“Lord, You establish peace for us; all that we have accomplished You have done for us.” - Isaiah 26:12 (NIV)
That single word can conjure up such a flood of mixed emotions, especially during a time of year that holds increased likelihood of getting together. Even the happiest, healthiest families experience conflict, disappointments, and tensions.
Our families so deeply impact the way we see the world and the way we navigate other relationships. Additionally, unlike other relationships that tend to come and go based on life’s seasons, family is forever—you don’t even have to be on speaking terms to still be connected.
Families matter to God. So what do we do when these relationships and connections are strained or broken? There are complex issues involved that go far beyond the scope of one simple article, but there are a few things we can keep in perspective as we deal with our loved ones.
There are spiritual dynamics at work in your family.
People can be very resistant to this idea, but it’s not that strange if you really think about it. When you go to the doctor, you are asked about medical conditions that run in your family. Or perhaps one of your siblings behaves in a certain way, and someone says, “He’s acting just like Uncle So-and-So!”
We understand that physical conditions, behaviors, personalities, and habits run in families; it is not a stretch to think that spiritual issues do too. Things like anger, bitterness, greed, and depression can become embedded in family lines, passing from one generation to the next. It is important to recognize patterns that emerge because they may indicate a place where the enemy has a foothold in your family.
When you notice these patterns, don’t ignore them! First and foremost, deal with them personally. Repent, and ask God to uproot the issue from your own heart. Even if your family members are not receptive, a generational curse does not have to continue with you and your children. Ask God to write a new chapter, beginning with you.
If it is possible and your family’s hearts are open, you can pray and repent together. If they are not, begin praying that their eyes would be opened and their hearts would be softened. Don’t underestimate the Holy Spirit’s ability to convict and guide them into truth; you don’t have to try and do His job for Him!
Recognizing the spiritual issues at work in your family can keep your heart from anger and bitterness. It’s not that you won’t be hurt or that you make excuses for anyone, but your heart can stay tender when you recognize that your family members are not the real enemy, even if they seem to be acting like it.
One other thought—we tend to give a lot of time and attention to dealing with generational curses, which is good because they need to be dealt with. But God also promised to “show love to a thousand generations of those who love [Him]” (Ex. 20:6). Godly legacy can be passed down from one generation to another as well—things like compassion, generosity, and justice. Whether your family is dealing with curses that need to be broken or not, be intentional about choosing to serve the Lord. It only takes one person to change the story in a family!
Remember that the only person you can control is you.
I am immensely grateful for these words from Paul: “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18).
It can be tempting to try and control everyone else, to blame yourself for other people’s actions or failures, but the only person you are ultimately responsible for is you. There are times when we try to make peace, we forgive, we attempt to reconcile or extend grace in a difficult moment, but it doesn’t seem to make any difference.
Each person is at a different place in their spiritual journey and progress toward wholeness. We can only live out of the overflow of our own hearts. The hardest people to accept this with can be our own families, especially if the dynamic is one where everyone tends to be in everyone else’s business, but not every battle going on in your family is yours to fight. Knowing when to let go is important—a matter that only be determined between you and the Holy Spirit.
Look for the best in your family.
Without question, writing those words is infinitely easier than putting them into practice. When you live in close proximity with people, you see the good, the bad, and the ugly, and it is easy for the negatives to overshadow all traces of the positives.
One of my brothers went through a period of time when he walked away from God and made some pretty foolish choices. There were painful circumstances involved that felt like such a betrayal to me personally. I was so angry and hurt. I remember a conversation with someone who mentioned that my brother had always been good at a particular thing, but I couldn’t even bring myself to agree with them because all I could were the things he was doing wrong.
Later on, the Holy Spirit nudged my heart about this. He reminded me that He never stops looking for the good in us, and even further, that the good in us is not dependent on what ministry we’re doing or how spiritual we’re being. He asked me to begin naming good things about my brother—his sense of humor, his ability to make friends with anyone and everyone, his sharp intellect. As I did this over time, my heart softened; I was able to forgive him and believe in him again because I started seeing him with God’s eyes.
I know this is hard, especially if your heart has been hurt. But I encourage you to begin asking God for His perspective on the family member you are at odds with. I can’t promise it will transform the relationship, but it will transform your heart and make space for the possibility of a miracle.
Don’t give up praying for your family, and don’t give up praying for your own heart. The enemy loves to wreak havoc on our families because he knows they have such a tremendous impact on how we relate to God and what measure of wholeness we live in.
Ask the Lord to give you a scripture to pray and declare over your family. Some of the chapters I pray over mine are Psalm 16, Psalm 37, and Psalm 112. Psalm 37:28a is a particular favorite because the Lord showed it to me during a really hard season: “For the Lord loves the just [the Justs!] and will not forsake His faithful ones.”
I do want to make an important distinction: praying for your family, dealing with the spiritual warfare, believing the best, etc. does not mean you have to put yourself in harm’s way. Especially in scenarios where any kind of abuse is present, you should be wise about protecting yourself. Some will say that you haven’t truly forgiven if you haven’t reconciled with your abuser; this is inaccurate and dangerous. God does not want you poisoned with bitterness, but He also most certainly does not want you mistreated.
I pray for reconciliation and healing in your family. I pray wholeness for your heart. I pray that the enemy’s plans would be exposed and that God’s destiny for all of you would prevail. Above all, I pray that you would not lose hope as you wait for wrong things to be made right. God loves you, and He loves your family. He will never give up pursuing your hearts!