EHR 3: Genogram Your Family
10/22/2017 5:49:46 PM
“EHR 3: Genogram Your Family”
October 22, 2017
Rev. David Williams
Scripture: Luke 14:25-27
[pic] The Godfather. One of the most critically acclaimed movies of all time. It’s many things, but most of all, it’s a movie about family. That’s not to say it’s a family movie! It’s too violent to be a “family movie.” But it is about family dynamics in a violent, Italian, mafia family.
[pic] The patriarch of the family, Don (Vito) Corleone, is a powerful, violent man. He always says, “Never go against family.” He urges men around him to spend time with their families. And yet he has no problem destroying other people’s families!
[pic] The son, Michael Corleone, doesn’t want to be part of the mafia. He wants to distance himself from the family business. His father, Vito, also wants him to stay clear of the seedy underbelly of his mob family. Michael goes to college, he tries to stay out of the family business, tries to break free of family habits and behaviour. He tells his girlfriend that the violent business of running the mafia is his “family” but it is not him. But the movie is about how he is inexorably drawn back into the family. Not only that, but he becomes the head of the family!
Ultimately, Michael, the son, becomes just as violent as his father was. He even repeats his father’s quotation, “I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse.” He tells his older brother, whom he surpassed for leadership of the family, “Fredo. You're my older brother and I love you. But don't take sides with anyone against the Family again. Ever.” Leaving behind him a swath of blood and death, Michael Corleone becomes that which he most dreaded, he becomes his father!
[pic] Few of us here come from families as violent and bloodthirsty as the Corleone family. But all of us have family traits, family “commandments” that we learned growing up. Maybe it is something like, “Never go against family,” but without the violence in carrying out that commandment! Perhaps one of your family commandments was, “You don’t get mad.” That was one of my family’s growing up. It was not just expected- it was spoken out loud. Another family commandment might be, “We never talk about our feelings.” Another family trait, perhaps not a commandment, is “You can say whatever you want when you’re angry. When you’re angry it doesn’t count.” By contrast, other families live by the maxim, “Never say anything when you’re angry because you can’t take it back!” Imagine when people from the first family marry people from the second kind of family!
[pic] Most families have at least one family secret that everybody, tacitly or openly, works to protect and hide from the outside world. Maybe it’s mental illness, or substance abuse. Maybe it’s physical or sexual abuse. Maybe it’s financial trouble. Who knows?
Regardless of the details, I think most of us have certain aspects of our families that we don’t want to repeat. We are desperate “not to be like our parents!” And then, as we get older, we start to see that we are becoming just like our mom and dad! I remember in university that happened to me for the very first time. Growing up, if I was upset about something, I frequently heard it said, “Oh, he’s just tired.” While it may have been true in that moment that I may have been tired, it never actually addressed what I was upset about. My actual concern, hurt or objection was dismissed under the saying, “He’s just tired.” I hated it.
Then, I was working with the youth group at our church. We had an all night event at the church, a “lock in” we called them. Some of the kids were misbehaving and one of them had a bit of a meltdown. Wouldn’t you know it, out of my mouth popped the words, “Oh, he’s just tired.” I stopped myself! I couldn’t believe I had just said the words I hated hearing myself! That certainly wasn’t the last time I realized I was turning out just like my parents, but it was the first time I noticed it! I actually apologized to the kid.
Some of you come from very dysfunctional families. Some of you come from violent families. Some of you come from cold families. Some of you come from warm, wonderful, Christian families. I’m very blessed that I came from a solid Christian home where I knew I was loved. But regardless of whether your family of
origin is a family you’re proud of, or a family you’re ashamed of, we all come from sinful families. I remember the first time I applied Romans 3:23 to my family. “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. [Including your parents!]” I was struggling, at the time, to reconcile the fact that I love my family very much, and they were a good family, but I had been hurt by some of the family dynamics growing up. I was struggling to overcome some of the false messages I had internalized growing up. When I applied this verse to my family, it set me free. I realized that my family is sinful because all people are sinful. That doesn’t mean they’re a bad family, it means they’re a human family!
If everybody has sinned, and fallen short of the glory of God, then every parent has sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. That means every child has been affected by their parents’ sin and falling short of the glory of God in one way or another. The key isn’t to have a perfect family. The key is to find healing in Jesus from the hurts caused by the sin of your family.
No family is perfect. That means that every family has traits, commandments, habits and dynamics that do not lie along a trajectory heading straight to God. Maybe you remember from previous sermons our definition of repentance. Repentance is turning to God. Turning to God means turning every aspect of your life toward God. It means adjusting the trajectory of your life to head straight to God. Sometimes this change is a 180 degree change. Sometimes it’s just a 30 degree change, or a 10 degree change, or a 1 degree change. But whenever our life is heading in a direction other than to God, a life of repentance means adjusting to head straight to God.
[pic] That all of our families are touched by sin means that all of our families have traits, commandments, habits and dynamics that are not pointing straight to God. It means that we all have family traits, commandments, habits and dynamics that need to be repented of. That is, we all have family traits, commandments, habits and dynamics that need to be brought to Jesus to be examined, evaluated and changed so that they are heading straight for Jesus.
Bearing this idea of family in mind, please turn with me to our text for today.
What It Says
So what does this text say? At first glance, it is rather startling! Jesus says that anybody who wants to be his disciple must hate his father, mother, wife, children, brothers and sisters! Wow. Scandalous! Jesus doesn’t even allow his disciples to hate their enemies, so why hate our families? What’s going on here?
Let’s take a look at this on a couple levels. First, it was common among Jews of Jesus’ day to speak in stark contrasts in order to make a point. In the Jewish mind there was no room for grey, it was all about black and white, light and dark, true and false, love and hate. This was just a way of thinking and speaking to make a point. [GB Caird, Luke, p. 178] So there is that “strong for effect” aspect of what Jesus is saying. Jesus is saying that our love and loyalty to him need to be so great that our love for family seems as hatred by comparison. [Leon Morris, Luke, p. 258]
Yet, on another level, Jesus was also addressing a cultural dynamic of family loyalty. In that day, Jews took “honour your father and mother” quite seriously. They had very conservative views on how one actually went about honouring one’s father and mother. Part of that expressed itself in avoiding change. For instance, when a father died, his oldest son take charge of the family and take over the family business. And the son would honour his father by changing nothing. If, a few years later, everything was exactly the same, the family and business were run the exact same way as the father had run it, then the son would have honoured his father! In many ways, Jews in those days would “never go against the family.”
So, when Jesus came along and started calling disciples to follow him, he was messing with families. It is significant that the Gospels describe Jesus calling the first disciples and the disciples “left everything” to follow Jesus. Matthew actually includes that James and John “left their boat and their father and followed him.” (Matthew 4:22) They were leaving the family business. They were leaving the family! They were messing with tradition!
In our text in Luke 14, Jesus is speaking to the large crowds of people trailing after him. He is being blunt to tell them that if they want to be his disciples, if they want to follow him and not just trail after him, they must be ready to leave their families, and endure all the conflict and difficulty that would come with that.
Beyond that, following Jesus would mean all sorts of other forms of suffering. Jesus says that those who
would be his disciples must “take up their cross and follow” Jesus. Taking up one’s cross, in the Roman Empire, meant a one-way trip to death! “The historic consequences of the acts of faith and love have always been as much division as reconciliation.” [Frederick Dale Bruner, Matthew 1-12, p. 392] This is the second time in Luke that Jesus has used the image of “taking up our cross” to follow him. This, it turns out, is not an exaggeration like “hate” but is, in fact, what has happened to a majority of Christians throughout the centuries. Our cross includes “all kinds of afflictions, like disappointments, pain, sickness and grief that come upon [us] in life.” [Norval Geldenhuys, Luke, p. 398]
What It Means
So what, then, does this mean? It means that our loyalty to Jesus needs to be greater than even our loyalty to family. This is both explicit and implicit. When we are forced to choose between family and loyalty to Jesus, we must always choose Jesus. Some people here have family members who are openly hostile to Jesus. I know people in our congregation whose parents, spouses and siblings are openly hostile to the Gospel and are hostile to their family members for following Jesus. So, sometimes, we are faced with open, explicit conflict from family because of our commitment to Jesus.
Other times, the conflict is more subtle. It may even come from family members who are also Christians! Remember when we were talking about how all our families are tainted by sin? All our families have traits, commandments, habits and dynamics that are not Christ-like. Sometimes our families require us to live, relate or act in ways that are contrary to following Jesus. In the New Family of Jesus, there are new traits, new commandments, new habits and dynamics that we are called to live by. What do you think happens when we go against our old family and live out the traits, commandments, habits and dynamics of our New Family of Jesus? Conflict! When we stop keeping silent about anger, or when we gently and lovingly confront somebody about their behaviour, or we start to express our difficult emotions, or start getting help and thereby violating the secrecy around our family secrets!
At times like this, when we go against our family in order to be obedient to Jesus, whether our family is explicitly against Jesus or implicitly against the new way we are trying to live, our loyalty to Jesus has to be so much greater than our loyalty to family that it looks like we hate our family! Discipleship requires that Jesus has first place in our hearts, [Darrell L. Bock, Luke, p. 254] and that means having first place over our family! That means that if Jesus calls us to live a certain way in the NFJ, then we are expected to live that way, even if it makes our family uncomfortable, or means admitting our families are affected by sin, or getting help with things the family would rather ignore or keep secret. It means unlearning the sin-tainted commandments and lessons of our family and learning the redemptive commandments of the NFJ.
Now, we can think of things our family growing up did that we don’t want to keep doing. We can look for trends and commandments in our immediate family. But there are even greater truths to be found when we go back a little further. It’s interesting that in Exodus 34:6-7, a text we looked at in September, God describes his character as he enters into a covenant with the people of Israel. God speaks of his relational aspects, most importantly that he is slow to anger and quick to forgive. [Victor P. Hamilton, Exodus, p. 576] But we didn’t look at the second half of 7b: “Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.”
We don’t like that part of the verse! We don’t like the idea of bearing the results of other people’s sins, especially people we never met, like our great grandparents! But if you think about it, this is the reality of the situation. Trends run in families and it takes several generations to break these trends.
Consider the example we have in the Bible of a family story stretching 4 generations, that of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph. There are definite trends that run through this family, even the family God chose to bring about his promises! Some of us know the stories found in Genesis about Abraham and his descendants. Others don’t know them well. Let me give you a quick sketch.
Abraham was married to Sarah. On two separate occasions, when Abraham was entering the territory of a powerful local king, he was worried that the king would see him as a rival, be jealous of his wife Sarah, and kill Abraham in order to take Sarah for himself. So on two occasions, Abraham concocted a plot with Sarah to say that she was his sister, not his wife in order to protect Abraham. Incidentally, in both cases, the rival king did take a liking to Sarah and courted her. In both cases, Abraham made a lot of money in the form of a dowry and
was saved from the other king. In both cases, the Lord warned the king not to sleep with Sarah because she was, in fact, Abraham’s wife!
Second, when Abraham and Sarah had trouble conceiving a son to carry on God’s promise, Sarah got the idea of giving Abraham her handmaiden to be a concubine. The plan was that Abraham would have sex with the concubine and who would bear a male heir to carry out God’s promise.
It worked, at least in terms of gaining a male heir. Bug Sarah became jealous and when she finally had a son, Isaac, she was really jealous and had Abraham send the concubine, Hagar, and her son, Ishmael, away. This caused a rupture in the relationship between Abraham and Hagar and well as between Isaac and his brother. Hagan and Ishmael were cut off. Abraham played favourites with his wives and his sons!
Do you think this affected Isaac when he grew up? Yup! In a startling repetition of history, at one point Isaac and Rebecca are traveling and Isaac is scared a rival king would kill him and take Rebecca as his wife. So Isaac hatched a plan in which he and Rebecca would lie and say she was his sister in order to protect Isaac. The kind did take a liking to Rebecca, paid Isaac a large dowry for her hand, and the Lord warned this king not to defile Rebecca because she was Isaac’s wife! Where do you think Isaac got that idea?
When Isaac and Rebecca had twin boys, Jacob and Esau, they were guilty of playing favourites. Isaac likes Esau more, Rebecca liked Jacob more. Their family life was characterized by rivalry and deceit, with Jacob ultimately cheating his brother out of his birth right and then deceiving his blind father to steal Esau’s blessing. As a result, Jacob had to flee the land, which meant he was cut off from Esau, Isaac and Rebecca! Just like Ishmael was exiled and cut off from Isaac!
When Jacob fled, he went to his uncle’s where he and his uncle took turn deceiving and cheating one another in order to get ahead. Jacob wound up with 2 wives, the sisters Leah and Rachel. Jacob then proceeded to play favourites with his two wives. The women started competing with one another over who could produce more male heirs for Jacob. Wouldn’t you know it, they took turns suggesting to Jacob that he take their handmaidens as concubines! Where do you think they got that idea? Good ol’ grandma Sarah!
After many years of exile, Jacob decided it was time to return home and make up with Esau. He wasn’t sure, though, how Esau would receive him. So Jacob sent his family ahead of him in waves to meet Esau. Jacob sent his least favourite wives and children first, and held back his favourite wife and children to the end. That way, if Esau was still angry, and started slaughtering the family, only the first group or two would die and the later groups would have a chance to escape! How do you think the wives in the first group felt? Likely they felt a lot like Sarah and Rebecca did, being offered to foreign kings to keep their husbands safe!
Jacob proceeded to have many children, including many sons, with his 4 wives and concubines. He also played favourites with his children, which lead to rivalry and factions. It culminated in a number of Jacob’s sons plotting to get rid of Joseph, the favourite child. They planned on murdering him, but settled on selling him into slavery. Joseph was cut off from his family! His brothers then deceived their father saying Joseph was dead. They carried on this deceit for 22 years! In the end, Joseph was reunited with his brothers, and he chose to break the cycle. At first, he deceived them as to his identity when he was the chief of all of Egypt, second only to the Pharaoh, but ultimately he chose to forgive them and be reconciled to them.
It’s interesting to note that Genesis ends with Joseph’s death. It also followed his side of the story, not the other brothers’. I think it’s reasonable to conclude that the story was preserved by Joseph and Moses used that information to write Genesis. The tale, though, is told from Joseph’s point of view. I think Joseph took the time to notice the trends in his family history! That’s why they are preserved the way they are, without hiding the sinful bits, and even highlighting the similarities from generation to generation!
The sins of the father are visited upon the children, and the children’s children to the third and fourth generation! By the fourth generation, the godly Joseph was able to break at least some of the trends.
So what does all this mean? What are we to do with it? How do we apply this?
This is the third skill in the EHR course. It’s so important in fact that it is done in both EHR and EHS! Knowing how our families have taught us ungodly things is vital to moving forward in the NFJ! This is what we are going to do Tuesday night. It’s called a “genogram” and it’s a family tree to which we add information about relationships between different family members.
First, in order to allow Christ to redeem our family history, we need to acknowledge it and bring it to him for healing. This means taking the time to investigate how our family has functioned for 3 or 4 generations. When we sit down and put all this information together, we start to see trends we wouldn’t have noticed before. This can explain a lot of things in our own lives where Christ is at work or needs to be at work!
Looking at our family’s history of relating to one another can open up a lot of old wounds. It can open a can of worms, so to speak. It can be painful. It is not easy! It doesn’t matter if your family was a “nice” family or not, it is painful to stop and examine the wounds and scars the devil has inflicted upon our family through sin. It can be quite difficult.
One thing EHR is not is counselling. Sometimes, when we start looking at our family tree and the relationship habits there, it can open our eyes to depths of pain we are not prepared to deal with on our own. Nor is EHR designed to help us deal with it either. This is when it is important to seek wise counsel, often in the form of formal counselling, to help us deal with and evaluate our family’s history. This may sound scary, but it is actually good. It’s like going to a Dr because you have a lump. The Dr determines that it’s a cancerous tumour and says it has to be removed. That is scary! But the lump was there whether we went to the Dr or not and the pain and discomfort of having it cut out is less painful and less harmful than allowing the tumour to grow unchecked.
Another application of looking at our family history, our “genogram,” is that it provides us with opportunities for empathy for our family. When we look at several generations in our family, it helps us to see our parents as people, not just our parents. When we think about how our parents interacted with our grandparents, we allow our parents to grow into full human beings, not just our mom and dad. Suddenly, thinking about how dad interacted with grandma and how that was a “mother-son” relationship for dad, gives you empathy and insight into your dad! But if all you ever do is think about them as dad and grandma, their relationship to you, you will only see part of them. You will miss out on a chance to develop empathy for both of them.
Our genogram also provides opportunities for forgiveness and the healing that forgiveness brings. All families are sinful, remember? “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” The cure to sin is forgiveness. First, forgiveness from Jesus, but second forgiveness from us. When we do the hard work of examining and evaluating our family tree and the relationship traits therein, we can then begin the work of bringing it to Jesus for healing, which includes us forgiving our family for being broken, forgiving them for the hurts caused, for the wrong lessons learned, etc.
Genograms are not about blame, but about healing. It can be tempting to look at our genogram and use it to place blame on our family. We can use it as an excuse for why we are the way we are. But that’s completely wrong and short-sighted! That’s like taking a noisy car to the mechanic. The mechanic tells you that you need a new muffler, but instead of fixing your car, you just take it home and drive it around all the time with the loud mufflers saying, “That’s just the way it is. It’s the muffler’s fault, not mine.”
The point of the genogram is not to find excuses for our unhealthy relationships, but to identify areas where Jesus would have us grow. It’s not about blame, it’s about healing!
In the NFJ, we are expected to learn how to relate to one another in godly, Christ-like ways. This means unlearning our unhealthy habits from our family of origin. If we are going to unlearn these lessons, we need to identify them. It’s not about “oh, Jesus dealt with my old self, I’m redeemed, therefore I don’t need to worry about this.” Not at all! Paul repeatedly talks about continually putting off our old self and putting on the new self. It’s an ongoing process!
[pic] If we don’t we run the risk of being pulled back into our (sinful) family ways. Just like Michael Corleone in the Godfather.
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