Why families break and what to do about it

Published 10:18 am Monday, May 8, 2017

by Andrew Book

This week I’ve been focusing on relationships. Our focus in worship this Sunday at Courtland United Methodist Church is on how God likes to work to un-break our relationships, so I have been delving into the Biblical stories of relationships that broke and looking at how God did the work of restoration in some of those broken relationships. I didn’t really intend to focus on one particular type of relationship as I began to explore. I had in mind friendships, marriages, work relationships, siblings, neighbors and more, but the more I looked at the stories in Scripture of broken relationships, the more I realized we have one type of relationship that has a habit of breaking: families.

Starting with the first family, in the first book of the Bible (Genesis), we see how easily things get broken in our relationships with our families. If the first sin was eating the forbidden fruit from the tree of knowledge, the second sin was blaming your spouse for your poor choices (see Genesis 3:12). The brokenness in the first family only grows from there as Cain and Abel develop the first sibling rivalry, which leads to the first murder. There is something both disturbing and comforting in recognizing that the brokenness many of us have experienced in our families goes all the way back to the beginning.

The book of Genesis is the most family-focused book in the Bible, because much of the story in Genesis is based on a single family. In Genesis 12, God calls Abraham (called “Abram” at that point), to pick up his family and follow God — and the rest of the book is all about Abraham and his family.  There is a lot of brokenness even in God’s chosen family. Abraham’s grandson, Jacob, tricks his father, Isaac, into giving him the blessing reserved for his firstborn brother Esau, and then flees when Esau tries to kill him. Abraham’s great-grandson, Joseph, is sold as a slave by his brothers who got tired of Joseph being their father’s favorite with dreams of grandeur. The brokenness in God’s chosen family is clear, even from a quick reading through the book of Genesis. In fact, the level of broken relationships in Genesis is greater than just about anything else we see in the rest of the Bible.

In my experience as a pastor, brokenness in families is not something that is only recorded in Genesis. I have sat down to talk with many people who need someone to listen to the stories of brokenness in their families. Often those stories begin years (if not decades) ago with someone making a choice that broke something. Those initial events are sometimes big deals and sometimes minor slights, but what they all have in common is that no one ever worked to resolve the break. Many times there is money involved in the squabble, and the love of money usually breaks things.

Family brokenness has the unusual habit of growing worse over the years. Where friends who have a rift may discover over time that they can’t even remember what the fight was about, the wounds caused by family fights often fester and get worse if they are not tended to. The result is that it is not uncommon to discover family members who have been feuding (or ignoring each other) for many years because neither of them are willing to be the one to say, “I’m sorry” or even “What happened that day?”

I am not a professional counselor, so I’m not going to wade into the ways that we need to be working to heal the rifts in our family except to say this: it takes work. First Peter 3 offers some great advice about relationships:

8 Sympathize with each other. Love each other as brothers and sisters. Be tenderhearted, and keep a humble attitude. 9 Don’t repay evil for evil. Don’t retaliate with insults when people insult you. Instead, pay them back with a blessing. That is what God has called you to do, and he will grant you his blessing. 10 For the Scriptures say,

“If you want to enjoy life  and see many happy days,

keep your tongue from speaking evil and your lips from telling lies.

11 Turn away from evil and do good. Search for peace, and work to maintain it.

Work at those relationships that matter, because your work will pay off. Swallow your pride and love your brothers and sisters as if they were your brothers and sisters. Offer blessing instead of repaying evil with evil. As you work for peace, you will, more often than not, find it. Set aside the idea that “I shouldn’t have to say that” or “They need to apologize first,” because, at the end of the day, the only person you can control in the relationship is you. If you want to invite God in to un-break your relationships, you have to be the one acting out that invitation in your love towards the people around you!

So go and get to work, you have some un-breaking to do!

ANDREW BOOK is the pastor of Courtland United Methodist Church. He can be contacted at 653-2240 or andrew@courtlandumcva.org.