Families of all kinds are dysfunctional. I realize there is no new revelation in that statement, but I need to remind myself of that on a pretty regular basis. It really doesn’t matter the family – work family, church family, neighborhood family, or biological family – “normal” can and (I believe) should be translated, “normally dysfunctional”. I do contend, however, that dysfunctional ought not ever be used to water down “abusive” or “mean”. There are some things that should never be tolerated - even from family members. The healthiest thing to do, if one wants to preserve one’s sanity and self-respect, is to walk away and not stick around and be a target.
I have had to walk away from a few wonderful people, not because I didn’t love them or think they have great value, but because the relationship was dysfunctional at best, and unhealthy even on good days. A best friend, and a couple of family members are among those from whom I’ve distanced myself. Since I’m a Christian, and most of my friends profess to be Christ followers, I am comfortable with the idea of using scripture to support one’s actions or ideas, and conversely, to shine a light on bad behavior. I’ve got to say here that I really don’t like seeing someone use the Bible out of context, in an effort to defend ugly human behavior. Come on people, I don’t expect you to be perfect, so if I feel hurt by something you say or do, why do you feel the need to defend yourself? Just say, “I’m sorry” (and no, “I’m sorry you feel that way” is NOT the same thing).
Ephesians 2:8-10 tells us that we are saved through grace, and not by works “so that no one can boast”. The Bible is full of warnings against boasting, which means, “to flaunt” or “brag”, or be “full of pride”. I have a family member who is forever telling stories about how the Lord used her for this, or told her that, or directed her here or there. I’m sure she thinks these stories bring glory to God and God alone, but the tales are always told in such a way so as to spiritually elevate her above everyone else. Although we rarely see one another, she sends me notes every once in a while to tell me that God has told her some new thing about me. Never mind that in my own quiet time with God, I’m getting a completely different message. I have had to distance myself from her religiosity and her boastfulness. She has told me that I have pulled away from her because I am “not ready to hear the truth”. It doesn’t seem to occur to her that maybe – just maybe – it’s just her.
In the sixth chapter of Matthew, Jesus says several times that man sees what is done in public, but God sees and gives high value to those things that are done in secret. We should pray, fast, and give without making a big deal – God knows. A few years ago I had to pull away from someone who’d been my best friend for a long time because I felt that I was a pawn in her chess game of good deeds. I began to notice that she was always willing to help me out as long as there was an audience (birthday parties, fundraisers, etc…), but the friend stuff that’s done in silent – not so much. After one particularly public display in which I felt set up and used to make her look good, I just had to make the decision to get off the chessboard and out of the game.
My family is big on sarcasm – not the funny kind. “You’re not attractive enough”, “Your kids will be born ugly”, “You’re crazy” (usually followed by a laugh and “just kidding”), etc… are words that I find hurtful and terribly unfunny. I’ve been through so much in the past 10 years and the bulk of the trouble has been completely out of my control. So, since I must try to limit the stress in my life, I have to change that which is changeable. That means I limit the time I spend with family. Oh the backlash! I’ve been told that I’m “too critical”, “too judgmental”, and not worth “sharing my life” with. I’ve REACTED to mean behavior, but I’m being treated like I’m the instigator. The other day I got an ugly email in which I was told once again how terrible I am and as is often the case, God’s name and teachings were misused. I should accept people just the way they are, cruelty and all, because “Love is bigger than that. My God is bigger than that.” Listen, God ALWAYS forgives. God also ALWAYS allows us to suffer the consequences of our behavior. God forgives gossip, but broken relationships are the natural consequences of that behavior and God allows that. God forgives murder, but if you kill someone you must still go to prison and perhaps die for your crime. Most of the Old Testament is about the vertical relationship of God and man. Most of the New Testament is about how the God/man relationship ought to manifest itself in the horizontal relationships of man/man.
The Bible can be found online at Biblegateway.com. I searched the word “tongue” and found 137 hits in the NIV. Most of those scriptures refer to the tongue as a dangerous weapon and we are warned of its ability to kill and destroy. James 3:6 says, “The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.” I have REACTED to ugly words. I have not made assumptions about the state of the heart of others, as I do not have the authority to do that. I have simply responded to the ugly words. A fire has started and it has caused crazy damage. I did not start the fire and I can choose to get as far away as possible so as not to be consumed. These are the consequences. Forgiveness does NOT mean we should continue to put ourselves on the fire line! My family members are content to look at my reactions and call me evil, but fail to look at where the fire started. Proverbs 18:17 says, “The first to present his case seems right, till another comes forward to question him.” We need to look at all the facts and try to understand both sides!