She told the story again. . . sort of.
I had heard it many times. It was a different version each time.
Someone picked a fight. Someone got mad. Someone said hurtful words. Someone did something wrong, not caring about the consequences or effect on others. The ending was always that she had to deal with it in some way.
Trying to ease everyone’s feelings.
Stepping in to smooth things over.
Taking the brunt and dealing with it emotionally.
Why didn’t she just walk away?
Well, it was her family. It’s hard to walk away from family even when they are a mess.
And, second, it felt confusing as a believer.
- We are commanded to love, but what does that look like in these situations?
- We want to give second chances, but what about the third, fourth, and fiftieth chance?
- We desire our family see Christ in us . . . yet their behavior makes us feel less than Christlike.
When you become a believer, God begins an incredible work. You are growing. You are learning. You are gaining discernment and wisdom. If you grew up in dysfunction, part of the miracle is confronting and dealing with family junk.
I know this, because I’ve walked through it. So, where might we begin? How do we live free in this area?
- We stop playing our “role”
In dysfunctional families, many take on roles. I was the peace maker in mine. Part of my miracle was learning that God didn’t give me this role.
Yes, he gave me the heart of a peacemaker, but it was never my job to clean up other people’s messes or make everyone happy. It wasn’t my job to be a mediator or to put on my superwoman cape and try to fix everything.
My family has healed, and I’m incredibly grateful. I’ve healed, and I rejoice in that. But when I see my friend (or other women) trapped in the same old story, doing the same old thing, with the same old results, my heart hurts for them.
When we stop playing the role God never intended, we release our family or that person back to him. We acknowledge that God loves that person or our family even more than we do.
We are no longer emotional janitors as we stop cleaning up their messes. We love them enough to allow them to run into the consequences of their actions, and perhaps realize their immense need for change.
This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! 2 Corinthians 5:17 (NLT)
We no longer run from person to person, trying to appease or mediate, when they aren’t ready or willing.
It means that if we are putting more energy into trying to fix someone’s mess than they are, that we realize there’s something wrong with that equation and we stop.
We give up old, ill-fitting roles to assume our own identity.
This might make you feel powerless in the beginning, so what can you do?
- Pray. It’s not a last ditch resort. It’s the best option.
- When they look to you to play your role and you don’t, they may become angry. That’s OK. It’s a shift in your family dynamics and it might take time for it to sink in. Hang in there.
2. We refuse to confuse love with abuse
We are commanded to love, and to do that well. In ongoing dysfunction, what does that look like?
- Love is believing in someone, even as they struggle to believe in themselves.
- Love is going to war for them spiritually. Hitting your knees on the carpet and calling out their name in prayer.
- Love is forgiveness and not holding a grudge (this frees you too).
- Love is setting healthy boundaries. This is a beautiful way to offer another chance, as you share needs and expectations for the healthiest relationship possible.
- Love is celebrating when they start to write their own new chapters of healing, and not holding the old against them.
- Love is understanding that sometimes people are messed up because their parents messed up, and their parents before them. That brings compassion into the picture. It also frees you to break that cycle in your own life, and for your own children.
- Love is asking God to help you see them as He does. You might be surprised at what he shows you. Then you’re free to spiritually war against the real enemy, as you invite God to be the healer of their heart (and your own).
These are powerful, biblical ways to love.
But let’s be clear. Love is not allowing abuse to continue. It’s not “taking it.” It’s not allowing that person to the same wrong action over and over again, and bearing the brunt of their wrongdoing.
It’s just not.
Knowing the difference between love and abuse allows us to love freely and well.
3. If the story isn’t changing, write a new chapter
If the story is the same year after year . . . like my friend, write a new chapter.
Grow a bigger family.
- Add in healthy community. The word family doesn’t have to be limited to those who share your DNA.
- Get involved with people whose lives are wrapped around Jesus in a beautiful way.
- If there’s a gap in any area of growth due to dysfunction, hang out with those who live that gap well
- As you grow in your faith and wholeness, open the door and your kitchen table to those who will learn from you
Expand your thinking
- Ask God to show you who you are, separate from dysfunction
- Go to a Christian program like Celebrate Recovery to deal with ingrained thinking (looking at life differently is part of the miracle!)
- Read, read, and read some more – read books that show you how to live free
- Study the Bible with other people and learn how those truths transform
- Recognize old patterns and old behaviors and refuse them entry in your own life — they may feel comfortable, but if they are part of the junk, make room for the new
Last, give yourself lots and lots of grace as God changes your story. Even if your family chooses not to change, you grow through the process.
Q: If you grew up in an emotionally or spiritually healthy family, you may feel this doesn’t apply to you, but how can it help you support someone who didn’t?
Q: If you have embraced an unhealthy role, what might you discover if you allow God to help you remove it?
If you want to take this #livingfreetogether topic deeper, you might love these!
- When People Hurt Your Heart
- The Mom I Want to Be: Rising Above Our Past to Give Our Kids a Great Future
- Me, Myself and Lies — an interview with Suzie Eller and Jennifer Rothschild