Dysfunctional Homes: Putting Grace in Place

The issues facing families are no secret in American society.  The country is plagued by broken homes, domestic violence, intra-family sexual abuse, and other vices.  As repudiated as these actions have been in the press and among preachers, one of the often overlooked issues facing families is dysfunctional relationships.  The issue is so deceptive because dysfunctional families tend to develop coping strategies to mask, not overcome, the dysfunctional dynamics of the home.  Church families, while appearing normal, may be harboring people who are damaged and impaired emotionally and psychologically.  The Scriptures warn that, “He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind” (Pro 11:29). Therefore, Christians ought to take earnest care to ensure their families are functioning biblically.

Functional families are those that develop healthy relationships in such a way that the result is “happy, free, fruitful lives.”[1]  Jane Hunt observed that, “Functional families cultivate confidence in God, which instills hope and confidence in children.”[2]  Proper and mature behavior enables each individual to embrace their unique personality while melding with the other family members as one dynamic system.  Positive health is portrayed emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually even in problematic situations arise.  Problems are faced honestly with the support of all family members.  Contrarily, dysfunctional families exhibit the ill effects of curse-filled living.[3]  Coping with the curse, however it manifests itself, becomes the primary focus of the family as each member takes on a role to help the family appear normal and to minimize the painful effects of the dysfunction.[4]  Eight primary characteristics define dysfunctional families: chaos, control, denial, inconsistency, indifference, instability, shame, and unpredictability.[5] VanVonderen observed that “We’re all fighting to draw our sense of significance, have our real needs met, and to view ourselves as loved and accepted on the basis of Christ’s performance and not our own.”[6]  The struggle intensifies dramatically when such dysfunction is present.  Family systems theory asserts that, “The more dysfunctional the family, the more rigid and inflexible the family system and the harder that system must work to maintain homeostasis,” even if that homeostasis is dysfunction.[7]

The heart of God is to heal the brokenhearted and to bind up the wounds of those living in dysfunction (Psa 147:3).  God warned that the sinful dysfunction of a family strongly influences the behavior of the generations to come (Exd 34:7).  Plainly, the truth of God’s visitation of the sinful behavior of families is due to the fact that “the sinful behavior of parents is more often than not passed on to children through the natural process of simulation … of replicating what they experience.”[8]  Further, an experienced family therapist observed that, “dysfunctional patterns tend to increase intensity for three or four generations until someone finally becomes strong enough to be the transitional person and break the pattern.”[9]  Such strength is typically gained as one encounters Christ and breaks the cycle of dysfunction.  God admonished Christians to provide for their household, a principle usually stringently applied to financial support but should be broadened to include emotional, psychological, and spiritual support as well (1 Tim 5:8).  Curses can be passed down, but so can blessings. The Apostle Paul observed how Timothy’s faith was effected by the faithfulness of both his mother and grandmother (2 Tim 1:5).  The hearts of the fathers must turn again to their children (Mal 4:6, Luk 1:17), and parents must be filled with the Spirit to prevent provoking their children to wrath to the damage of the family (Eph 5:18-6:9).

[1] Jeff VanVonderen, Families Where Grace is in Place, (Minneapolis, MN: 2010), 86.

[2] J. Hunt, Biblical Counseling Keys on Dysfunctional Family: Making Peace with Your Past, (Dallas, TX: 2008), 3.

[3] VanVonderen, Families Where Grace is in Place, 22.

[4] Hunt, Biblical Counseling Keys on Dysfunctional Family, 9.

[5] Hunt, Biblical Counseling Keys on Dysfunctional Family, 13

[6] VanVonderen, Families Where Grace is in Place, 112.

[7] Timothy E. Clinton and George W. Ohlschlager, Competent Christian Counseling, (Colorado Springs, CO, 2002), 523.

[8] Hunt, Biblical Counseling Keys on Dysfunctional Family, 16.

[9] Clinton and Ohlschlager, “Competent Christian Counseling,” 528.

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