Whether an individual believes in the actual personification of the Devil (Satan) as a spiritual presence in the world or not, there is one “D” word that has been incredibly devastating to many Christian families: Dysfunction. I have counseled many families and couples in my pastoral responsibilities who are actively struggling with the dilemma of past and present dysfunctional families. What is a dysfunctional family?
According to, June Hunt of Hope for the Heart:
- A dysfunctional family is one where improper and immature behavior of at least one parent damages the growth of individuality and healthy relational skills among family members.
- A dysfunctional family is one where family members are impaired emotionally, psychologically and spiritually.
- A dysfunctional family is one where everyone is negatively affected even when only one family member experiences a problem.
In 22 years of ministry, I have discovered a couple of ironies regarding family life. Families have always been fundamental to God’s plan for humanity. God, in the beginning of human existence, commanded Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply (Genesis 1:28). God envisioned a world where humans would be born into families; however, the first irony is no one can choose his or her family. Families are chosen for us. We are born into the world with free-will, but the first choice of our existence emanates out of the free will of others. We don’t have a choice whether we are born into a rich or poor family, a single or two parent home or even which sibling we will be or if we will spend our earthly existence as an only child. The choice to be a part of a family is completely out of our hands, but we must live with somebody else’s choice.
The second irony is family is the one decision somebody else makes for us that is guaranteed to impact us for the rest of our life. Until a certain age or circumstance our development is largely influenced by the environment our parents create. Whether a healthy highly functioning family or a debilitating dysfunctional family what is certain is either environment will follow us into adulthood and instill in us parenting principles that will play a role in how we raise our own children.
I believe all families exhibit some level of dysfunction. Some dysfunction occurs because of our inborn sinful nature (Psalms 51:5). All of us sin (Romans 3:23) and also can be impacted by someone else’s sin. In addition, certain stresses or circumstances can also cause dysfunction to become evident in a family (e.g., death, financial impairment, health, etc.,). Dysfunctional families originate from Adam and Eve’s choice to disobey God, their Creator. Their choice changed the nature of humanity forever, but also changed how all future families would exist outside of the Eden. We read about the immediate impact of sin on Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:7) and then later on their family. I don’t believe it is by mere coincidence, that the first murder recorded in the Bible was fratricide: Cain killing his brother Abel. For his own reason, Cain thought it proper to eliminate his sibling as if Abel was the reason God rejected his offering. Unchecked sibling rivalry is one of the signs of a dysfunctional family and in the case of Cain and Abel it proved fatal. The first family was a dysfunctional family and dysfunctional families will remain until God creates the new heaven and new earth foretold in Revelation 21.
Having laid the ground work for why dysfunctional families exist, I offer our first step in rebuking this “D” out of our families.
1) Confronting the truth about our childhood and addressing this question: What aspects of our childhood have led us to exhibit dysfunctional behavior in our present lives, even to the degree that we may be replicating dysfunctional patterns and passing it on as parents to our children?
This first step is a necessary one, especially for Christian families, because we, Christians, usually hide our dysfunctional families in plain sight. Every week in front of our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, we have learned and taught our children well to wear the “mask.” In other words, no matter what may be going on at home, every one while in church, must “look good,” “act normal,” and “if anyone asks, tell them everything is fine” though it may not be. As such when the spiritual family (i.e., the household of God) gathers for worship on a weekly basis, I often imagine God looking down on the Saints and saying to Jesus Christ, “Is this the church or a masquerade ball?” We must take off the mask in front of God and in the presence of our brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ if we are to be made whole (James 5:16). Hiding or denying the effects of a dysfunctional family is prolonging the pain and delaying the healing. We must choose not to hide because if the church, by oft-used analogy, is a spiritual hospital then who would knowingly bring their hurting family to a place for the sick and then once there tell everyone to act like we are not sick. Step one is all about rebuking the “D” out of our families by confronting the truth and refusing to wear the mask any longer.
In the next installment of this blog, we will explore Rebuking the ‘D’ out of our families by Step 2: “Resolve in ourselves to not replicate what has hurt us.”
Pastor John L. Smith is the under-shepherd of The Historic Olivet Baptist Church, the oldest Black Baptist Church in the city of Chicago. He is happily married for 19 years and the father of 3. Pastor Smith’s ministry is dedicated to discipleship, edifying families and nurturing healthy marriages.