Healthy Boundaries

With social contact increasing and big holidays approaching, I thought it would be a good time to pick up on the Marriage and Motherhood Anew devotional series, with a discussion on healthy boundaries.

We are connected to family relatives for life, whether those relationships are enjoyed or estranged, acknowledged or ignored. Moreover, with social media and video chat, contact today is all too convenient to attempt avoiding certain family members all together. Birthdays, holidays, weddings, events, and gatherings are likely to inevitably happen.

There are countless variations in family dynamics, so this devotional will focus on practical tools that can be applied in general. 

WHY DO WE NEED BOUNDARIES?

Everyone actually needs boundaries in life. Healthy boundaries are especially needed for relationships that are differently-minded, sensitive, fragile, dysfunctional, difficult, estranged, or tense.

Healthy boundaries are not selfish, snobbish, rude, bossy, or vengeful. Think of them like you would a door to your home. The door can be open as a passageway between people freely coming and going, it can be closed but readily opened at the sound of a knock, or it can be locked and shut for the protection of those within. Healthy boundaries are healthy for everyone. At times, it is even the placement of the boundary itself that alerts others to their hurtful behaviors. It may seem obvious to us that other people should consider the effects of their actions, but reality is that many continue in their behavior regardless of your feelings solely because they continue to get their way. The establishment of a fair and kind boundary can initiate the process of teaching some people how you deserve to be treated. Contrary to a common myth, boundaries do not ruin relationships but actually bridge connections with the long-view of peace in mind. Contrary to a common myth, boundaries do not ruin relationships but actually bridge connections with the long-view of peace in mind.

Let’s start by examining Romans 12:18

“If possible, as far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.”

“If possible”: There are times and circumstances, for safety and/or sanity, that it is legitimately not possible to be in contact with a relative. This may be temporary depending on their behavior or physical distance, for example substance abuse, violence, or imprisonment. However, if it IS possible to extend a branch of any connection whatsoever, we are asked to do so by the God of relationships.

“as far as it depends on YOU”: You can only make choices based on what is in your control. Choose wisely, but do not burden yourself with the responsibility of others’ thoughts or actions. You are only responsible for “as far as” YOU can go.

“live”: Important relationships are worth working at, especially the ones that you are connected to for your lifetime. Ask yourself, “Is this an important or permanent relationship in my life? If not in my life, is it an important or permanent relationship in the life of my spouse or my child(ren)?”

“peaceably”: Note that of all possible words to describe how we are to live in relationship with others, God chose to emphasize peace. Why highlight peace over power, position, or being proven right in a relationship? The answer is another question: Is not our goal in all of our relationships to ultimately share the peace of Christ?

“with”: We don’t choose our family, so actually we don’t choose the people that our lives are most closely venn-diagrammed with. As freeing or convenient as it might feel, the passage doesn’t read “live peaceably aware of all”. To live with another is to share a part of your world, which could be in person or at the very least, in prayer; but the fact remains that we can’t live “with” people if we don’t acknowledge their existence at all. The previous devotionals about forgiveness offers the reality that God knew what He was doing when He placed you with your childhood family, and YOU can have an impact on those relationships as much as they have had an impact on you.

“all”: “All” includes the loving and unloving, the kind and unkind, the respectful and disrespectful. “All” includes the encouraging, thoughtful, loyal, honest, gracious, forgiving, considerate, generous, helpful, dependable, caring relatives AND the self-absorbed, self-pitying, self-aggrandizing, discouraging, spiteful, jealous, embittered, wounding, manipulative, needy, belligerent, two-faced, harsh, irresponsible, greedy, inconsiderate, infantile relatives. It is SO hard to live peaceably with all. Yet, Christ loves all, including us at our worst. One of the clearest ways for people to see Christ in us is not when we live peaceably with the peaceful, but when we live peaceably with ALL.

WHY DO WE SET ASIDE BOUNDARIES?

Some find themselves in desperate need of healthy boundaries, but hesitate to establish them or set them aside. Why? Three top reasons are: conditioning, fear, and self-doubt.

Conditioning: Some people have become so used to the way things have always been, they are conditioned to simply accept the way things are.

Fear: If you are fearful of conflict, fallout, misunderstanding, judgement, or being gossiped about, remember that the path of least resistance with keep you stuck in a snare. The fear of mankind is a snare — Proverbs 29:25 (CSB)

Self-doubt: If you grew up in an authoritarian home or face belittlement with the family member(s) whom you need boundaries with, you may feel timid in assuming such a firm leadership stance by enacting boundaries, even if they are clearly needed. However, you are now the authority under God in your home and family, and you have the right – and the responsibility- to set appropriate boundaries. You are literally free to step up, so feel free! For freedom, Christ set us free. Stand firm, then, and don’t submit again to a yoke of slavery. — Galatians 5:1 (CSB)

What about Honor your father and your mother…  — Exodus 20:12 (CSB)?Honoring your father and mother could be an entirely separate devotional. God commands that we honor our parents, whether they parented honorably or not. Honor means to accept or pay respect to. Honor does not mean admire, agree with, please, or serve. Know that healthy boundaries are thus by definition, not dishonorable.

STEPS TO BUILDING HEALTHY BOUNDARIES:

  1. Notice the need. Simple enough, identify spiked stress levels mentally, emotionally, or within your marriage or motherhood whenever there is interaction with certain relatives.
  2. Identify specifics. What exactly is it that needs the establishment of a boundary? The boundary may not even be needed for every encounter but may be activity or situation specific. For instance, it may be a great relationship overall except when politics comes up. Or perhaps time together may be enjoyable, but there is an expectation of the amount of time spent together that is difficult to accommodate with your other schedule priorities.
  3. Consider the cost of what you can control. Are you able and willing to uphold your end of this bridge in the long term?
  4. Begin.
    • Is it an internal boundary? Do you need to manage your expectations, sensitivity, perspective, reactions when it come to this person’s behavior?
    • Is it an environmental boundary? Are there certain places you should not go or certain people you should not invite over? What is best for your child(ren) depending on their age and stage of life? What will work best for your family to not get caught in a stressful situation?
    • Is it a verbal boundary? Is it necessary that a conversation must take place for future interactions to be as healthy as possible for all involved.

DO’s and DO NOT NEED TO’s

DO:

  • Pray over every boundary or interaction.

The Lord is the one who will go before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or abandon you. Do not be afraid or discouraged. — Deuteronomy 31:8 (CSB)

  • Prepare and practice. If a hurricane is coming, it’s good to have your storm shutters ready. Practice staying calm and respectful in your speech and tone, if and when it starts getting rough. Remind yourself beforehand not to fight, flight, freeze, interrupt, internalize, etc. Predetermine at what point you will need to kindly stop or remove yourself and/or your husband and child(ren) from receiving hostility. Rehearse how you might want to respond to requests that you may anticipate coming. Be careful of being too passive, too aggressive, or passive-aggressive, and know which one(s) you tend to be.

“So give your servant a receptive heart to judge… and to discern.” — 1 Kings 3:9 (CSB)

  • If you are married, operate as a TEAM and always present a UNITED front. Come to a mutual agreement on the boundaries, and who will enact what with who.

Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate. — Mark 10:9 (CSB)

  • Be fair and beneficial. Remember that boundaries are not a means of avoidance or punishment to others. Decide on what boundaries are really important. Not every hill is one to die on. Be open to other solutions if they are presented, don’t be set on an idea because it was the one that you chose. A boundary is not about power, it’s a handshake rather than an arm wrestle. Create boundaries that people – including you – can realistically and sustainably do.

Everyone should look not to his own interests, but rather to the interests of others. — Philippians 2:4 (CSB)

Maintain sound wisdom and discretion…don’t lose sight of them. They will be life for you and adornment for your neck. Then you will go safely on your way; your foot will not stumble. — Proverbs 3:21-23 (CSB)

  • Have a confident and positive attitude going in. Disentangle from the negative narrative or victim mindset. You usually have more agency than you give yourself credit for. Instead of saying “I can’t do this without such and such happening”, say “I can do this, and then such and such may be the cost, but the choice is still mine.”

Do everything without grumbling and arguing — Philippians 2:14 (CSB)

  • Focus on what you can control. Feel the freedom of not being able to control the actions of others. Even if you could make them behave in a way that produced the results that you desire, do you really have the time and energy for the extra work that it would require? Controlling ourselves is already more than we can handle but for the grace of God.
  • Speaking of control, control your emotions. It may seem counterintuitive, since nothing can bring emotions out quite like family or the past, but anger undermines the big picture goal of healthy boundaries. A display of anger will likely discredit you and turn the focus to your anger instead of the issue at hand. Anger will never produce what God wants in your family in a healthy way.

Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger — James 1:19 (CSB)

Patience is better than power, and controlling one’s emotions, than capturing a city. — Proverbs 16:32 (CSB)

  • Stay firmly gentle. Calmly respond, don’t just react. (See above)

A ruler can be persuaded through patience, and a gentle tongue can break a bone. — Proverbs 25:15 (CSB)

  • Listen intently. You may think they are the only ones who need to listen, but asking productive questions can help pace the discussion and steady it away from becoming confrontational. Asking considerate questions can give them an opportunity to direct their thoughts towards solutions instead of just defending themselves, as people tend to do when they feel they are being given the what for. Example: “I don’t insist on being the only one talking or suggesting. What do you believe is a healthy solution to (fill in the blank)?”

The one who gives an answer before he listens this is foolishness and disgrace for him.– Proverbs 18:13-14 (CSB)

Just as you want others to do for you, do the same for them. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. If you do what is good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do what is good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High. For he is gracious to the ungrateful and evil. Be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful. — Luke 6:31-36 (CSB)

  • Thank them if they listen or are cooperative. Manners can go a long way if these conversations take place. Thanking them is not you expressing indebtedness to them, it is choosing to freely give what costs you nothing to further demonstrate God’s grace in you.

Give thanks in everything; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus — 1 Thessalonians 5:18 (CSB)

  • Stay patiently on topic. When people feel cornered -and they may feel cornered even if you’re not cornering them, remember you can’t control how they perceive what you’re doing – they often trail off in different directions. Stay on the original path. Example: “I hear you and we can definitely address that next, but as far as what we’re discussing now…”

With all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace — Ephesians 4:2-3 (CSB)

You DO NOT need to:

  • Apologize for a fair and healthy boundary. Apologies are for sins and mistakes, it doesn’t make sense to apologize for a good thing like a beneficial boundary. Instead of “I’m sorry we can’t do…”, try “Unfortunately, we are unable to…”. Instead of “I’m sorry you feel that way”, try “I understand you feel that way”. If the boundary is fair and healthy, there is nothing to apologize for.
  • Allow guilt, but do accept the risk that the relationship may feel even more strained if the other person(s) do not like the boundaries.
  • Over explain. Stay on topic, and stay as concise as possible. The wordier you are, the more breadcrumbs that fall on the path and soon you may lose your way.
  • Be intimidated. They are not your Lord, so do not allow them to lord over you.

When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put aside childish things. — 1 Corinthians 13:11 (CSB)

Don’t let anyone despise your youth, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, and in purity. — 1 Timothy 4:12 (CSB)

This I know: God is for me…In God I trust; I will not be afraid. What can mere humans do to me? — Psalms 56:9-11 (CSB)

  • Compulsively cave under pressure. Do not be coerced or convinced to comply just to keep the peace. You do not have to light yourself on fire to keep everyone else warm and comfy.

Each person should do as he has decided in his heart ​— ​not reluctantly or out of compulsion — 2 Corinthians 9:7 (CSB)

  • Take part or get pulled into drama. Conflict is inevitable, but drama is a choice. When there is family fighting, everyone actually loses.

But if you bite and devour one another, watch out, or you will be consumed by one another. — Galatians 5:15 (CSB)

  • Burden yourself by trying to figure out all of the reasons why unreasonable people may act unreasonably, unless you would like to see just how fast your joy can be drained.

The honest and unfortunate truth is: A fool’s way is right in his own eyes — Proverbs 12:15 (CSB). You’ll go mad trying to understand madness.

  • Berate yourself for having to recalibrate or troubleshoot boundaries. Do not expect yourself to be able to predict every outcome or see everything coming. You can’t walk through a minefield and expect to already know where all the explosives are hidden. Some boundaries will have to be adjusted or upgraded, but God is with you!

I will go before you and level the uneven places; — Isaiah 45:2 (CSB)

Protecting your child(ren):

Depending on your background, you may want to already have responses ready for whenever your kids ask you about your own childhood or current family situation. Choose very wisely which experiences you share. If you have no good experiences whatsoever, feel free to share about yourself as a kid in general. Tell them about your hobbies and hopes for your future, or what were popular trends that you liked at the time.

Guard against your kids being put in the middle of difficult relationships. They simply don’t understand, and speaking negatively (no matter how easy it is in the moment) will conflict with the natural childlike love they feel for the person and will likely confuse them. You may recall being dragged in the middle of bad relationships yourself as a child, so you can remember how damaging it is when adults don’t handle little hearts with care. Plus, kids are tape recorders with no replay filter and what you say could blow up in your face later.

Never argue about or vent family grievances or offenses in front of the child(ren). When they hear their parent(s) upset, say in the car on the way home after a gathering for example, it deeply burdens their tender minds and hearts. Now if they were involved – such as if a relative loses their temper on them or says something inappropriate – assure them that it’s going to be handled as God directs you. You’re not hiding things from them, just protecting their young minds the way you may have wanted when you were their age, and cultivating peace.

And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who cultivate peace. — James 3:18 (CSB)

In summary, Healthy Boundaries can help:

  • Create clear expectations
  • Keep relationships in a peaceful place
  • Maintain the physical safety of ourselves, our spouse, or our child(ren)
  • Protect the mental and emotional health of ourselves, our spouse, or our child(ren)
  • Foster a stable atmosphere for our home and family
  • Teach people how we should be treated

With whom does a specific boundary need to be created?

How will this boundary be created/maintained?

What benefits would this boundary hopefully provide?

What are the possible challenges or risks of this boundary?

How do you plan to proceed?

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FAVORITISM: TALE AS OLD AS TIME

Tale as old as time, true as it can be, favoritism does no one any favors. We all have the capacity for it in us, and the Bible details how favoritism can poison the lives of God’s people even though God Himself is impartial.

So far in this devotional series, we’ve covered healthy grief, forgiveness, identifying and dismantling past cycles, essentially the gamut of digging deep to mine out hard pieces of old in order to lay a fresh foundation to all that God intends for you and your own home. Before moving on to the fun part of building the personal and family culture of your dreams, let us address a sensitive but all too common subtopic that came up during the in-person life group of this devotional series, favoritism. In nearly 15 years of ministry, I’ve heard countless women share about the perpetual pain that has been caused by this specific cycle of behavior.

Romans 2:11 “For God shows no partiality.”

Ephesians 6:9b “…there is no partiality with [God].”

As we move forward in this topic, remember that God is not partial with His children, thus partiality with our children is ungodly.

Everyone in every extended family won’t be best friends forever and always. Personalities can differ as much as oil and water, which God can use to sanctify and grow us by placing us in families with people that we might otherwise never naturally develop friendships with. Birds of a feather tend to flock together, but family can ruffle each other’s feathers in an iron-sharpens-iron sort of way, if we choose to appreciate virtues beyond the lazier route of only selecting relationships with people who comfortably remind us of ourselves.

As we discuss favoritism, I hope it goes without saying that the difficulty doesn’t lie with good-natured closeness among family members that organically arise out of similarities in age, careers, sports fandom, etc. However the topic discussed here is the painful family culture of friction and tension that is bred and sustained if and when a parent, step-parent, grandparent, parent-in-law, or close relative actively invests more or less care in the bond with one child over the other(s).

Despite family favoritism being so common, it’s not often addressed, partly due to the lopsided burden of those involved. Favoritism is not a uniformly experienced behavior. For example, if someone is prone to sarcasm, they usually impose their hostile humor evenly amongst family members. Anyone can potentially fall prey to their stabbing words. Yet if someone in a family is prone to favoritism, the un-favored person experiences it quite differently than the favored. The un-favored person bears most of the discomfort, but is the least free to point out the issue or else they could be accused of envy, complaining, oversensitivity, etc, which will only further diminish their already reduced position.

Favoritism is nebulous, veiled but obvious, unspoken but understood, and awkward. It’s the gorilla in the corner that everyone sees but no one acknowledges because it’s ugly and scary.

While favoritism is more common than it is openly discussed, its cyclical effects are exemplified clearly through Scripture: Abraham had two sons, Isaac was favored and Ishmael was not. Then Isaac had two sons, Esau he favored, while Jacob was favored by Rebecca. Then, despite how favoritism had a role in tearing apart Jacob’s family, he himself went on to overtly favor Joseph over his other sons. This is an example in God’s Word of how one particular sinful pattern can be carried forward generation after generation – even in a family of God – unless one decides to end it.

In families, there is temptation on both receiving ends of favoritism: the temptation for the favored to revel in their status, and the temptation for the un-favored to resent their status. Yet no one should be boastful nor bitter because the status they hold actually has way less to do with them personally, and way more to do with the internal issues of the favorer. Far more often than not, it’s about the favorer, not you.

There are countless reasons why a parent or relative would treat one child more favorably than the other(s), but I believe that most reasons often fall under three main categories:

  • MERIT-BASED FAVORITISM
  • FEAR-BASED FAVORITISM
  • PROJECTED FAVORITISM

Again, all categories still come back to issues that lie within the heart and life of the favorer, as will be described further in each section following. For simplicity’s sake, the wording of most examples describes favoritism as one favorer or one favored, but keep in mind that favoritism can take on a myriad of creative forms. Some families may have one clear favorer with one clearly favored child, but there are scores of families in which both parents favor one child, a step-parent favors the child(ren) they entered a new blended family with, etc. Commonly in homes of two or more children, one parent favors one child while the other parent favors another child. This is nothing new, and neither is the marital discord attached to it, as such was the case in the Bible with Isaac and Rebecca. 

MERIT-BASED FAVORITISM

Merit-based favoritism is when the parent(s), parent(s)-in-law, or relative(s) sees something in the person they favor that “earns” them the favored position.

Examples include that the favored child:

  • Has accomplishments or acts in ways that the parent believes to reflect well on the image they desire.
  • Performs well at the same favorite sport or activity as the parent(s).
  • May even be better at that activity, then embodying an unfulfilled dream for the parent(s).
  • Doesn’t star in a certain activity, but simply their shared interest can cause a parent to feel a stronger connection to them.
  • Has a similar temperament to their parent, and so the parent feels a greater understanding of that child and reasons it to be a closer relationship.
  • Physically resembles a parent more closely and the parent(s) feeling more affection for the one who is their “twin” or “mini-me”.

Enjoying shared interests and resemblance is not problematic, unless it’s cause for favoritism.

All of these examples highlight the parent who desires a child to be like them, and they reward whichever child that is with more love.

One excuse for favoring one child over others could have nothing to do with merit but just the fact that they are something that the favorer always wanted: whether a girl or a boy, for example. Parenting is about sowing into the next generation, not about the parents having a son or a daughter for whatever reason, as one would pick out a puppy according to the lifestyle they envision.

FEAR-BASED FAVORITISM

Fear-based favoritism shows that family partiality isn’t limited to the amount of love given, but can revolve around the attention and/or concern given to a member.

Many families have that one or two members who’s difficult to deal with. The difficulty may be that the person is high maintenance, moody, hard to please, immature, easily offended, openly critical, needy, troubled, or generally aloof. They control the dynamics of gatherings by their presence, their lateness, their rudeness, their disengagement, their criticisms, their standard of care, or their demands.

Examples of how a fear-based favored family member ensures they are the center of attention and/or concern may include:

  • Everyone tiptoes around eggshells to keep this person feeling happy and satisfied, knowing that if they don’t get their way, it’s a long night for everyone.
  • Ideas for where to go out to eat or what to do and when, revolve around what will make the favored person show up or be happy.
  • Every member defers and bends to that person’s schedule to determine family plans.
  • This person’s opinions always matter most, and everyone must listen as s/he dominates any group conversation.
  • Absolutely no one is allowed to say or do anything that may possibly offend or upset the favored person in any way.
  • A parent may try to compensate for a child or adult child’s inferiority complex in relation to their siblings by showering them with attention and compliments, assuming that the other siblings will be understanding.
  • A parent may choose to go with the favored child’s choice “just so we don’t have to hear about it”. It might not even occur to the parent(s) to consider asking for your input because it’s only the input of the favored that matters or makes any difference.

Instead of taking the courage to have an uncomfortable conversation with this person about how their actions affect the whole family, many parents settle for being uncomfortable in the long term by bending over backwards to fully accommodate one central figure at the expense of everyone else. This favoritism is not based on merit, but fear. Unfortunately for the parent – and everyone else – they don’t realize that they are ensnared in their fear, their actions being completely controlled by the child that they fearfully favor.

Proverbs 29:25 “The fear of man lays a snare…”

An intense league where fear-based favoritism can play out is in the relationships between in-laws and blended families.

Sometimes a parent, parent-in-law, or step-parent may favor a child out of fear that their child(ren) may form or strengthen a deeper bond with another parent, parent-in-law, or step-parent. Their actions may have nothing to do with disfavoring you, and everything to do with the threat – perceived or real – that they feel in relation to the other people who are near to the child that they desperately want to keep close to them.

Examples of this sort of fear-based favoritism can include:

  • Dictating the holiday or special occasion schedule based around what will garner them the most time with the favored child(ren).
  • A consuming regard for what will make the favored child(ren) feel the closest to them, doting specifically over them to ensure their enjoyment, especially if grandchildren or step-children are involved.
  • Comparison and criticism towards the other family relatives in an effort to compete for affection.
  • Competition over gifts given and/or experiences shared.
  • Disproportionate concern and attentiveness over the favored child(ren)’s needs or preferences at all times.
  • Inability and unwillingness to correct or say anything if/when the favored child(ren) offend, impose, or act unbecomingly, for fear of alienating the favored one(s) and potentially losing their closeness to another family member.

Merit-based and fear-based favoritism are both harmful byproducts of conditional love: Merit-based favoritism is a product of the favorer’s conditional love, whereas fear-based favoritism is a product of the perceived conditional love that the favorer reacts to in others. In merit-based favoritism, the parent conditionally loves based on a child’s performance. In fear-based favoritism, the parent performs for the conditional love of a child.

PROJECTED FAVORITISM:

Projected favoritism is when the parent(s), parent(s)-in-law, or relative(s) habitually exalts or humbles one family member or another, as a projection of or a deflection from, their own insecurity.

There are countless insecurities that a person can have that contribute to their projected favoritism, many of which may be inconspicuous even to them. Usually it’s not just a singular issue like ego, jealousy, narcissism, or inferiority, but also rather multiple entangled layers that can make their projected behavior as inconsistent as it is bewildering. Therefore, it can be difficult to identify and describe projected favoritism and its twisted sources, even if you feel it profoundly.

Though numerous, most of the reasons behind projected favoritism stem from a parent, parent-in-law, or relative’s partiality towards the child that they perceive to make their worth feel valuable, or contempt towards the child that they perceive to make their worth feel invalidated or inadequate.

Examples of reasons for projected favoritism can include:

  • Favoring whoever makes them feel most needed, thus valuable.
  • Favoring whoever praises and flatters them.
  • Disfavoring whoever is perceived to be independently more successful, more popular, or happier.
  • Disfavoring whoever is perceived to challenge the boundaries of their territory.
  • Disfavoring anyone they view as a threat to their own position in a family or shared circle.

Examples of projected behaviors of jealousy, contempt, and passive-aggressive insecurity can include:

  • Regularly taking a contrary position or attitude to anything you say, in an effort to make you feel or appear smaller, personally or among a group.
  • Regularly correcting or criticizing anything you do, in an effort to assert themselves as smarter or to make you feel like you can’t do anything right.
  • Openly conversing about all the highlights of the favored child’s life happenings, while avoiding conversing about anything happening in your life.
  • Praising others while your accomplishments or abilities are overlooked, purposely ignored, or downplayed.
  • Rarely or never complimenting you, lest you get the idea that anything you are or have is impressive or worth acknowledging. Often it’s what they don’t say that speaks volumes.

All of these actions are about making you insecure as a projection of, or deflection from, another person’s own insecurity. It’s about bringing you low or preventing you from rising. This manipulative behavior originates in the heart. Rather than try to change theirs, God tells us to guard ours. Do this, and watch your life spring no matter what anyone projects upon you!

Proverbs 4:23 “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.”

POSSIBLE WAYS TO ADDRESS THE CYCLE OF FAVORITISM:

For the favorer: Acknowledge and repent

  • Acknowledge that favoritism is ungodly and hurtful. Your actions of favoritism are actually damaging not only to the one(s) you disfavor, but to those you are partial to as well, for it sets them up to thrive in an imbalanced atmosphere that is not realistic in the true world. A child raised as extra-special is destined for a harsh introduction into normal relationships. Lastly, favoritism is costly to you as the favorer. It is a sinful cycle with the potential to limit the depth of your relationships and personal character indefinitely.
  • Identify the source behind your favoritism. Did you learn it in your own childhood home? Favoritism is notorious for being passed down from one generation to the next. The book of Genesis shows us how it ran from Abraham to his son Isaac, from Isaac to his sons Esau and Jacob, and from Jacob to his son Joseph, all without skipping a beat! Is your favoritism merit-based? Fear-based? A projection? By turning away from this cycle, it can begin to lose its grip on your life.

For the favored: Recognize and resist temptation or guilt

  • More often than not, whether spoken or not, it’s pretty clear to everyone in the room who’s the favorite(s).
  • If you recognize it, avoid the temptation to use this to your advantage. In Genesis, we see that Jacob was well aware that he was Rebecca’s favorite son, and readily conspired with her to undercut his own brother and deceive his father Isaac. You are not responsible to compensate for being favored, but it is wrong to leverage it. Be a peacemaker (Matthew 5:9)
  • Don’t feel the need to ingest guilt or blame for being favored. Usually you can’t control being favored because again, this cycle typically stems from the heart issues of the one doing the favoring. In Genesis, we see that Joseph didn’t have a say in being the youngest of Jacob’s sons and Rachel’s only child. Those were circumstances out of his control, which his parent chose to elevate.
  • Do not invite blame though. When we look again at Genesis, Joseph couldn’t control that his father favored him, but he could control how he carried himself when around his brothers. Joseph didn’t need to broadcast to his brothers that he dreamt that one day they’d bow before him. Perhaps Joseph just had an immature moment with being so young, but a little self-awareness can go a long way. It would be hard for Joseph to miss the fact that he was already the favorite, considering that only 1 out of 12 sons was sporting a fancy coat from Dad. “If possible, as far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” (Romans 12:18)

For the un-favored: Forgive and proceed freely with your own life

  • Accept that you cannot control what controls those that favor. Favoritism flows out of their heart-set, which unless you choose to view through a healthy mindset, could cause a root of bitterness to grow within you. Know that unless you can control another human’s heart, you will never be able to control how they favor or treat others relative to you. Only God can change a heart, and only if that person has made Him Lord of their heart. Forgive, knowing that “we all stumble in many ways” (James 3:2)
  • Proceed freely in your own life, not allowing your identity and actions to be affected by the favoritism around you. Know that you are loved and highly favored by Christ Jesus, who preferred you to His own favorable position at the right hand of God the Father and condescended to sacrifice His life for yours.
  • Do not get caught in the wheel of trying to win affection or admiration through overachievement, passive-aggressive manipulation, or competitive undercutting. That is a game in which every player loses. “Let your reasonableness be known to everyone.” (Philippians 4:5)
  • Be careful not to allow the dis-favoritism that you experience to reflect on how you view your relationship to God. God does not see or act as man does (1 Samuel 16:7), He is not weak to favoritism. In Matthew 9:34, the disciples are seen arguing with each other over, of all things, who was the greatest. Humans naturally want to feel significant, very significant, but God tells us there is no need or sound reason to compete for His love or attention. He does not play hard to get. God runs TOWARDS us even if and when we are still far off (Luke 15:20) and He welcomes us to COME to Him (Matthew 11:28). Rest assured that there is room for everyone in the scope of God’s love and attention, and there is a space open just for you as you are in His heart.
  • While many live in conflict praying for peace, live in peace praying over the conflict. (See Isaiah 26:3 and Philippians 4:6-7)
  • Choose to conduct yourself in your family according to the influence of God, not the influence of favoritism. Do not allow the way that you are treated by others in your family to dictate the way that you treat others in your family. If you are a person of joy, do not leave your joy at the door the moment you step into their house. If you see something worthy of praise (Philippians 4:8), do not withhold mentioning it just because you yourself never hear praise from them. Feel free to generously give kind words, encouragement, compliments, and gratitude where there is opportunity, “for you will heap burning coals on his head, and the Lord will reward you” (Proverbs 25:22). Life is too brief to spend it living in response to anyone but God first.

The cycle of favoritism is not impossible to break. It takes continued effort and may not disappear overnight, but it truly can be resolved. Jacob and Esau eventually reconciled, there was eventual forgiveness between Joseph and his brothers, and your family too can be transformed and healed through humble submission to Christ and each other! (Ephesians 5:21)

Yet even if this cycle never changes in your family of origin, you are not predestined to follow in the same patterns. Do not allow favoritism of any kind to be a discouragement to you as you strive to sow healthy reciprocal relationships in marriage and motherhood, seeking the blessing of God Himself over any person!

Galatians 1:10 “…If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.”

Proverbs 4:25-26 “Let your eyes look directly forward, and your gaze be straight before you. Ponder the path of your feet; then all your ways will be sure.

  • Was a pattern of favoritism displayed in your childhood home? Is there a current pattern of favoritism displayed in your immediate and/or extended family? Who and why?
  • Have you been, or are you, perpetually favored or un-favored?
  • Do you favor one parent over the other? One set of parents over the other (if a married or blended family) Why?
  • Do you have favorites among your children? Why?
  • Where are you tempted to display favoritism in your family? How has this affected your connection with certain family members?
  • What healthy steps can you take in light of a disharmonious family dynamic, depending on if you are:
    • The favorer?
    • The favored?
    • The un-favored?

DIY TIPS

Soul work is by far the messiest renovation process, but with the most gorgeous finishing results. It looks ugly and feels overwhelming when you’re gutting out what’s in disrepair, and working to rebuild beautiful things in its place. You question yourself, wondering if you should’ve just left things as they were instead of taking on such a big project. You get in there and find more things needing attention along the way. It gets hard to envision how it’s all going to come together in the end, and you wonder if the results will be lasting and worth the investment. Breaking past cycles cannot be accomplished by a paid service, thus it’s DIY, but the good news is that you’re not really on your own if God is with you! Still, it’s helpful to research tips from people who have taken on similar building projects. A step-by-step guide can reassure you, during that critical time between the before and after pictures of the home life you are building.

The following post includes tips on what to expect and be prepared for in your pursuit to break unhealthy habits of the past as outlined in the previous post.

EXPECT SUCCESS.

Lamentations 3:23 “The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning;”

Know that you can start anew even if you’ve already followed in some of the same footsteps that lead you as a child. Even if you’ve fallen into unhealthy cycles yourself, even if it was earlier today, it is not too late for you and you CAN change if you want to!

EXPECT SUCCESS TO BE A PROCESS.

Galatians 6:9 “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.”

Wounds don’t heal by ripping off the band aids. Houses aren’t built overnight, at least not the stable ones. Thanks to YouTube we often aspire to be instant experts at everything in life, but while initial motivation may be immediate, the type of transformation that you are aiming for is going to take some time, trial, and error. Be gracious with yourself, and honestly ask for the grace of your support network. Do not give up, thinking more on the worth than the cost.

EXPECT SUCCESS TO REQUIRE DISCIPLINE.

Hebrews 12:11 “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”

Discipline and time are mutually exclusive. It takes both to achieve a goal and neither can be increased to compensate for a lack of the other. Scores of people in COVID-19 home quarantine can attest to this: Many have long stated what they would do if they just had more time at home. Yet even with the additional time for those who have been fortunate enough to be able to stay in comfortable homes during this pandemic, several cite that they are still no further along in their exercise, Bible reading, cooking, stress management, fill-in-the-blank goals. Why? More time is not the answer. It takes time plus discipline. This is actually great news though because if more time is not the key to success, then having less time won’t necessarily be a cause for failure! Know that if you really commit to changing your life, day-by-day, step-by-step, building brick-by-brick, you will!

Are you interested in changing your life or are you committed to changing your life? If you are interested, that may last for a little while, but your goal achievement will be limited to whatever you happen to do, whenever you happen to feel like it. If you are committed, you will put in the work when you feel like it and when you don’t, when it feels good and when it doesn’t, when you’ve slept great and when you haven’t.

Change is hard. I repeat, CHANGE IS HARD. Some boxes are heavier to lift than others depending on how much is crammed in them, some weeds are tougher to pull than others depending on how deep the roots run. We tell ourselves that we’ll get to the unpacking and the weeds when we have more time, but you already know the truth about “more time” if you’ve read this far.

There’s nothing abnormal with you if you struggle to change. Change is naturally met with competing forces in the brain. Biologically, the executive function of the brain is used to its habits and muscle memory. Changing or learning a new habit activates parts of our brain’s conflict center causing us to second guess our forward procedure. This is why we have the be very deliberate in following new driving directions or cooking instructions, as our brains will initially demand conscientious energy to do anything different from what we’re used to.

One way to help ourselves is to WRITE OUT any goals and steps to success. Writing sends messages to our brain’s own accountant which will then communicate the benefits of our goals to the executive center, compelling it to override the conflict center. Studies have shown that simply writing down a goal increases the likelihood of success by up to 40%!

Remember that our brains are neuroplastic, so we can rewire our own habits and behaviors, but it can take anywhere from 66 to 100 days of consistent work to smooth out this new path. Give yourself space and grace for this “project”. Don’t fret, you will get there. Just like we all can eventually memorize a new set of directions the more we drive the route, you can master your goals in marriage and motherhood the more you practice them!

I know 66-100 days can sound like eons, and I wish I could say that there was a fast track to overcoming the past. However, while there really aren’t shortcuts to the formation of new habits, there are ways that you can prolong it, which I pray you will fight against. 100 days may feel daunting to practice something new, but it’s nothing compared to the years of past suffering some of you have experienced, or the years of continued suffering that are possible unless the cycle is halted today. We can’t always make healing go as fast as we’d like, but we can make it go as slow as we’d like. I pray you do not slow down in this my friend!

KNOW YOUR WHY.

Lasting change can only come from within. It cannot be what someone else envisions for you. What do you honestly envision for yourself in your marriage and motherhood?

CONSIDER ASKING FOR HELP.

Galatians 6:2 “Bear one another’s burdens…”

Yes, all we really need is Jesus, but Jesus can bless us with supportive people. Like any project, it can go faster with more helping hands. Your husband and friends can be your allies to keep you going and keep you accountable. Your children, even if they’re little, can be helpers, and believe me when I say they really want to be. Children really do feel their parents’ stresses…you probably remember this yourself. Children may not have the vocabulary skills to express their understanding, but they are perceptive beyond words. They will be excited to be included in change that they will get to benefit from too! Tell them mommy is working on something important for the whole family – and it can get hard – but they can help by giving hugs and smiles, and praying for mommy, or finishing their vegetables.

EXPECT PROBLEMS AND HAVE A PLAN AND A BACK UP PLAN.

1 Peter 4:12 “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.”

I’m not being negative when I say that you will encounter problems along the way, it’s biblical truth. Life is full of problems and yet we always seem blindsided, shocked when they happen. We get out on the road having planned just enough time to the minute to get to our destination and then we can hardly believe the traffic. Just as many people are late because of unplanned traffic, many goals stall or fail because of unplanned problems. Your options are to plan for the traffic, then be early if you don’t have any, or still be on time because of smart planning if you did. Likewise, you can plan to troubleshoot the predictable problems along your path, then be early if you don’t have any, or still winning because of smart planning if you do.

A goal without a plan is just a wish. It takes about 3-4 weeks to lay the foundation of a new habit, and about 66-100 days to strengthen it. If you don’t believe that you can go hard for 66-100 straight days with zero hits to your confidence, then it would be helpful to have a lifeline pre-set to signal out for help. Have that Bible verse already written out and ready to pull, have that prayer warrior friend on deck, be ready to cash in that toddler-made coupon for a hug.

EXPECT MISTAKES.

God already told us we’re never going to be perfect this side of eternity, so WHY are we still so so so shocked when we make mistakes?? We berate ourselves, demanding an to answer “How could you do that? Why didn’t you think of that? How could you forget that?”

We rarely say to ourselves, “How did I not see that? Oh it must be that I’m not perfect. Ahh yes that makes sense, ok now let’s fix it and carry on.”

Be your best coach, not your worst critic. Anyone who has had a coach for sports, wellness, etc will say that the best coaches aren’t the harshest punishing types who point out the worst in you, but the supportive ones who bring out the best in you. If those are the standards for a good coach, are you more of a coach or a critic to yourself? Don’t worry about if you’re going to make mistakes, you will! So will I! God will be there to help you. Don’t worry that you’re going to ruin your family just because you’re a work in progress. Are you yourself not an example of God’s grace even with parents who made mistakes?

EXPECT SETBACKS.

Anyone who’s ever built anything knows there are occasional setbacks. If everyone gave up after the first setback, nothing would ever be completed. In life, weeds tend to crop back up again and houses need constant repairs. The growing garden and well-standing home belongs to those who routinely do the tending and maintenance. Do not approach this as all or nothing, or you risk it becoming nothing. Remember that paint dries best one layer at a time.

When identifying unhealthy cycles or habits to change, even with forgiveness, it’s normal to wince or cringe with pain sometimes. Some memories just have sting to them. In Genesis 50:17, long after his ordeal, Joseph wept when his brothers brought it up again. Painful things hurt, whether physical or emotional. We understand pain with physical injury, but often act like emotional injury shouldn’t hurt as much. A burn or a cut causes trauma to the body cells, and we feel the pain. An emotional burn or cut causes trauma to the mind, heart, and spirit, and we feel the pain. To deny its pain is like putting your hand on a burning stove and acting like it doesn’t affect you. Thankfully, in the tough moments as you reflect on your life, God empowers us to experience post-traumatic growth, the grace to not only bounce back but bounce forward!

EXPECT OPPOSITION.

Ephesians 6:16 “In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one”

If you think that Satan will not oppose you every step of the way in your soul work, I’m sorry to say then that he already has an edge. Recognize when you get discouraged or distracted, that these did not come from God who loves you. God tells us to take up a shield of faith, not in order to run away, but to advance forward while extinguishing the fiery darts of the evil one. In Christ, you will win and the devil will lose, trust!

EXPECT CRITICISM.

A healthy family is proud to see the child(ren) they love grow up and thrive in their own adulthood. If this is not the type of family that you grew up in, then you should not expect any proud applause in seeing you thrive in your own adulthood, but probably more of a clapback. This can be due to anything from jealousy to insecurity over their own remembrance of the past. A later post on boundaries will address this further, but for now just be aware.

EXPECT BALANCE.

As you prayerfully ask God to show you what to change, He may reveal a window into the past or He may also reveal a mirror. Not everything wrong with us is because of our parents. Just as it would not be fair for our own child(ren) to attribute every fault in their adulthood exclusively to us, we ought not to blindly assume the same. We are all imperfect humans, and some of our struggles might be simply our own nature regardless of the home we were raised in. If you really ask God to reveal to you what to change, the answer may be a balance between both your childhood experiences and your own personal tendencies.

James 3:2 “For we all stumble in many ways.”

EXPECT BEAUTIFUL RESULTS AHEAD!

As I said at first, soul work is by far the messiest renovation process, but with the most gorgeous finishing results. Rewarding results require willing work. The path uphill can be hard, but the view from the top is worth it!

There is a reason rear view mirrors are small in comparison to windshields. Your vision of where you are headed affects your driving more than where you came from. Only periodic quick glances in the rear view mirror are safe for proceeding forward. Do you spend more time looking at what is ahead of you or behind you?

What do you honestly envision for yourself in your marriage and motherhood?

What is your why?

If you continue managing the past as you are now, how will you and your family benefit?

If you work to break past cycles, how will you and your family benefit?

What are the obstacles that you face in breaking past cycles? How will you work through each of these?

What life-lines do you have ready for when the process feels difficult?

Who can help support you and keep you accountable in your efforts to break past cycles?

Are you a coach or critic towards yourself?

Are you interested in changing your life or are you committed to changing your life?

MAMA MIGHT NEED TO BREAK SOME THINGS

As forgiveness clears the land and sets the foundation for your own life and family, breaking past cycles establishes the framework that you choose to build your home on. With a heart that I pray is healed by forgiveness, we move on to the business of identifying unhealthy habits that were present in your past home, but are unwelcome in your present one. You have moved to a new residence, and while you unpack your supplies, you may have found that some boxes that you thought were marked as trash and left behind, somehow made it into the halls where you now stand. You recognize these objects as unhelpful to building the home you want, and as you dig through the mixed bag that is one’s life experience, you know that you need to select carefully the materials chosen to construct the life God is calling you to.

Why do cycles happen even when we don’t want them to?

We are human, and it’s human nature to integrate patterns that we learn. Anything – good or evil – that enters the mind, can become ingrained there. For this reason the Bible teaches us to guard our eyes and ears, but when you are a child you have very little control over what you are exposed to. Therefore, like a virus affects a computer, you may have unintentionally downloaded whatever you were most exposed to as a child, and it’s popping up like malware in your adulthood.

Why do cycles need to be proactively addressed?

Houses don’t build themselves, weeds don’t uproot themselves, cycles don’t break themselves. It’s important to weed out whatever will inhibit the growth of what you’re sowing. Cycles need to be proactively addressed because they affect both your relationship with your family and God Himself.

Each time that you follow the circumference of a cycle, the hook grows stronger, UNLESS you proactively pinch off the unhealthy habit loop.

Committing to break past cycles involves unlearning unhealthy habits and coping tendencies, to allow your brain to literally rewire itself to your life anew. This process is not meant to be a blame-fest of tearing or picking apart your childhood, which has been forgiven. It’s about moving forward with a growth mindset that YOU ARE NOT THEM, not better, but YOU ARE YOU.

Isaiah 43:18-19  “Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?

2 Corinthians 5:17 “…if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”

Do not be daunted by the prospect of charting a fresh path away from the one that you were initially set on. We learn new things all the time. Don’t feel far behind just because you were not previously taught God’s best in marriage and motherhood. A veterinary student doesn’t fret that s/he didn’t grow up in a home of veterinarians; they know that with the right training they can start practicing their skills. You have all the training you need in God’s Word to start practicing your skills! I positively love this Word from the Lord!:

Isaiah 42:16 “And I will lead the blind in a way that they do not know, in paths that they have not known I will guide them. I will turn the darkness before them into light, the rough places into level ground. These are the things I do, and I do not forsake them.”

Know that God’s Word gives us examples of those who broke cycles in their lives by the power of His grace:

  • In 2 Kings 21:20-24 and 2 Kings 22:22, we see the story of Manasseh, his son Amon, and his grandson Josiah. Scripture says that Manasseh did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, and Amon followed after him in the same evil ways. It is possible that your hard childhood came as a result of your parents being unable or unwilling to break the very cycles that plagued their own childhoods. Josiah, however, did not follow in his father’s footsteps, as Amon had done. IT CAN – AND SHOULD – END WITH YOU.
  • In Judges 6:25-26 Gideon pulled down the altar of Baal that his father had, and cut down the Asherah beside it. He then built an altar to the Lord, what an example of breaking down and immediately building anew!
  • In Joshua 2:1-24, the Canaanite Rahab changes her life and preserves her family. She later would become the mother of Boaz and an ancestor in the family that Christ Himself chose to be born in.
  • In the book of Ruth we see Rahab’s future daughter-in-law forsake the land of Moab for God’s people, even refusing the opportunity to turn back.

Rahab and Ruth are real examples of how it is never too late for God to change your life!

I pray that your confidence is firm and you’re ready to get after past cycles like it’s demo day!

Deconstruct how any unhealthy/unbiblical patterns have influenced you as an individual child of God:

  • Some people’s upbringing heavily influences how they view God or how they believe that God views them. If you had parents that were very harsh with mistakes, you may be more inclined to believe that God is very harsh with mistakes. If you had a parent that was not dependable, it may be hard for you to trust that God is dependable. If you grew up in a home where love was expressed conditionally, you may operate conditionally in your relationship with the Lord, believing that it is your performance that will earn His approval. In God’s Word we see an example of how adults who were taught favoritism, then perceived God to be partial. In Matthew 20:21 the mother of James and John asked Jesus for special placement of her sons next to Him, and Luke 22:24 records a dispute that arose among the disciples about who was the greatest.
  • Early trauma affects the way that the prefrontal cortex of our brains categorizes experiences as good, bad, safe, etc. If a childhood was fraught with high anxiety and instability, that person can be predisposed to remain in constant survival mode, even when there is not a present threat. Some people wonder why they seem to always default to a fight or flight adrenal response. If you catch yourself daily struggling to relax or always anticipating the next problem, this is a stress response pattern that may have been ingrained earlier.
  • Many children in dysfunctional homes are overburdened with shame and blame, which can absolutely affect their relationship with God. Often these children were blamed for things they could not control, being berated with statements such as “Look at what you made me do!”. This can lead one to become a blame-thrower themselves. Whenever something undesirable happens in life, the first thought may be, “God YOU did this to me!”. Conversely, one may react by becoming a blame-eater and wondering every time something undesirable happens in life, “God what did I do wrong?”.

Deconstruct how any unhealthy/unbiblical patterns have influenced your relationship with your child(ren). Some of your past experiences may overlap with both your relationships with the Lord and your family.

  • If you were raised in a home where love was expressed conditionally, you yourself may drift towards placing conditions on your love. A good litmus test is to ask yourself if there is anything that your child(ren) can do that will make you love them less…or more.
  • God’s Word gives us an example of how favoritism can cycle through generations of the same family. Genesis records how Abraham favored Isaac, Isaac favored Esau over Jacob, and Jacob favored Joseph. Have you been subjected to favoritism? Do you favor any of your children?
  • If you came from an extremely stressful environment, are you stopping at internalizing or has it lashed outward? Is there a pecking order in your home? Do you tend to take things out on your family? Were you put in the middle of your parents’ drama? Were you ever a used as a scapegoat, buffer, collateral, or shield? Are your kids in the middle of your drama? Are you hard on your kids because your parents were hard on you?
  • There is also the caution not to over-react to your past in the opposite extreme: Just as we should not hold our own children to the harsh standards that we grew up with, we also should not try to make up for it by creating different unhealthy cycles of indulgence. Your parenting isn’t about making up for your childhood. That is unfair to your children, and honestly unfair to you as well. If you were deprived, don’t feel the need to buy your kids whatever they want. If you were neglected, don’t become a helicopter or snowplow parent. Reactive parenting bases everything on the past or present worry, but I hope you will focus more on building your future! Don’t just think about what you want to avoid, reflect on what you hope to create in your family culture! For example, if you had bad experiences with holidays, don’t just avoid the holidays, create NEW holiday memories!

While deconstructing past exposures and habits, it might be helpful to ask your spouse or a trusted friend for feedback in identifying possible patterns and their connection to the past. Often we do not see our triggers because we’re so habituated to them, so used to them like background noise. It can be as simple as, “Hey you know my background, is there anything in my current behavior that you think might be related to what I was exposed to growing up?”

The following questions can be a guide to the deconstruction process. Keep in mind that you are human, and every human is a sinner on their own, even with a Garden of Eden childhood. Sometimes your behavior may have nothing to do with your background. We must be careful, not everything wrong with us is our parents’ fault. Try to think less on what is considered normal v. abnormal, popular v. unpopular. Rather, focus on what is healthy and biblical for your personal and family culture.

I pray that this devotional will be a step towards building the home of your dreams! Like building anything beautiful, the work is not easy, but it is so worth it!!

1. Deconstruct if and how any past patterns have:

  • Influenced your relationship with God
  • Influenced your relationship with your child(ren)

2. Commit to how you will move on differently and progress healthily according to God’s best for you and your family.

What was your parent(s):

Relationship with Jesus like?

Bible Study and prayer life like?

Personal/moral convictions, in word and deed?

Involvement with their local church?

Friendships like?

Emotional awareness and availability in their marriage?

Emotional awareness and availability in their parenting?

Language and tone most commonly used in the home?

Work ethic?

Stress level and stress management style/tactics?

Mental and emotional health like?

Resilience to emotional triggers or pet peeves?

Level of optimism, pessimism, gratitude, complaining?

Approach to health? (For whole family: Proactive healthcare, nutrition, exercise, sleep, etc)

Involvement with addictive substances, vices, or crutches?

Level of parental protection? Over? Under?

Body image or emphasis on physical appearance?

Source of identity and self-worth? What did they teach you was your source of identity/worth?

Top priorities and worldview in life?

How well were finances/budget handled?

What was the communication style? How often was their communication?

How were immediate family members spoken to and spoken of?

How much intentional time was spent together? Teaching or playing?

When/how/how often were love and affection expressed, in word or contact?

How was teaching or correction given?

What were rules and discipline like? How were they enforced?

How open and honest was your home? Too open? Too secretive?

How much responsibility were you given? Too much? Too little?

How were problems/disagreements/conflict addressed and handled?

How was forgiveness and reconciliation handled?

How was success/failure/disappointment handled?

How was personal/family information protected or shared?

How were siblings expected to relate to each other?

When/how was comfort or encouragement given?

How did your parent(s) expect to be treated?

Was family treatment different in public versus private?

How was the husband/wife role lived out according to Scripture?

How were the family schedule and home living spaces organized?

Were there repetitive chronic sources of tension/strain/conflict/arguments/drama?

What are things that were constructive, if any?

What are things that were destructive?

The next post will cover extra tips on breaking and conquering past cycles. I’ll leave with the first tip here:

START TODAY. The enemy will tell you this is too hard, that you don’t want to get into all this today. Leave those unpacked boxes for another day. NO! Procrastination will always cost you and your family more later, than whatever it costs to start today. Procrastination is often less about avoiding the task itself, than it is about avoiding the uncomfortable feelings associated with the task. Do not let the enemy make you feel like you should wait. In every example that I listed earlier – Josiah, Gideon, Rahab, Ruth – those mentors of ours did not wait to change their lives, and God did not delay in redeeming them! TAKE HOLD of the life that God is calling you to!

1 Tim 6:12 “…Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called…”

MARRIAGE & MOTHERHOOD ANEW: FORGIVE FOR GOODNESS SAKE

The following devotional is part 3 of 3 posts on forgiveness – time to focus on goodness! If you missed part 1 or 2, feel free to scroll down as they lead up to this final exhortation to forgive despite the natural inclination to carry the past forward through life.

Forgiveness opens our eyes to see how God is redeeming our story, that nothing is wasted with Him.

Forgive not only for the sake of representing the gospel, not only for the sake of your wholeness, but also for the sake of seeing God’s goodness in your story and the goodness He can bring to others through you.

Forgiveness opens your eyes to see clearly God’s goodness in your story:

  1. His goodness towards you
  2. His goodness through you towards others
  3. His goodness through you towards the people He calls you to forgive

Forgiveness opens your eyes to see clearly God’s goodness towards you.

When we are burdened or broken by the weight of the past, our vision is obscured. We see only pain, hurt, suffering – only all the bad. When the brain is under chronic stress, more blood flow is directed towards the conflict centers within our neural network, and less energy is provided to linear and spatial thinking. This explains why in a panic situation, our limbic system will take over and we make rash decisions. Only in the aftermath of panic do we usually see clearly the better solution, then we guilt ourselves over why we didn’t see it before. Don’t be hard on yourself, the brain under stress tends to streamline thought and decision processes in a way that often makes it hard for us to connect to big picture thinking.

Pain has way of narrowing our focus. If you’ve ever had a headache or toothache, you know how it can dominate your attention even amid a day full of other thoughts and activities. When we are wounded, it can be all we think about, all we see. Forgiveness in Christ binds those wounds and acts as a salve to the ache of past pain. The past is no longer so inflamed in your life that it fixates your attention. Forgiveness releases you from being so tethered to the past, you can finally take a step back and look at the bigger picture.

Once you step back to look at where God has brought you, can you see His provision for you? How has he taught you through your life? How has He comforted you and drawn you close to Him through your life? How has He shown you goodness even when life did not feel good? What good things has God developed and matured in you through the testing of your faith? How has He used the past to shape you for good in the present?

Forgiveness opens our eyes to see clearly God’s goodness through you towards others.

Jesus said in Luke 10:27 that the greatest commandment was to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself. As Christians we are to love God and share His love with others. We come in contact with people through a myriad of casual ways: work, hobbies, residence, mutual acquaintances or interests. Your relationship with Christ can shine through you as you work, participate in a hobby, or have a conversation over a common interest.

However, there is something so much deeper about connecting with someone through a shared or similar experience. This is why there are support groups for people with a medical diagnosis, issue, or personal loss. The connection over a shared experience, especially one of hardship, is usually quicker and closer than the one made when learning that the person you’re talking with has a hamster and likes Chex cereal just like you.

Unfortunately, dysfunctional and/or hypocritical homes are all too common. In fact, even though someone may describe their pleasant upbringing as average, it’s not average at all; they just may call it average because they don’t realize that “normal” is not normal at all. You’re more likely to find yourself talking with someone who had it pretty tough growing up than someone who had it godly and great.

When you share your story, you exemplify that a Christian’s life is not perfect. Not only are we still imperfect humans, we are subject to this imperfect fallen earth like anyone else, which includes imperfect life experiences. When you share your story, you exemplify that a Christian’s life is not insulated from pain. If it were, surely most people would follow Jesus so that life could be pain-free, but then all love would only be conditional. No, God shows us greater love than perfect conditions. He shows us love that brings peace through the storm, victory through the battle, light through the darkness, good through the bad. When you share your story, you exemplify that a Christians’ life is not perfect, not pain free, but thankfully, not dependent on either of those conditions! A Christian’s life can be so so good through God’s immeasurable goodness! You essentially say I’ve been where you’ve been, and I’m where I am today because of Christ Jesus. It’s not perfect, it’s not pain-free, but it’s so so good, and you can have it too!

If you’ve got a hard story, I understand with all my soul, but I also believe with all my soul that God can use your shared experience to connect you with another person who would otherwise never feel relatable to you if not for your hard story. Maybe they don’t reside or work by you, they don’t share any of your hobbies or interests, they don’t have a hamster, and they hate Chex cereal. Yet if they come from a similar background, that can be your greatest opportunity to share with them the love of Christ as described in Luke 10:27!

This kind of connection with others is nearly impossible though, if you harbor unforgiveness in your heart. A heart that is still burdened or broken by the past will not be able to see these God-given opportunities to share Christ, for their own aches still demand their full attention.

Forgiveness opens your eyes to God’s goodness through you to the people He has called you to forgive.

Chances are if someone is a difficult family member, they are also a difficult friend, co-worker, neighbor, customer, etc. Friends, co-workers, neighbors, and acquaintances can cut ties but family connections endure for life.

You may desire to have nothing to do with the family that has caused your painful past, and that is understandable. No stable person wants to be around hurtful people. It is a very popular sentiment right now to cut out all the toxic people in your life, to surround yourself with good vibes only. However, I ask you to consider as a Christian: what if you got your wish? What if you could just blot them out of your life and you out of theirs forever? It may make your life much easier, but if you were erased would there be anyone left in their life to point them to Christ? What if God cut all the negative people out of His life? My husband says, “If God was good vibes only, we’d all be toast.”

If you are a Christian praying for your difficult or estranged family member, you may be the only human on earth praying for them, for only God knows if anyone would still have the patience to pray for them if not for Him making you permanently related.

Bear in mind that God knows better than anyone how difficult your family member is, and He knows what it may take for them to have people in their life who can be a consistent and persistent presence of the gospel. He knows whether godly friends or co-workers might eventually burn out or become alienated. He knows how to get and keep faithful Christians around them, and it may be through family. He knows if it might just take earthly family to bring them into God’s family. Just as God can use a godly parent to minister to a prodigal child, He can use a godly child to minister to a prodigal parent.

Psalm 145:9 “The Lord is good to all, and his mercy is over all that he has made.”

2 Peter 3:9 “The Lord is…not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”

If God is truly good to all and desires all to repent, then that must mean that He is good to the negative people in your life too, and desires them to repent even more than you do. Being good to all, God may be gifting goodness to your family member by blessing them with a lifelong witness of the gospel of salvation in Christ.

This may feel unfair, why should goodness befall your strained family connections at your cost? Why can’t the situation be mutually good? Why should they be blessed by you, when you are not blessed by them?

This is where forgiveness opens our eyes to see and remember how Christ has blessed us in that exact way! Let us look again at our forgiving brother Joseph in Genesis:

Genesis 50:20 “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.”

Joseph saw the thread of God’s goodness and sovereignty in all his past pain. He knew that God worked everything out for good. Without forgiveness, you might wrestle forever with your part in God’s goodness in the lives of difficult people as an unfair cost. Forgiveness opens our eyes to see God’s work in the bigger picture, and even maybe glimpses of our part within it.

Remember that we forgive to the degree that we truly believe the gospel of Christ’s eternal forgiveness; and our understanding of our part in the gospel of Christ’s forgiveness goes hand in hand with how much we truly believe that it’s never too late for anyone to receive that forgiveness. You may wonder what’s the use of keeping you in your difficult family member’s life. If they haven’t changed yet, they probably never will, right? Sometimes as Christians we categorize people into groups of more, or less likely, to become believers. If someone is very sweet, we tend to think they are more open to the gospel. If someone is not so sweet, we tend to think they’re very far off from God and much less likely to become a believer, never mind that Saul was no sweetheart before becoming the apostle Paul.

Biblically there really is no such distinction: Ephesians 2:1-5 describes everyone who is lost as dead in trespasses and sin. A dead person cannot be more or less dead than another dead person. A person is either dead or alive. This means that someone who is seemingly far from the Lord is really no more lost than a person who is sweet yet unbelieving. There is no one too far, too dead, to be made alive in Christ. This person may be estranged from you, but not so estranged from God that He can’t radically save them even when it’s least expected. If that happens, you can have a part in that miracle, but you will certainly not unless you forgive.

Know my heart, my goal is not to make you feel better about the past, or glad be that it happened. Forgiveness doesn’t mean that you would ever choose to relive the past. Forgiveness just trusts that God will not allow anything that He allows to go to waste. Nothing in your story is wasted with God, He is good and can cause all things to work for the good of those who He has called for His purposes (Romans 8:28).

During the in-person study group on this series, we discussed how you can know that you’ve truly forgiven. What are the markers of a heart that’s really forgiven someone? I can tell you straight away that forgiveness doesn’t mean that you’re aggravation-proof. Just because you feel irritation by the actions of others doesn’t mean you haven’t forgiven. People can be a lot, it’s normal to notice.

A few ways to tell if you’ve truly forgiven someone:

  • Do you pray for God to forgive them? Do you ask God not to charge their offenses against them for the sake of their salvation?

Luke 23:34 “And Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.’”

2 Timothy 4:16 “…no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me. May it not be charged against them!”

  • Matthew 5:44 “…Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.”

When God tells us to pray for those who persecute us, the directive is to pray for their souls – that their blinders will be removed – not that they’ll win a fortune.

  • Do you love them as you love yourself, not that you’re best friends, but desiring God’s best for them, starting with salvation?

Mark 12:31 “…You shall love your neighbor as yourself…”

I pray that as you review the preceding questions, you will have confirmation of your forgiveness by the grace and power of Christ! The next post will be a practical approach to identifying and breaking past habitual cycles, something that can now be done with peace and confidence once you’ve settled assurance of forgiveness in your life!

When you reflect on your story, where can you see God’s goodness towards to you?

Where can you see His goodness through you towards others?

Who can you encourage with your story? An acquaintance at work or church? The next generation?

Where can you see God’s goodness through you towards the people He has called you to forgive?

If God removed the difficult people in your life, who would THEY have left in THEIR life to be a light for the gospel of Christ?

Do you believe that God wants ALL people to be saved and close to Him?

Do you believe that God wants difficult people to be saved and close to Him?

Do you believe that God wants YOUR difficult people to be saved and close to Him?

Do you believe He could be using YOU in their life?

Do you know if you have fully forgiven?

Do you pray for others to be forgiven and made whole by God?

Do you love them as yourself, desiring God’s best for them?

MARRIAGE & MOTHERHOOD ANEW: FORGIVENESS FREE FOR ALL

This post is part 2 of 3 on why forgiveness is the foundation of building marriage and motherhood anew:

Unless we forgive, we will never be fully able to build up our marriages and families to the scale of God’s grand plans and purposes. Only forgiveness enables us to parent out of wholeness instead of woundedness. 

My favorite account of family forgiveness can be found in Genesis chapters 37-50, of Joseph forgiving his brothers for selling him into slavery, a betrayal that set him up at a young age for years of hardship.

This story is so familiar to many Christians that we can take for granted all that Joseph was really put through. After reading Genesis 37:18-28, can you imagine the straight trauma Joseph experienced in the moments that he was being sold off as a slave by his own big brothers? Can you envision his raw panic, screams, and tears as he probably begged and pleaded for his brothers not to go through with such an unthinkable crime? Do you suppose he had nightmares of his own cries for help from the pit they threw him in when they first attacked him? I wonder how many times flashbacks haunted him with memories of his brothers collecting money as he was dragged away by people he knew could abuse and exploit him. It was the type of experience that could undoubtedly break a person mentally, especially at a young age. All this, and remember: Joseph’s brothers were the literal sons of Israel, God’s people!! How could professing believers do such a horrifying thing and live with themselves?! What’s more, how could one find it in them to forgive such evil that caused such pain?

Joseph’s forgiveness blows my mind every single time I read Genesis 45:1-15. It is beyond inspiring. His family situation was pretty extreme, and I thank God for giving us such an example and such a thorough recount of it so we can know if God gave Joseph the power to forgive, He can surely help us!

I’m grateful that God also clearly shows us that forgiveness is hard when pain is real. God lets us see that even long after Joseph rose above his circumstances to such a high level of personal success, that the pain was still unforgettable. In Genesis 42:24, we see the de facto vice-pharaoh Joseph, turning away and weeping secretly at his first encounter with his brothers years after they betrayed him. God let’s us see this exceedingly powerful man lose it in front of everyone in Genesis 45:1-3, affirming to us that it’s completely natural to feel emotional distress over forgiveness. It’s okay to cry, and to cry loudly (45:2).

Notice too, that God shows us forgiveness is not blind. Joseph was straight with his brothers in Genesis 50:20 when he said, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good”. He didn’t downgrade his brothers’ sin as just some misunderstanding or act like it wasn’t personal, and he didn’t assume some of the blame to make his forgiveness feel lighter on them. He told them it was you, and it was bad, but God is good.

Forgiveness is not saying it was okay then, it’s saying I’m okay now. Are you okay now?

From Genesis chapters 37-50, we never once read of Joseph claiming victimhood as an excuse to sin, walk away from God, or give up on life.  Joseph moved on and was extraordinarily successful, and I believe that his greatest success was in his spirit, not just his career.

I cannot overstate how important it is to prioritize the life you have ahead of you over the life behind you. This will not happen perfectly everyday, but we can take hold of this opportunity to chart a fresh path for ourselves, our own marriages, our own families. Just as Joseph grew up and rose up, you’ve grown up and you can rise up! You are not where you once were, take your shot and press on where God wants you to be!

2 Corinthians 5:17 “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold the new has come.”

Philippians 3:13 “I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”

God does not want you to stay down, for he has called you upward!

Some women have expressed a concern that forgiveness is just too difficult to live out. I promise you that anger is harder to live with, mentally and physically.

Lam 3:19-20 “Remember my affliction and my wanderings…My soul continually remembers it and is bowed down within me.”

Psalm 39:3 “My heart became hot within me. As I mused, the fire burned.”

Without forgiveness, rehashing leads to re-injury with every single recall, and will flood your mind and body with depression and anger that could consume you, and overflow into your own marriage and relationship with your children. This is what living wounded is, but God promises an offer of healing and wholeness:

Psalm 27:10 “For my father and my mother have forsaken me, but the LORD will take me in.”

Psalm 147:3 “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.”

The longer a person continues without forgiving, the longer the heart is still broken and the wounds remain unhealed. I pray you will let God heal your broken heart and bind your wounds.

John 10:10 “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I have come that they may have life and have it abundantly.”

Satan’s will for you is to stay hurt, to stay stuck. God’s will for you is an abundance of life, an abundance of Him. Forgiveness reclaims your life back and frees you to wholeheartedly enjoy your own marriage and family!

Emotions can be addictive. Just like any habit, we can be so used to feeling a particular way that it’s hard to stop. Sometimes we’re so used to carrying something that we don’t know what to do with our hands once we let go, so we reach for it again and again.

Emotions are hard to stop in their tracks so may I recommend an exchange: weariness for rest?

God can exchange the weariness you’re so used to carrying for rest.

Matthew 11:28 “Come to me…and I will give you rest.”

Habits are hard to break, and the past can cage us for so long that we grow conditioned to its constraints like an institutionalized prisoner, so be patient as you retrain yourself to be free. Fortunately “your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matthew 6:8), so even if you catch yourself with weariness on your hands again, Jesus will keep making the swap with you for rest as many times as you ask. Notice though, that Jesus said that your Father knows what you need before you ask him, but he did not say your Father knows what you need so you don’t have to ask him. Just as Jesus says “come” in Matthew 11:28, he also says “ask” in Matthew 6:8. Both of these are calls to action. To be free, you must come to Jesus and ask, for the past will never simply release you over time. If you do what you can do, come to Jesus and ask, He will do what only He can do.

Jeremiah 17:14 “Heal me, O LORD, and I shall be healed; save me and I shall be saved, for you are my praise.”

Revelation 21:4 “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

Do not buy the lie that continual forgiveness means you are passive or weak. God continually forgives us and is not passive or weak. Forgiveness is a willful choice, it is assertive and takes such strength that only the grace of God makes it truly possible.

As we approach Good Friday and Easter Sunday, we can remember that Christ defeated even our greatest threat -death itself – so any wound can unquestionably be defeated if given over to Him who carried the ultimate wounds of all man’s transgressions!

Isaiah 53:4 “By his wounds, we are healed.”

Forgiveness is your freedom. It is our freedom from the wages of sin and it’s freedom in life. Not freedom from hurt happening to you, but freedom from hurt happening within you.

Know that the power for you to forgive comes from Jesus, who knows what it is more than any other, to be wounded by the transgressions of others (Isaiah 53:5)

I wish you all a Good Friday and Happy Easter, as we consider the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus, who freely forgives and enables us to forgive and be free!

Who is God telling you to forgive?

What wounds do you need to ask God to bind up?

What freedoms would forgiveness bring to your daily life?

What would wholeness look like for you in your marriage or motherhood?

Ask God today for the power to forgive, be free, live whole, and succeed!

MARRIAGE & MOTHERHOOD ANEW: FORGIVE AND DON’T FORGET

“It’s best to forgive and forget.”

“To really forgive is to forget. If you haven’t forgotten, then you haven’t really forgiven.”

It’s bizarre how some statements seem to retain such staying power in our culture, no matter how illogical, unrealistic, or unhealthy they are.

Our brains are designed for retention. Cognitively, the brain is simply not engineered to self-destruct memories at will. Loss of recall is actually considered a symptom of degenerative brain disease or disorder. Yes, the mind is able to repress memories, but that is not considered to be a healthy response in general mental wellness. Repression is regressive, and in fact Scripture tells us to remember and reflect on the many things that shape us.

In the last post I said that the first few devotionals in this series are hard. I know this because I’ve lived through much of this series content, so I know how hard forgiveness is, but I also know it’s where we have to go first in order to go anywhere else in marriage or motherhood freely. Breaking cycles and building anew requires disentangling oneself and being free from the emotions that can hinder or ruin progress. We can’t get to the victory without the battle. We can’t get to claiming your calling and legacy as a woman of God, wife, or mother, without suiting up and cutting down your obstacles.

If we try to skip over the hard stuff to get to the happy feelings, the work we’ve done will be shallow and the wounds you carry will still run deep.

Therefore, the next three devotionals will cover three critical reasons to forgive your past experiences:

  1. The degree to which we forgive, is the degree to which we truly believe the central message of the Gospel of salvation in God’s Word.
  2. Unless we forgive, we will never be fully able to build up our marriages and families to the scale of God’s grand plans and purposes. Only forgiveness enables us to parent out of wholeness instead of woundedness. 
  3. Forgiveness opens our eyes to see how God is redeeming our story, that nothing is wasted with Him.

The degree to which we forgive, is the degree to which we truly believe the central message of the Gospel of salvation in God’s Word.

It’s commonplace for Christianity to be equated with niceness, piety, giving, and various religious acts similar to following a diet program. The act of forgiveness then might be likened to something that you don’t want to do but feel that you should do because it’s “the Christian thing to do”, similar to not wanting to eat the broccoli over the fries but feeling that it’s the “right thing to do.” Yet the Bible describes true Christianity as soul salvation by God’s grace, through faith in Christ Jesus; an eternal exchange of confession for total forgiveness and complete redemption of sin.

Is Christianity itself not based on forgiveness, is the Christian not a living representative of forgiveness above all else? Forgiveness is the very legs we have to stand on. Without it, there is no salvation and no Christianity at all!

Forgiveness itself is the start of our restoration with God. So it’s no surprise that forgiveness would be the start of our own restoration in marriage, motherhood, or life. Forgiveness is the foundation. We cannot skip over this foundation. If we do step 1, all other steps are possible. Without step 1 or until step one is complete, none of the other steps or bricks can be securely laid.

Therefore, it is with great joy that I share with you that forgetting is not the primary partner of forgiveness, remembrance is.

For the Christian, forgiveness is actually about remembering that you yourself have been forgiven. So instead of forgive and forget, biblically, God tells us to forgive and don’t forget that we have been forgiven.

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Romans 3:23

“For while we were still weak, at the right time, Christ died for the ungodly…God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:6-8

You may be thinking, “I know Romans 3:23, but I could have never done what they did. If you knew, you would agree it’s unforgivable.”

For this reason, I am thankful that God gave us the parable in Matthew 18:23-35. The parable is of a servant who owed a king ten thousand talents, about two-hundred-thousand years worth of monetary wages. The debt was impossible to repay so the servant begged for mercy and out of pity, the king forgave the whole account. That same servant who had been acquitted of two-hundred-thousand years of labor, then imprisoned a fellow servant over a debt of about one hundred days of labor. The king’s response was, “I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should you not have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?” For any Christian, we must remember who we are in that parable: the one who once owed an impossible debt until salvation came by the mercy of Christ Jesus.

I wish that I could express beyond these typed words how sorrowful I have felt in hearing some of the stories that women have shared over the last 15 years of ministry. Even still, the truth remains that every Christian has received more mercy from God than we are ever asked to give to man. Ephesians 2:4-5 tells us “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved”. To withhold forgiveness is to pronounce yourself to be a harsher judge than God Himself.

You do not have to go on believing that some things are unforgivable. The good news is that anything and anyone is forgivable, and you have the power to do it! Now that also means that there really isn’t a reason to say that forgiveness is impossible. There are people who have chosen to forgive the gravest traumas, and there are people who have chosen not to forgive the pettiest offenses. Forgiveness speaks less of what others have done, and more of what you are made of. Forgiveness shows less of what others have put you through, and more of what you are willing to put yourself through.

Withholding forgiveness is itself a sinful cycle that you may have to initiate breaking. Ironically, you might find yourself desiring to forgive your childhood experiences, yet part of your childhood was witnessing and experiencing a pattern of un-forgiveness! In fact, most of the women I speak to about their dysfunctional childhood say that forgiveness is especially hard for them. It’s no wonder why forgiveness is hard for someone if it was never given, demonstrated, or modeled before them. So even in this, you may find yourself needing to learn something that wasn’t previously taught to you. One of your first acts of forgiveness may be forgiving your parents for being so unforgiving of you every time you misstepped growing up, or any time you make the slightest mistake today. The first cycle you break may be in your choice to forgive!

The following are a few questions and concerns that were addressed during the in-person life group on this series:

“It’s hard to forgive someone who won’t admit or apologize for their wrongdoings.”

The bad news is that there are countless wrongdoings that are never admitted or apologized for. The good news is that an apology is not necessary for forgiveness. Forgiveness can be given without being requested or even accepted. There is a saying that unlike “forgive and forget”, actually makes sense: “Reconciliation is a duet; forgiveness is a solo.” For your own sanity, never expect an apology in exchange for forgiveness. It would be ideal to receive an apology, but to expect one is setting yourself up for unnecessary disappointment. Some people may pridefully or stubbornly refuse to admit what they have done. Further, sadly some may not even recall what they have done; they have forgotten what you struggle to forget. An example of this would be if you experienced hurt when a parent was under the influence of a substance addiction. That parent likely has zero recollection of what was said or done when they were not in their right mind. It is forever a one-sided memory and the truth is that even if they apologized, remorse can only go so far without genuine realization of the damage done. Any apology in that circumstance will never feel like enough. Forgive the offense, and forgive not receiving a rightful apology.

“I forgive but they still do not change.”

Later in this series will come posts that address the nuances of arduous relationships in your present life, and how to enjoy connection with healthy boundaries. For today, I understand how challenging it can be to not only forgive the past, but also forgive the recent and current issues you may deal with when people continue in their hurtful ways. Of course you must always protect yourself and your family from the risks of harm or abuse, but what do you do with family relationships that are marked with the lesser evils like rudeness, favoritism, manipulation, or conflict?

This very circumstance is actually the context that begins Christ’s teaching of the parable of the unforgiving servant:

Then Peter came up and said to him, ‘Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.’” Matthew 18:21-23

Remember forgiveness as a solo that is not a one-hit wonder. The forgiveness that a Christian receives upon salvation covers all their sin and justifies them for eternity in Christ as Savior. Still, every Christian is human and continues to sin throughout life and that sin affects the closeness of our relationship with Christ as LORD. Thus, God’s Word directs us towards the need to daily confess our sins and receive forgiveness. God forgives us upon salvation to give us eternal life, and persistently forgives us throughout our journey on earth to give us abundant life, as He refines us daily to reflect His character.

If you continue to bear with tension-filled family relationships, your forgiveness of any past hurt exemplifies your understanding of your own forgiveness upon salvation, and your continual forgiveness of their continual behavior illustrates God’s persistent forgiveness of us as well. Forgiveness really is the gift that keeps giving. If you are a Christian, you are a beneficiary of this gift, and God calls us to share it and represent it well. This means we forgive as He forgives, fully and persistently. It was not an easy price for Him, so we cannot expect it to be an easy price for us. However, while God gave His Son to die, He only asks us to die to the part of us that is like the unforgiving servant who owed ten thousand talents.

“In forgiving them, should I tell them that I have forgiven them, to have closure?”

Think carefully about where your energy is best spent in these relationships. If you are very very very confident that the person or people that you need to forgive will have the ears to hear and hearts to repent when you initiate such a conversation with them, then go with God sister. If they do not have ears to hear or hearts to repent, it could unnecessarily backfire on you. For you to have closure, it is not necessary to inform anyone of your forgiveness if they haven’t first asked. Remember that forgiveness is in itself a closure for you, one that you can initiate and complete with just you and God, who will always have ears to hear you.

Who do you need to forgive today?

Is it a parent? Is it both parents? Is it a sibling? Is it a grandparent, uncle, or aunt?

Is it a parent or sibling of your husband that has hurt him, you, or your children?

Is it birth parents to your adopted or foster children?

Is it you that needs to ask God for forgiveness for any resentment or ill-will?

Will you forgive and not forget how you have been forgiven?

Next week’s post will cover the second important impact of forgiveness on your marriage and motherhood!

Stay well!

Seana

MARRIAGE AND MOTHERHOOD ANEW: HEALTHY GRIEF

Hello again! This devotional series began as a life group for women at the wonderful church that my husband Joshua and I are so enormously blessed to serve at in full-time ministry. If you’re here online for the first time with me, I’m SO happy and grateful to get to connect with you!

I’d like to be as up front here as I was to our in-person group: The first few devotionals in this series are hard. They’re hard for me to write, and I know they’re hard for some to read. Soul work is the hardest work of all, I believe that 100%.

An ultimate joy of mine would be for women to be fully encouraged and equipped to thrive in their lives! I know this to be the desire of many women, so why isn’t it their reality? One reason is that while the past is over, it doesn’t always feel over. Many women continue to be assailed by memories, compensatory habits, and worries that are triggered by the everyday stresses of life, especially those in marriage and motherhood. It is very natural for many women to suffer for years during marriage or motherhood with a restless background feeling of unresolved pain that keeps cycling back, or erupting in moments of overwhelm.

There’s no pause period between 17 years and 364 days old, and 18 years old. The night before you became a lawful adult no one asked if you were ready for the next stage of life on your own and if you understood and settled everything from the last 18 years. Even if there had been a pause break available, very few 18 year olds are in the headspace to be able to sort out the foundation of their life experience in a maturely measured way, especially if healthy methods of coping were not modeled for them. Usually what happens is that there is a latent season after a girl heads out on her own and the newness of freedom and the excitement of all that lies ahead makes the past feel remedied. New life awaits on your own terms! Marriage and motherhood, however, have ways of bringing the deeply buried issues to the surface, even ones you never realized were there until it boiled over.

Even still, you may be one of the many women who are not only affected by their past, but are also dealing with tense family ties in your present day. It’s difficult to be confident in moving onward in God’s best for your life if you feel tethered to an influence of criticism and continual strain from your childhood relationships.

While no one would desire to live in such a cycle, the time constraints of work and home life responsibilities can make a woman feel like she has no other choice but to just keep dealing with the day to day immediacies of bills, chores, deadlines, and the never ending list of everyone else’s needs. That may be where you are, moving through each day trying to get all the things checked off before the clock runs out. There just doesn’t seem to be the time to set aside to deal with what’s going on inside and you hope that it will just eventually stop coming up over time.

There is a well-intentioned myth that time heals all wounds, but the truth is that only God heals all wounds. This is actually great news because that means that healing doesn’t have to be a waiting game! Time doesn’t actively care about people, so we can’t depend on it to do us much justice. God, however, absolutely cares about you and can completely heal any pain that you lift up to Him! It may still take some time, but it will never take more time that if you left it to time alone!

Healthy grief is not simply rehashing the past. Rehashing only re-injures. Healthy grief is not simply griping about the present. Complaining is the most productive-looking unproductive action.

Healthy grief is a way to identify the roots of struggle that may have been planted in the past during your childhood – or continue damaging effects in your life today – and acknowledge them before the Lord and ask Him for help and healing. I believe that our Lord is more than willing to bring healing because anything that hurts or harms you as His child, grieves Him as well.

In any grief there can be a temptation to want vengeance, to stir up strife, bitterness, wrath, or malice. This is not healthy grief. Healthy grief is holy unto the Lord, blameless and without sin. It is a grief that resists resentment and acting out, in favor of fully trusting God’s sovereignty and wisdom in the happenings – and handlings – of the pains and strains.

Grief is not a sin. Crying is not weakness. Jesus grieved and cried, and was sinless and strong. Grief is healthy if handled biblically. Grieve the disappointment, pain, and sin that happened, or continue to happen to you. Honestly and humbly tell God what you believe you’re up against.

There is a difference between pain and suffering. Past and present life can be painful, but you don’t have to suffer from it. If you let God deal with it, you can experience freedom from suffering. But don’t delay:

  • Deal with it or it will deal with you, possibly for the rest of your life, and even ripple into your children’s lives. Cycles continue until they are broken, like hurricanes that gain strength until landfall.
  • Procrastinating on this will always cost you and your family more later, than what it will cost you to start now.
    • Often procrastination is less about avoiding the task itself than it is about avoiding the feelings associated with the task. Regardless of how beneficial the task is, people tend to delay doing anything that will lead us to have feelings of discomfort, pain, frustration, or inadequacy. Thus, anything from physical exercise to dealing with our past has a higher likelihood of being avoided.
    • Will you procrastinate today, or will you get alone with God and ask Him for healing and freedom from suffering?
  • Regardless of who was or is at fault for your grief, healing is your responsibility, and only you can choose healing for yourself.

Give yourself time and space free of distraction because this is important:

What things from your past burden you in your present? Write out each (for as long as it takes).

Just as you would bear your soul to a dearest trusted friend, talk to God about each burden, and let yourself grieve before Him, knowing that, “When the righteous cry for help, the LORD hears and delivers them out of all their troubles. The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the LORD delivers him out of them all.” Psalm 34:17-19 ESV

I am praying for you this week; next we will move on together towards the absolute game-changing relief of living in total freedom! Hope to connect again soon!

Someday is Here Podcast

My formal master’s degree is in Epidemiology, which just amounts to me nerding out on the science behind SARS CoV-2 and COVID-19 as much as I’m washing every hand in my house 🦠

It was a privilege to join this special episode of @somedayisherepodcast with host @vivmabuni, for a timely conversation with @eugenecho @helenleebooks @judy.dominick around the social impact of the outbreaks reported origin of China. As a proud USAmerican of East Asian descent, I love my country 🇺🇸, appreciate the compassionate support of many family & friends, and pray we ALL stay well TOGETHER!

Huge gratitude to the kindest of podcast hosts @vivmabuni

http://www.vivianmabuni.com/someday-is-here/2020/3/23/special-episode