Written by Sarah Rhodes
Things like neglect come in many forms and can happen in any family dynamic. Sometimes, it can be so subtle that it isn’t until much later on that we become aware of the reality. We realize that even though our families did the best they could, there are still some serious gaps that need to be filled.
Throughout family experiences, we may have learned it’s ‘safer’ to remain passive, assuming that it’s a matter of forgetting the past so we can be the best Christian example for our family.
However Jesus isn’t in the business of ignorance, but in that of transformation. Sometimes He works through the sin in our family by revealing the flaws in our character first. Romans 2:21 says, “[Y]ou then, who teach others, do you not teach yourself?” We need to steer the blame away from others and take a look at ourselves because Jesus will shine through all of our heart’s chasms and make us aware of how He needs to work through each and every one of them. The easy thing to do would be to stuff our conflicts under the rug, keeping our family life separate from our life of faith. Eventually however, those worlds must collide, and we’ll come to find that despite the numerous gaps, God desires to fill them all.
Doctor Karyl McBride states that, “[as a] child matures, [their] developing brain changes in response to [their] environment ” (Psychology Today). This means that we begin to react in accordance to what we have learned growing up in our immediate surroundings.In my life, I realized that even though I had reason to be angry, certain learned behaviours had begun to poison my relationships. I needed to recognize this in order to halt the aggravation of bitterness in my family. Further, God pointed me to my negative reactions in order to direct me to the specific gaps between myself and each family member. It’s important for us to realize that our gaps often have very real ground to stand on. However, God steps in these seemingly impossible situations, continuing His holy work of sanctification.
Throughout this journey, we must accept that our families aren’t always going to share our opinions. In unbelieving families for example, we can’t assume they will see life through the Christian lenses or abide by standards they wouldn’t know to look for to begin with. It was this truth that God used to change my perspective towards my family. They don’t know Jesus. Which meant I needed to stop waiting for them to be Jesus to me when I was the one who possessed His Spirit. “When [Jesus] saw the crowds, he was moved with compassion for them, because they were … like sheep without a shepherd.” (Matt 9:36) Sometimes our families are like these crowds. So even in the most heart-wrenching situations, we need to replicate the attitude of Jesus and have compassion.
In the darkest places, through abuse and suffering, I implore you to remember Jesus on the cross, pleading “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:24) Further, we need to truly understand the weight of the verse, “our struggle is not against flesh and blood…” (Eph 6:12) Ask yourself, who do you think you are fighting against? When you run from your broken relationships, hide, or lash out against a family member, who is the enemy? Is it not darkness itself? Weren’t we given Christ’s Spirit? The ones who hurt you are the ones who desperately need you. Charles Spurgeon writes, “cling to the cause of Christ…[g]ive yourself to that kingdom for which you are taught to pray, and be ready to make any sacrifice, whatever, that you may advance and extend it. Yes, throw your whole self into the holy service of your Lord.” I realized I needed to stop fighting with my family and begin fighting for them.
At first it seemed like an impossible situation. Just making it through each family event had been my main goal and I thought I had tried everything in the book. Admittedly, I was playing it safe after being shut down repeatedly. However, I needed to show them the Love I claimed to live for. Eventually, I started putting one foot in front of the other. This involved things like going out to stack wood in the freezing cold with my dad, running errands, and telling him I appreciated him.
One day, When I was getting ready to leave, my dad looked at me and his faced softened as he handed me money for gas. I knew something was different. This sparked a new determination in me. Any time I saw a gap, I tried to run to it. When I was criticized, I strived to respond with encouragement. As result of this, my sister grew up trusting me and asking me questions about God. When I was shamed, I continued to express my emotions to my mom and eventually she began trying to work it out with me. My brother and dad started hugging me back when saying
goodbye and backed off when I asked them to. All these little changes had joined together and I began seeing the work of God in my very own family—my unbelieving family.
Even though these changes occurred over the course of many years, I know seeds have been planted. God is still working in the soil beneath the surface. This showed me that our love ought flow freely, as Jesus’ does for us. This is no easy mission and I don’t mean to diminish the pain or suffering anyone has experienced. However it is my prayer that regardless of what is going on, you can still be Christ for your family. That you will be moved with compassion, and above all, I pray you see God in the gaps.