Dysfunctional is a word we hear a lot in the context of family. Dysfunctional is an adjective that means “not operating normally or properly.” It means “deviating from the norm in a way that’s regarded as bad.” Dysfunctional is a term that’s so often attached to family. We talk about the dysfunctional family. You don’t hear much about the functional family, but you hear a lot about the dysfunctional family. The definition of a dysfunctional family is this: “A dysfunctional family is one in which conflict, misbehavior, and often abuse on the part of individual members occur continually and regularly, leading other parts of individual or other members of the family to accommodate such actions.”
That’s a good definition. There’s something wrong in one part of the family and it causes the other part of the family to act in a different, weird, crazy way in order to accommodate the bad actions.
God didn’t create family to be a dysfunctional thing. He didn’t create home to be a place where it’s just World War III. You know, we understand, as little kids, what home is supposed to be. When I was a kid growing up, my home had a lot of fighting and yelling and it was all brought on by a lot of variables; poor communication, unresolved conflict, money, fear, uncertainty. I remember tense times. Times when I wanted to leave/escape. That’s not God’s intention for the family. That’s not God’s best.
You know, when you played tag as a kid the first thing you do is you set up home base? And once you set up home base that was the safe place. You know, when you’re playing tag and you’re on home, nobody can tag you out. You’d be like, “You can’t get me; I’m home.” And I used to play, and my friends would play, and my brother would always do this. He’d take his hand off home like this, just that close and you’d come to get him and he’d be like, “I’m home. Can’t get me! I’m home.” Home’s a safe place. It’s a refuge. But for so many people home’s not a safe place. It’s not a safe zone. It becomes a war zone. God has a better plan.
So what we’re going to do for the next several weeks is talk about family. I believe that family matters. But there are attacks taking place against the family. So while I want us to have fun with this; I want us to be real about this topic; maybe you’ll face some moments when you realize that God has something better for you and your family. But all us, we have some craziness in our families. We have some dysfunction. It might be with our spouse, in-laws, parents, adult children, aging parents, kids. We’ve all got a little bit of crazy. Own it. Admit it. I’m broken; you are broken. Ask my kids, they’ll tell you we’ve got crazy in our house, too. None of us are immune and a lot of us have the same stories we could tell. But when we come together in family, all those broken pieces can fit together and make something good.
So I want the next few weeks to be helpful for all of us. Let’s own our craziness and at the same time discover God’s best for families; God’s purpose for families; and how we can receive God’s grace in our crazy, messy, chaotic families.
The place we’re starting today will be in setting the foundation. We’re going to go back to the beginning, to the earliest story of family and discover God’s intention and purpose for family. What is the measuring stick for family? I know what my family is like but how does it measure up to God’s hopes and dreams and expectations for family?
Family starts with God! God created the family. In the beginning there is time, space, matter, humanity; the beginning of culture, customs, languages and nations. At the center of all of human history is the family. The formation of the family may be the most important event in the entire story of Genesis. God created the family as the basic building block of society. Your family, regardless of what it looks like, is a gift to you. Even in the craziness, your family is a gift to you. You may not believe me! Let me tell you why – let’s build some theology around our family.
Let’s go to Genesis 1&2 and remember God’s intention for family and how this can be really practical right now, especially if your family is in a tough spot.
The place to start if you’re taking notes: My family is God’s gift because they are made in the image of God. That’s right. You and your family are made in God’s image. READ GENESIS 1:26-27. Have you ever stopped to think about what it really means? “Made in the image of God” is an audacious claim—and one that probably carries some responsibility with it. So, what does it mean to be created in God’s image? The Hebrew root of the Latin phrase for image of God—imago Dei—means image, shadow or likeness of God. When this piece of Scripture was being written kings, Pharaohs, Caesars would put their image on a lot of things, especially coins. So you knew what belonged to that king. So this is radical what is written here in Genesis. God creates humanity to make himself visible. God puts his stamp; his image on you. That gives us value. You know who is represented through you. And both sexes have godly value – God created male and female.
Now here’s the tough part – when your family is struggling and messed up and there’s pain or chaos; it can be hard to remember that you are created in God’s image and that person in your family who making it hard for you is created in God’s image. When there is chaos, and pain and craziness usually a first reaction is to ostracize and demonize the person bringing the pain. That just brings more pain. What if we saw each other as the image bearers of God; even if it means digging through the crazy?
How you and I live in relationships is a reflection of the Trinity. The doctrine of the Trinity says that the three Persons of the Godhead are all one, yet in some sense distinct from each other. The significance of this is that God is an intrinsically relational being in and of Himself, living in eternal loving relations between Father, Son and Spirit. So humanity made in His image is relational.
Your aging parents are made in the image of God. Your addicted child is made in the image of God. Your physically challenged brother is made in the image of God. The husband who cheated on you is made in the image of God. Your wife who divorced you is made in the image of God. Your parents who didn’t have the best skill in raising you are made in the image of God.
Regardless of the level and pain of the craziness, messiness and chaos; how you relate to your family speaks volumes about what you believe. If I believe you are made in God’s image then that’s how I will treat you as a person; and it’s a reflection of what you believe about yourself. This doesn’t mean you endorse their craziness but it does mean that in some intrinsic way they are valuable to God and they hold value for you. Even in the current reality of sin and brokenness we hold within us as created people the image of God.
What we see next in Scripture – READ Genesis 1:31. God wraps up the action of creating and calls everything good. Everything that God has made is good. And he places these first people in Eden. Eden means joy or delight. God places us in a position of joy and delight. So God created us for relationships and he places us in a place of joy and delight. When we focus solely on the craziness and messiness and chaos we lose the joy and delight that is intended for relationships.
God says I’ve made this good. When we lose sight of the good of our family; the potential of our family – the good starts to slip away. But God calls this good and we have the capacity to reflect the work of the master artist who created us.
A lot of us are guilty of being critical about other family members. We spend more time putting them down than lifting them up. What if we lived out some goodness in our families like: thinking before we talk! Serving each other. Giving compliments.
Everything God makes is good. God makes nothing evil. You know where evil comes from? Genesis 3:1 it’s all good. All of this good stuff and you can’t have it. Eve knows Genesis 3:2. You’re not going to die. You’ll be like God. Verse 6 – she took some ate it and gave some to her husband. They think they’re going to find life but ultimately there is isolation (v8). The goodness God intends is broken.
How are you letting God reverse the craziness and brokenness that leads to more and more isolation – and allow God through you bring his intended goodness into your family? As redeemed people of God, God can use you to bring back his intended purpose.
Let’s get back to chapter two. Here’s the next thing we see happening in this first family built on God’s intention. We need each other. READ Genesis 2. God created us in His image. We were made for relationship. The first relationship which profoundly affects all other relationships begins with God. It is on this meaningful relationship all others are to be built. We love God first and love our neighbors with the same legitimate concern we have for our own well-being. When we remove God from first place, we will rapidly begin to fail one another. Meaningful life is found in meaningful relationships.
Each of us has value by virtue of being human, but as God said of Adam, it is not good for man to be alone. Our family is God’s gift because we need each other. No one is an island.
The first thing God does in creation is that he brings Adam and Eve together – the first marriage – but more so to show creations that family is central to creation. This first family is in a position of helping and serving each other.
From experience we could probably admit that the first thought we have when my family is crazy, messy or broken is to escape that family. They are so screwed up I can do better on my own. That’s a legitimate response. At some point, each of us will become discouraged and disappointed with a relationship.
The health and maturity of a relationship are not measured by an absence of problems, but by the way the problems are handled. How do you deal with relational disappointments? Do you blame, deny, run away, avoid, threaten, and manipulate? Or do you speak the truth, exhibit patience, approach people gently, ask for and grant forgiveness, overlook minor offenses, encourage and honor others?
Have you ever wondered why God doesn’t just make your relationships better overnight? We often think that if God really cared for us, he would make our relationships easier. In reality, a difficult relationship is a mark of his love and care. We would prefer that God would just change the relationship, but he won’t be content until the relationship changes us too. This is how God created relationships to function.
What happens in the messiness of relationships is that our hearts are revealed, our weaknesses are exposed, and we start coming to the end of ourselves. Only when this happens do we reach out for the help God alone can provide. While we would like to avoid the mess and enjoy deep and intimate community, God says that it is in the very process of working through the mess that intimacy is found.
Here’s the last point for today. The gift of family is that there is a safe place. God’s original intent is for a safe place. READ Genesis 2:25. The family can be a place of transparency; where there is no shame; no embarrassment; no ridicule.
This particular context is marriage so let me say this to those of you who are married and struggling with transparency and intimacy. After God brought together the first man and woman, we find an expression of pure intimacy: “They were both naked and they felt no shame.” In other words, they had nothing to hide physically, emotionally, mentally or spiritually. They were “not embarrassed or ashamed in each other’s presence” In the Biblical model the Hebrew words used in the creation account reveals much about the unique gifts Adam and Eve brought to intimacy.
His gift. “The Lord God formed [yatsar] man …” (Genesis 2:7). The word yatsar means forming by plan or design, like a potter. Just as a pot usually has a singular purpose, God gifted man with a purity of focus that helps him initiate, protect and provide.
Her gift. “Then the Lord God made [banah] a woman from the rib …” (Genesis 2:22). Banah was sometimes used to describe constructing a palace. God fashioned woman with an emotional, physical and relational complexity that allows her to nurture deep connections. The good news for us is that intimacy thrives on differences! By refusing to hide from each other and God, and through honoring our differences, we bring each other exceptional gifts. And it creates a place of safety.
Now we can broaden this to all of our other family relationships and ask “how am I intentionally creating a safe place where people in my family can be transparent with each other with no fear?”
All of us have a certain amount of dysfunction in our family; craziness, messiness, chaos. Call it what you will. Sometimes we get used to it and start to think it’s normal. In Genesis, God describes normal. God made the family and God has a great picture of what a healthy family can be. God has a plan for the family. It is still the basic building block of society. So, as Jesus followers, how do we let God take our brokenness and craziness and turn it around to bless people and show our culture how God still uses the family.