An unexamined life is destined to repeat itself, Thomas a Kempis says. And when it comes to generational chains, his words carry a ring of truth. I preached this Sunday on the Story of your family and I’m struck by the importance of looking back. (the video of the sermon is below and begins at 32:15):
This is a theme I’ve been thinking about because the book I am writing (out next Spring), is about 4 lenses that open up new perspectives. One of the four is the “Rear View” lens. It’s surprising how much our present vision is colored by our past.
So here are the 4 tips for those who want to take the plunge into your family, and look back:
1. Grab the Good
One of the things we notice in Paul’s second letter to Timothy what IS and ISN’T there. Timothy’s mother and grandmother are both mentioned as contributing to his story of faith (2 Timothy 1:5), while his father is missing from the text.
What I love about this letter, is that Paul shows Timothy what to grab on to by his editing. With God’s help we can emphasize the good in our story to empower us in the way we live.
My grandparents were part of a group of immigrants that helped bring the Serbian Orthodox faith to the United States.
Though I didn’t embrace the exact style of their worship I am so thankful for the knowledge of God they passed on to me. Where are those handles in your story you can highlight and grab on to for your faith?
2. Let Go of the Bad
We have to face the truth about our family before we can know what to let go of. Otherwise it subconsciously colors our behavior without us even being aware. The alternative to looking back is staying stuck, blaming others, recreating past emotional roads, and wondering why certain situations cause you to feel or act the way you do. If you have ever been curious about the “whys” of your behavior, more than likely it’s worth a look.
The rear view can give you some answers. It can also help you discover what you need to leave behind. When you are willing to look at your past, you will gain some important insights about the emotional roads you’ve continued to travel. Bringing those insights into your present can help you find a new route.
3. Borrow where you need to
In Matthew 12, Jesus gives us permission to borrow family when he says “Anyone who does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother!” Look around you and borrow some family members to love you. Choose the ones you need from your community of faith to help you in your path.Those are the brothers and sisters and mothers and fathers God has given you.
One of my dearest dads was an elder at the church I worked at in Berkeley in the 90’s. An eye tumor eventually took his life, but he was a father to me when I needed one most. I am so thankful for the investment he made in my ministry and life.
Look around yourself and borrow some people. It’s been my experience they usually feel honored to be asked.
4. Move forward with God
In 2 Timothy 1:7 Paul says “For God has not given you a spirit of fear, but of power, love and self discipline.”
It can be scary to look back at the chains from our family. Those of you in AA know exactly what I mean. But if you are in recovery, and you come from a line of alcoholics, YOU are breaking the chain.
Maybe another kind of addiction or abuse happened in your family. Or maybe you just come from a long line of people who never talked about their “stuff”.
You are only as sick as your secrets. Breaking chains is about the truth being spoken out. But breaking chains from our past can sometimes feel bigger than the strength we have.
In Anatomy of the Soul, Curt Thompson describes the process of breaking a pattern as forging a new trail. If your brain neutrons are hikers, they will travel the well worn paths of the people behind you unless they are purposely directed another way.
With Gods help, you can be the one to forge a new trail. You may need to grab a machete to do it, but God will give you the strength you need.
And your children and children’s children will bless you for it.