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When Family Goes Wrong

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I have been witness to a family storm in the last few years that I never wanted to see. Brewing and churning for decades, a specific difficult situation blew it into a category-five fury in the last three years. Though it involved the in-law side of a close loved one (and not me directly) – as is often the case with storms of this magnitude, its path has been wide and its effects far-reaching. You could definitely say much of the family was side-swiped and felt the damage.

Clean-up efforts are underway, but things will never be the same. Good people were hurt, relationships were irrevocably damaged, and family ties were severed.

Abuse and betrayal – big or small – are difficult pills to swallow no matter how well you crush them, disguise them with excuses, and try to ignore their bitter aftertaste. So many types of behaviors and actions fall under the umbrellas of abuse and betrayal that it’s difficult to imagine any of us not having experienced one or the other at some point.

Abuse and betrayal within a family is particularly damaging simply by virtue of the fact that “family” is supposed to be those who are there when everything else falls away, the ones who are supposed to protect you from harm, not cause the harm. Family is who is supposed to love you no matter what.

Life on this side of heaven, however, is full of human error and brokenness; and – for whatever reasons – not all families adhere to this code.

We are hearing more and more about familial abuse and betrayal these days, but the issues are certainly not new. In fact, one of the first instances of this within a family in the Bible appears right away in Genesis – the account of Joseph and his brothers.

You know the story – Joseph’s brothers hated him because he was very obviously their father’s favorite (giving Joseph a special “robe of many colors” as a gift to show his deep love), and sold him into slavery. While the story of Joseph’s brothers being filled with so much hate and jealousy that they sold him is inconceivable enough; even more incredible is how Joseph handled his evolving fate time and time again throughout his young life.

Joseph certainly could have taken on the belief and attitude that God had abandoned him. Why else would life be treating him so cruelly unfair over and over?

He was betrayed by his own brothers and sold into slavery. He was sent to prison after being wrongfully accused of trying to assault his master’s wife. He was forgotten in prison for years after accurately interpreting the Pharaoh’s cup-bearer’s dream and asking to be mentioned to the Pharaoh.

Joseph faced each of these storms and his difficult life circumstances with integrity and continuing faithfulness to God. But how? WHY?

Genesis 39:2 tells us that after he was purchased as a slave, “The Lord was with Joseph, so he succeeded in everything he did …” Then after he was thrown into prison by Potiphar, Genesis 39:21 states, “But the Lord was with Joseph in the prison and showed him his faithful love.”

Eventually it was his ability to accurately interpret dreams that led him out of prison to his new life as Egypt’s second in command. In both Genesis 40:8 and 41:16, Joseph declares that it is not he who has the power to interpret dreams, but God – who is working through him.

Two separate ideas within Joseph’s story point to why and how his faithfulness remained strong and he was able to get through so many dark areas along the path God laid out for him.

  • God remained with Joseph as he navigated the struggles of the plan God had for him (and Joseph never stopped believing that).
  • Joseph gave God the glory for his abilities and successes.

Joseph even honored God’s faithfulness in remaining with him and healing his betrayed heart by naming his two sons after Hebrew terms that conveyed God had made him forget his troubles and his betrayers, and God had made him fruitful in the land of his grief (Genesis 41:51-52).

The life journey God sent Joseph on was far from easy and was filled with betrayal after betrayal – beginning with his own family members, but everything he went through served to prepare him for the ultimate role God had in store for him. God used Joseph’s suffering to develop his wisdom and shape his character, and he went on to lead all of Egypt. When faced with the opportunity to exact revenge upon his brothers, Joseph chose instead to forgive and care for them.

In Genesis 41:37-38, while Joseph was still a prisoner, the Pharaoh referred to him as being “obviously filled with the spirit of God.”

Overcoming and moving beyond the mess left in the wake of abuse and deep betrayal by those closest to you must be one of the most painful, challenging journeys of life. But God does not desert us, and can heal even the most broken, damaged hearts and souls.

Joseph is a beautiful example of how even the most hurtful of journeys can lead to exactly where God intends for you to be, armed with exactly the right experiences and wisdom to be the light in the middle of someone else’s dark path.