If you want a good look inside a dysfunctional family, the book of Genesis is an excellent place to start. I’m convinced that if the A&E network had been around back then, several of these families would have had their own reality TV shows!
It’s important for us to remember, however, that even with all the lies, deceit, adultery, and even murder, God was able to use all these profoundly messed up people! Whatever else might have plagued these families, their hearts remained devoted to God, and He was able to use that faith to build a might nation. There’s hope for all of us yet!
But while God can certainly overcome our sins to accomplish His eternal purposes, what about the quality of the lives we’re leading now? What can we do not only to serve God better, but serve each other better?
When our families stray from God’s plan, it’s not God that suffers…it’s us. With that in mind, let’s look at what we can do to align our families with what God wants for us, not what makes a good reality TV show plot.
Begin with Boundaries
Have you noticed something that the Kardashians, Honey Boo Boo and all the other dysfunctional TV families have something in common? They have no boundaries. This is pretty obvious since they’ve invited TV cameras to live in their house, but these families were clearly struggling with the appropriate degree of openness before any cameras ever arrived.
Having open, honest relationships is important. We see in Genesis 27 a picture of deceit that literally tears a family apart for generations. But is total openness what we’re after? Not quite.
Setting the right boundaries for openness is a little bit like “The Three Bears.” Too much isn’t good. Everyone needs their degree of privacy and room to be an individual. Too little isn’t good either, as we see from Isaac’s family’s deception. It has to be “just right,” allowing the family members to trust one another while also allowing the individuals room to grow.
Good Family Secrets
Healthy families don’t share everything. There’s a healthy and appropriate amount of information that either remains private or is only shared on a limited basis. A good example is what happens at Christmas. Mom and Dad usually know what the gifts are for the kids, but if they’re doing Christmas right, they don’t know what presents they have for each other. And if the kids are older, they’ve “secretly” gotten some gifts for the parents. Without “secrets” much of the magic of Christmas would be lost.
There are secrets that aren't about fun and surprise though. Mom and Dad also have an obligation to “hide” certain knowledge that the kids may not be mature enough to process, or in many cases, have no ability to change. This would include things like financial crises, job woes, marital conflicts, and extended family issues. Sharing this kind of information “openly” would only offer fear and anxiety to those family members not equipped to deal with it.
We see this modeled for us by our Heavenly Father throughout the Bible. He certainly has knowledge that we either can’t understand or don’t have the power to affect. God doesn’t always give us all the details. What He does give us is clear instruction and the ability to totally trust Him, even when He withholds some of the information. So, it’s not all about total “openness” and “honesty.” There are appropriate times when wisdom dictates we keep some information “secret.”
Bad Family Secrets
Genesis 27 shows us the downside of “secrecy” though. Here we see three ways in which secrecy can negatively impact a family:
- Not sharing plans that ought to be shared. There’s no good reason for Isaac not to share with the rest of the family his plans to bless Esau. Whether or not Rebekah and Jacob liked it or not, that was his privilege and Esau’s right. Isaac had a responsibility as the family leader to assert his right. By not doing so publicly, he opened up the opportunity for his authority to be challenged through deceit. You’ve heard it said, “Sunshine is the best disinfectant.” Indeed, nothing prevents deceitful and treacherous plots more effectively than clearly stated intentions.
- Manipulation and stepping outside of a role. To put it bluntly, Isaac’s decision on who to bless was none of Rebekah’s business. Yes, as stated above, Isaac would have been wise to have discussed this decision beforehand (perhaps even inviting his wife’s input), but the fact remains this was his decision as father. Rebekah inserted herself into a role that wasn’t hers, and she did so in a way to get the result she wanted. So not only do healthy boundaries need to be asserted, they also need to be respected. Rebekah allowed her selfish desires to override this principle.
- Not calling “foul” when the circumstance is beneficial. Rebekah was acting out of selfishness, but so was Jacob. And Jacob wasn’t some innocent child who got caught up in a parental conflict here. He was grown and able to speak for himself. As a male son, Jacob would have been completely in the right to have called out his mother’s deceptive plot. He could (and should have) put an end to it by simply not participating. This kind of “triangling” behavior is common in family boundary disputes, and when it’s a young child, sometimes they feel pressure to go along with the parent who’s violating boundaries. This doesn’t describe Jacob. He wanted the blessing as much or more than Rebekah wanted him to have it. He allowed himself to be a part of the manipulation.
The sobering lesson we all can take away from Genesis 27 is this: Failure to set and observe healthy family boundaries can have devastating consequences that go far beyond the moment. Far more than just a family blessing was lost that day. A generational conflict was established and the pattern for even more boundary dysfunction was established. Jacob would go on to have his own dysfunctional family.
Again, because of the faith of this family, God was still able to use them for His purposes. But read the rest of Genesis and look at the suffering across generations that was set up because of this family’s inability to set and observe healthy boundaries.