FAMILY MATTERS

Kevin Finkbeiner

 
 






Family Matters:



How God helps us “grow up” through the troubled times

“A little boy plops down onto the ground with a smile on his face. He has got a book in his hands that he is eager to start reading. That book is the Bible, and the little boy is a Christian. He opens to his favorite story and starts reading. Suddenly, a giant presence looms over him. The little boy looks up and his eyes are suddenly paralyzed with fear. It is the little boy’s older brother. He is not a Christian, and he treats his little brother very poorly. The older brother snatches the Bible out of the little boy’s hands. Immediately the boy jumps up and tries to re-claim his book, but the older brother pushes him away. The brother flips through the book in disgust and tosses it back at the boy. Laughing, he walks away.

The little boy is hurt by his older brother’s treatment, and he goes to God in tears, praying about why he must go through this. God reveals a verse to the little boy: “…bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.” The little boy finally realizes that he must be the better person and continue to pray, bless and show love to his older brother, and must also forgive him. The next day, the older brother comes back when the little boy hands him a folded piece of paper. The older brother takes it, unfolds it and reads what it says. What is written inside completely blows him away: “I forgive you and I still love you.” The older brother looks at his younger sibling with broken eyes. Here is a boy he has treated poorly for his faith, yet he still chooses love over vengeance. The little boy walks away, leaving his older brother with his message. Will he take it and change? We cannot tell for sure, it is between him and God to figure that out.”

The story and characters are fictitious, but the scenario and situation portrayed is very much real. There are children who are subject to older sibling abuse, both physical and emotional. They grow up with scars that are left behind from names being called, lies being told and emotions grossly toyed with. Those scars never leave and they still bitterly sting even when these children reach adulthood. Past memories come back to haunt their soul, and feelings of isolation, abandonment, untrustworthiness and even hatred and revenge fester inside, and if they are not dealt with, they can boil over and be destructive. What happens in childhood shapes how a particular person will end up later in their life. Even those who are Christians from childhood on still can suffer persecution from close family members, and these events can really shake their faith. But we must remember that we have a God who can turn these bad memories into a good outcome that will shape us into mature servants of God and draw us closer to Him.

As said before, childhood memories affect how people grow, both mentally and physically. These are classified as “adverse childhood experiences”, or ACE. These ACE’s deal with more than just siblings. Parents, too, can abuse their children, whether it is under the influence of alcohol or anger. Children who witness bitter fights between their parents can also be left with painful experiences, and if it comes to divorce, the grim reality hits children the hardest of all. Parents who neglect their children, and sometimes who even abandon them entirely, leave that child with emptiness, loneliness, and without love. There is a great number of people whose past still haunt them: in a 2007 study of 17,000 therapy patients, more than half of that number have lived at lease one bad childhood experience and it still lives with them to the present day. (Kendall-Tackett, 1) These harsh realities can affect how a child, and eventually a teenager, looks at the world, the people around them, and even God.

These adverse memories affect people in three ways. One is physically. If a kid is pressured for most of his life by a close family member by being told that he looks ugly and nobody will like him until he changes his image, it will cause that particular kid to try and change how they look to impress people and gather friends. This includes a change in clothes, change in hair, and even a change in facial features. The truth is, the “trend” is always changing and what was once “cool” was yesterday’s fad. Another effect is on people’s beliefs. In the case of Christians teens, peer pressure and lasting persecution, even from the closest of kin, can cause them to doubt God or to question why He is allowing these things to happen. If these feelings overtake their faith, they can ultimately harden their heart against God. The final effect a bad childhood can have is emotional uncertainty. If a child had his trust broken by an abusive brother, sister, mother or father, how can be trust anyone else around him? These feelings of paranoia and insecurity can cause people to end up hostile and easily offended, and can isolate themselves from peers, friends and family. (Kendall-Tackett, p. 1-2)

God understands the kind of pain we experience when it comes to family. He uses several men in the Bible to show how these sins from close family can be used for His ultimate good. Take Joseph, first of all. He was his father’s favorite son, and Joseph’s eleven older brothers hated him for the attention that he got. They disliked him so much that they even plotted to kill him. But God wouldn’t allow that. Joseph was spared from death, but he was sold as a slave by his brothers to traveling merchants bound for Egypt (Genesis 37:3-28). Joseph was broken at this ultimate betrayal. But God was still there along the way, until He eventually had Joseph be favored by Pharaoh so much that he was placed second in command of all of Egypt. When his long-lost brothers traveled to Egypt to gather grain for a famine, he eventually revealed him true identity to them. He did not exact revenge on them for what they had done, even though he probably had a right to. Instead, he extended love and forgiveness. He understood that what they had meant for evil, God had used for good (Genesis 45:3-15).

Another example is Jacob, who will eventually be Joseph’s father. Jacob and his brother Esau had competed for their father Isaac’s favor. As Isaac was near death, he had reserved a blessing for his eldest son Esau. But Jacob was a trickster; he decided to get the blessing for himself. Since Isaac was blind about this time, Jacob disguised himself as his brother and made off with the blessing. When Esau found out, he swore that he would hunt down and kill Jacob for what he had done. In fear, Jacob fled his brother and his home (Genesis 27:1-45). But God was there to guide him every step of the way. He blessed Jacob with twelve children and enormous wealth for his faithfulness and servitude. He and Esau met later in life, Jacob frightened by what he could do. Instead of trying to kill him, Esau embraced and kissed his forsaken brother, and both of them reconciled (Genesis 33).

From the New Testament, Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32) also shows this sibling tension. As the story goes, a wealthy man had two sons. One got impatient and wanted his share of the inheritance. When he got it, he blew all his money on a debauched lifestyle until he had nothing left. It was when he hit rock bottom that he finally opened his eyes and saw what he had done. Wanting to make things right, he journeyed back to his father, hoping he would at least take him back as a servant. Instead, the father rejoices that his lost son has returned, and a celebration is thrown. Everyone is happy but the older son. He angrily confronts his father about why he is showing favor to his brother, who squandered his wealth, and why he does not to the same thing for him, being a faithful son who has worked diligently. Unlike the last couple instances, this brother does not rejoice that his younger sibling was lost but is now found.

These biblical accounts show how God can turn bad situations into good outcomes, whether it be dysfunctional families or some situation completely different. If God allows us to grow up with a sibling who teases us or a parent that beats us, however unjustified it may be, God uses it to test if our faith and perseverance is genuine. He wants to know whether we remain faithful to Him and not doubt His power even though times may be bleak and look as if there is no hope. Even though these trials may come upon us, we must never forget that God allows it for a certain reason according to His will, and we should continue to put our full trust and obedience in Him and His plans. (Caram, Introduction o) Our eyes can be opened to just how good and faithful God is once we realize that fact. If we submit willingly, we can truly see that He indeed is in control of every situation and that He works it out for our own good. (Caram, Introduction o) To become godly men and women, this kind of growth needs experience. God ultimately has us “grow up” through these tests that He sends our way. James even tells us to “consider it pure joy…whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance” (James 1:2-3, NKJV), which allows us to mature and continue on in our walk with God. If we remain devoted, we prove that we do indeed have a strong and unshakable faith in our powerful Lord, and we can use those stories and experiences to impart the truth about God to those who desperately need it. And finally, as it is written in the Word, God is our ultimate Father. Yes, we are given earthly fathers to raise us and teach us, but the Creator is our ultimate Father figure. Earthly fathers are supposed to be the reflection of the Heavenly Father, as outlined in Hebrews: “Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness.” (Hebrews 12:9-10, NKJV) Being the father is an important role, and it is a sad truth that some men shy away from that God-given responsibility. But even if earthly fathers may fail us, God never fails us.

I can relate to this topic personally because I have lived it myself. My older brother and I were raised in a Christian home since birth by my wonderful parents. I became convicted of my sin and accepted Christ at an early age. I thought my brother did, too, but as we got older and he became more independent, his true nature began to show. He became more rebellious, he wanted to follow his rules and live his life that way he wanted. He also became angry; at what or whom, I do not know. He needed something, or someone, to vent this frustration out on. I was the brunt for his anger, which came in the form of teasing, violence, emotional abuse and curses. Even though we had gotten into fights between each other, I mostly just took it all without reacting. All this treatment culminated in me, and I fell victim to insecurity and doubt. I trusted him so much, and he continually broke my trust. How then could I trust anybody with anything? I went through life believing the hurtful things he told me. My primary concern suddenly became centered on what people thought of me. If they did not like something about me, I would anything to change it. Because of his influence, I began living my life to please other people. I even went to God and asked why are these things happening? I finally realized later on that God was using these events to draw me closer to Him, and to build up my faith. He showed me to continually extend love, kindness and forgiveness, even though he would treat me bad day after day.

God puts us with certain parents and certain siblings for a reason. Some kids grow up with good families, some kids grow up with dysfunctional ones. But if we have the light of Christ in us and we are true followers of Him, then we should live our lives as Christ-like examples for those who are most dear to us. If we succeed in these tests that God puts us through and we show that our faith is strong through the fire, our testimony will shine as a light to both the world and to our persecutors, whether relatives or complete strangers. Just like the little boy in the previous story, we must prove that we, too, are better men and women and must act accordingly, because we have the light of Christ inside us.


Works Cited

Caram, Paul G. Turning the Curse into a Blessing: A Message of Triumph from the Book of Job. Vol. 3. Ulysses, PA: Zion Christian Publications, 2010. Print. Christian Maturity Ser.

Kendall-Tackett, Kathleen A. "Bad Childhood Great Life: Overcoming the Legacy of Adverse Childhood Experiences." BestThinking / Articles / Lifestyle / Family & Parenting / (Article). N.p., 2007. Web. 13 Sept. 2012. <http://www.bestthinking.com/articles/lifestyle/family_and_parenting/>.