirit) to guide us and empower us and lift us above the hurts of our youth.

Abused son: you don’t have to hit your children or your wife. God will give you grace through the forgiveness of Christ and power through the Holy Spirit, to love your family like you were never loved by your earthly father.

Neglected daughter: you don’t have to inflict the same apathy on your kids that pummeled your youth; God will give you, through the mercy of His Son and the presence of His Counselor, a compelling love for your husband and children that no waters on earth can quench.

To give yourself fully to God and His healing is to rise above your youth and live a new life in a new land with a new love and thus create a new family. You don’t have to be the fifth generation alcoholic. You don’t have to be the third generation in a row to get a divorce. You can be the start of a new legacy, with life lived under a new covenant.

This is a glorious promise. It gives hope, and cheer, and encouragement. Because of Christ, and only because of Christ, dysfunction is a choice, not an inherited determination. The closer you get to Christ, the farther away you get from your past dysfunction.

Singles from dysfunctional families: you can get married with hope if you bring Christ with you.

Married people from dysfunctional families: you can remake your marriage without the dysfunction if you invite Christ back in to be the center of your home.

Don’t react against your past; respond to the present work of God in your heart. Be done—irrevocably done—with the perverted principles and passions and twisted loyalties that you grew up with, and embrace the pure, unpolluted, never failing love of God. Your current family will thank you, and though they may never admit it, your dysfunctional family of origin will envy you.

When you subscribe to Gary’s blog, you will receive blog posts directly to your e-mail inbox. You will be one of the first to learn about the latest in Gary’s writing.

17 responses to Dysfunction is a Choice

  1. Thank you for this blog post Gary. It touched my soul as I am a neglected daughter from a dysfunctional family with alcoholic parents. Christ is working in my life to show me that I can build my own healthy family and not follow the behaviors that were shown to me in my childhood.

  2. I agree, we all need Jesus! People with some of the serious mental issues that you describe need therapy for their specific problems and the article should encourage therapy. Research has showed that some issues are at least partly genetic medical problems. I know that some of therapist at 2nd agree and provide great help to folks with mental health issues.

  3. “Neglected daughter: you don’t have to inflict the same apathy on your kids that pummeled your youth; God will give you, through the mercy of His Son and the presence of His Counselor, a compelling love for your husband and children that no waters on earth can quench.”

    Amen and amen!!!

    • And thrice, amen! From another ‘neglected daughter’ who is now loved amazingly and healthily by her perfect Heavenly Father 🙂

  4. Gary, I Love what you are saying but what do I do now? Where can I go to dissect these issues and develop a plan to heal?

    • A blog post can offer hope but it can’t by its nature provide healing. It sounds like a cliché to say this is where therapeutic or pastoral counseling needs to do its work, but it’s the truth. When we’ve been hurt by a car accident, we don’t expect broken bones to just “heal” themselves. We go to a doctor. When our souls have been wounded, sometimes it takes an outside doctor as well. There’s no shame in that.

  5. Thank you, Gary, for this article. Sharing it with my husband, and with friends and family via Facebook. I have all of your books, and find them to be sources of blessing. May God bless you and your family.

  6. This one might be my favorite one, yet! Yanking myself off of the train track of bitterness and dysfunction that marred my original family and my first marriages was one of the hardest choices I ever made (and one that I made over and over again). But, with each “yank”, God poured out His grace! And now it all comes naturally! Just allowing Christ to do His thing as I grow closer to Him is true freedom.

  7. Tx Gary for this graceful and Godly perspective,I so much appreciate it and am consoled by it. My husband gave up on our marriage a few years ago and I and our child had to face life alone (but with God). I fought for years on my knees and looking for help to save our marriage as separation was not in my reference but it did not work. After this I noted a christian friend on occasion giving comments that my son was a child of separated parents and that would have consequences,it hurt me deeply as she knows the extent that I went to avoid the separation,but I did not say anything although I kept asking myself,is my God not capable of changing what was meant for bad into good??? Who is my God if this situation is going to determine my child’s future? The more I thought and prayed and God gave me promises for my child the more I knew she was wrong, ” my God’s arm is not too short”. I thought about my mom who had to grow up in an orphanage where she was ill treated,yet she clung to Jesus with a child like faith and gave us a loving and stable home and had a beautiful relationship with my dad. Then some difficult events happened with my child at school and when I mentioned it to this friend again came the comment that I could not deny that my child was from a broken home,this time I stood up and told my dear christian but confused friend that she was wrong, my God is able to change things, I could no longer let her determine my child’s future because like you write,if my child continuos to depend on God and lets Him work in his life he can be used by God and live a full life. I know that God’s work on the cross was complete,so you are so Biblically right,closer to Christ,further from past disfunction!!! I pray this will bless and set many free from wrong mindsets. I know I and my precious child feel the pain of this situation but I know God is with us in it and bring good out of it. The text you mention is precious and has strengthened my faith, praise God!

    • The issue always is our relationship with God, even more than with our earthly parents or a separated parent. You have every reason to pray with great hope.

  8. Great message!! When I turned from my old ways to follow Jesus Christ, I became a new creation. My children never….ever have to live in a toxic environment. Even though we still suffer from the effects of generational sin, we don’t have to keep repeating it. AMEN!

  9. Again, thank you for being a TRUTH-TELLER. I can personally attest to the power of Christ’s transforming love and healing…transforming from the inside out…leaving dysfunction in the DUST and RUBBLE of the past! Yes, it will likely always be lurking in the background waiting to take over relationships – but VICTORY is ours in Christ. Sometimes, professional intervention is necessary to help us work through the damage of what Christ so desperately wants to transform…but it IS POSSIBLE!