New Year. New Decade. From Generation to Generation. Re-New-ing You.
Let’s be honest, most individuals do not think of placing “New Year” and “family” in the same sentence. It’s January and we just spent quite a bit of time with our families from Thanksgiving to Christmas. We have goals to set, changes to make, and the thought of family can be less than motivating with a family having “a lot of moving parts” (that’s what my professor used to say about the topic in graduate school). A family that we have very little control over, and for some, the thought of family after the holidays can feel exhausting. But, what if, instead of being exhausted, we simply decided to attempt to see our family and ourselves from a different lens without trying to change anyone other than ourselves?
As a marriage and family therapist, invitations to coffee start coming in around mid September from people who just want a minute of my time to discuss…more times than not …a family issue that they just don’t know how to resolve. They are always precious souls, and I understand where they are coming from. However, we are probably not going to walk away from one coffee date with resolution to something (a behavior, attitude, mindset…) that it has taken a lifetime to have developed.
Don’t get me wrong, I love coffee!! Just kidding, I love people. And I love families. I’ve spent quite a bit of time studying family dynamics. My passion is teaching individuals about the concept of Generational Blessings where we can learn to identify a sinful pattern within our family system and change the pattern while still loving our people.
I see families as being wonderful, unique, beautiful, difficult, complex, and (for lack of a better word) complicated. According to information consolidated from a couple of Marriage and Family textbooks, families are “a group of people who have a shared history and shared future. They include the entire emotional system of at least three, and frequently four or even five generations held together by blood, legal, and/or historical ties.” I know that you already know that, but I like a good textbook definition because it is difficult to think of the family as a whole with the complexity involved.
A family is a system moving through time. Unlike other systems, families incorporate new members by birth, adoption, commitment, or marriage, and members can only leave by death, if then. No other system is subject to these constraints. The text goes on to state that “the main value in families is in the relationships, which are irreplaceable”, although we have very little choice about who we are related to or the complex web of our family ties. Children have no choice about who they are born or adopted to, and the only family relationship in the family that is entered into by choice is marriage which is its own blog post – as who you marry is the second most important decision you will make in your lifetime (according to me and more than a few experts).
Also, we get to choose our pets (who many see as family). I like that we get to choose our pets!
Therapists tend to replace the term “family” with “family of origin” and place a tremendous amount of value on the influence a person’s “family of origin” has on the life of any individual.
According to Focus on the Family, “Our family of origin is the family we were born or adopted into. It’s the people who raise us and who we spend most of our childhood with. The importance of an individual’s family of origin is enormous. Since parenting shapes a child’s core beliefs about himself or herself, our family beliefs about what it means to be human and the purpose of life will have a tremendous influence on what we learn and how we develop. These beliefs will, in turn, inform every decision and choice you make and every relationship you have. The beliefs, values and rules of a family are passed down from one generation to the next through living life together daily, and this is how an unhealthy or healthy family of origin is perpetuated.”
So basically, we have no choice as to what family we are born into. The relationships within these family systems can be the most beneficial and/or detrimental to us. Our family of origin and the parenting we have received have shaped us, and our beliefs that have shaped us inform every decision and belief we have which get passed along from generation to generation… Alrighty. It’s true, but there’s more!
You see, as complicated as family can be, the concept of family originated with God, and everything that originated with God is good and can be used for our good. In fact, it is always my goal as a marriage and family therapist to help clients to see and celebrate the good in their family. I promise you that I haven’t had a client in over 3000+ hours of counseling experience who couldn’t find something positive (a strength) within their family of origin.
The concept of family goes all the way back to the beginning (according to Genesis) when God created humankind in His image, then blessed them and told them to be fruitful and multiply = family. The story goes and that it didn’t take very long (three chapters into the Bible) before “the fall” where sin (the curse) enters and with it the first family becomes what we can all recognize as dysfunctional.
The New Testament then starts off with the same concept – family. As Matthew begins with all the begetting from generation to generation to the lineage of Christ. I used to wonder what the point of the listing of the begetting was when no regular person could pronounce half the names to begin with, but with time and study I think I’m beginning to understand that (without us trying to overthink it), it’s because the genealogy of Christ matters. Those people listed matter. Their stories and the influence they carried from one generation to another matters. It also matters that those people listed were not perfect. In fact, they were pretty messy for the most part.
The story of Jacob always gets me as it is more like a soap opera than we could have imagine would be in the Bible. I still don’t understand how they didn’t know who they were lying with back then (I’ve always wanted to ask if they were blindfolded), but the drama of this one character’s life is proof that God allows imperfect humans to influence imperfect humans for the sake of relationship and that God loves his children no matter how dysfunctional our stories might be. Relationship is actually a huge part of who God is at the core (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) and that His choosing to have relationship with us, and us with one another is His will. I mean I cannot think of a better way for us to be made into His hearts image than through family and Him having us be in relationship with those who know us best and can hurt us the worst (because they know how to). Forgiveness.
In fact, God has always been about relationships and restoring His family. From the time that the first sin occurred, God has been pursuing us – His creation – to bring us back into that family relationship with Him.
God sooooo loving each of us (created in His image) so much that He sent His only son. Through believing in His son – Jesus- our identity is forever changed as we are adopted into God’s family. Re-Newing. You see, if you are a follower of Jesus, then you are God’s child. You are still the child of your parents and you have still been shaped by the influence of your family of origin, but your identity is not your family of origin, and although you have been shaped for the positive and negative by those who had influence in your life, no one other than God gets to determine your identity or your worth.
So, what if in your generation and for such a time as this, God has allowed you to be born or adopted into a family of origin (who more than likely has done the very best they have known to have done by you with what they had to give of themselves), and what if who God has allowed to have shaped you in order that through your being transformed more into the image of God as God’s child you are who He uses to shape others. God’s shaping you more and more into the likeness of your Father God, so that you might be an influence in the lives of your family and for future generations.
We therapist often say, “that if one thing changes that other things change”, not that I’m putting any pressure on you to go out and change whatever you think should be changed in your family system. I’m not. What I am saying is that you are not powerless in the process of allowing God to bring changes (be they big or small) in you that would then influence others.
People often say that certain behaviors just run in the family. Scripture says it too in Exodus 20:5-6 “…visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me,” and according to everything I’ve learned throughout school, life, and scripture (according to this verse) they do, (PLEASE KEEP READING)
v. 6: “but showing mercy and steadfast love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.” Amplified
Did you read after the “comma but”?
Listen closely to what is said after the word but in a sentence because that’s the most important part, and in this verse it’s where we find hope and God’s intention toward us and our families.
You see, when we know better, we tend to do better, and when we know that patterns (good ones and bad ones) tend to run in families and that sins patterns do visit to three to four generations, but when we can see them, we can choose to repent of them, and change them empowered by God because His full intent is to show mercy and steadfast love to us.
And – what if you become the person that is able to choose which behaviors get to continue with or run through you? What if certain thought patterns (such as fear, unbelief, believing lies that you are not enough or worthy or…) behaviors (addictions, gossip, unkindness…), sin patterns… stop with you? Then what if your being transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit were then to begin to reshape you according to your identity in Christ and that reshaping of you began to affect those you love the most – your family?
God’s full intention was to bless His family and the concept of families, but with the curse of sin, things got messed up from generation to generation, but through Christ we can be reconciled back into relationship with God and can have improved relationships with others. Through repentance the curse of sin patterns are broken. You may not be able to change your entire family, but you can choose to submit yourself to enabling God to re-shape you. The sins of the Father naturally fall from three to four generations, but God has a redeeming plan. His plan is to give you a hope and a future. God loves you and is for you.
Whether you come from what you would call a healthy family of origin or a system that you see as being unhealthy, we all have been born or adopted into a family and that family has influenced or shaped who we are today. I would encourage you to treasure the things you love about your family and choose to pass them to future generations. But know that if there are patterns that need to change or are unhealthy, it doesn’t have to stay that way. Jesus changes everything!
And just in case no one has told you yet this year – You are made in the image of God, precious one. You are God’s idea. You have purpose. God has a plan for your life. You are fearfully and wonderfully made. You are worthy. You are loved. As a believer in Jesus Christ, you are a child of God. You are not a half or a step anything. You are intended to whole. You are forgiven. You are a masterpiece, a workmanship, both fearfully and wonderfully made. You accepted by God and you belong. You are significant as you and your story matter to God. And you are secure, as nothing and no one can separate you from the love of God – no matter what. God is with you and will never leave. God is for you and wants what’s in your best interest for you. And dear one, God’s Holy Spirit is within you and is more than able to shape and re-shape you more into His image enabling you to intentionally influence others and to step into a part of your story where you intentionally turn to God and allow Him to use you as one who shapes others from generation to generation!
Happy New Year, New Decade, & God’s love and grace to each of you!
Terra Tucker, Marriage and Family Therapist is a devoted wife, mother of three, and mimi to Reed. She is intentionally striving to build a Godly heritage and is passionate about equipping others to do the same.
Follow Terra on Instagram @tdltucker