In Part One of this series, we looked at the importance of honest introspection. We must look beneath the surface of our lives in order to, with God’s help, see ourselves as we really are. In Part Two, we are going to look at one of the most significant ways in which our character, personality, and perspective on life are formed.
The legacy of our family profoundly impacts us (Exodus 20:4-6; Exodus 34:6-7; 2 Samuel 12:10). History is not destiny, but it is significant, and perhaps the most formative influence of all is our family of origin. How we were “parented” -whether by our biological parents or others who filled the role – will impact in many ways. It can even influence our view of God.
When we commit our lives to Christ, our past is not erased. We need to take a deep look inside at all the things that have formed us. We don’t do this because we are stuck with our past, or because we want to spend our lives back there, but because it’s an important step on our way to seeing God clearly and passing that better view on to others.
“A father has a powerful influence in deep and subtle ways. Even though children know intellectually that God is fair, loving and kind and patient, it’s hard for them to relate to God at a gut level in a deep way if their own father is not that way.” David Dollahite. Professor of Family Life at BYU
Our perspective can distort our view of God anywhere from a little to a lot.
- If you think love is earned, then you probably think you have to earn God’s love.
- If you think family is stifling and parents just don’t understand, do you think that might impact how you view God the Father who offers you a new family?
- If you think the solution to conflict is to withdraw or shame the other party, what happens when you have a gripe with God? What do you think God does? (And what do you do?)
- If you experienced parents that abandoned you, or were embarrassed or burdened by you, or used you, or hurt you, or communicated that you were just not important enough for them to live sacrificially …. What do you think God thinks of you?
On the other hand, you may think love is given not earned, and family is a place of safety, and conflict is resolved through healthy confrontation and resolution, and that you are loved sacrificially, deeply, closely, and safely – and that probably effects your view of God.
Part of the good news of the Gospel is that our past is not beyond redemption. We are more than the sum of our past experiences. God has offered us a way past the defining power of history.
1) Embrace the work of Christ
“Humans can reproduce only human life, but the Holy Spirit gives birth to spiritual life. So don’t be surprised when I say, ‘You must be born again.” (John 3:6-7)
“Everything connected with that old way of life has to go. It’s rotten through and through. Get rid of it! And then take on an entirely new way of life—a God-fashioned life, a life renewed from the inside and working itself into your conduct as God accurately reproduces his character in you.” (Ephesians 4:21-24, The Message)
God does not give us amnesia. Our past will still call to us. We will need to learn how to honestly express our feelings and emotions rather than stuffing them as if nothing happened. We still have to ask questions like, “Why am I feeling like this?” There is a reason, and it should be sought. The good news is that, through the work of Christ, we can begin to make new and better memories. We can be rebuilt.
2) Find Yourself In God’s Story
Joseph carried a hard family legacy into his slavery in Egypt. Yet we find him years later a changed man, free of the deception and manipulation that marked his history.
“I am Joseph, your brother, whom you sold into slavery in Egypt. But don’t be upset, and don’t be angry with yourselves for selling me to this place. It was God who sent me here ahead of you to preserve your lives. This famine that has ravaged the land for two years will last five more years, and there will be neither plowing nor harvesting. God has sent me ahead of you to keep you and your families alive and to preserve many survivors. So it was God who sent me here, not you!” (Genesis 45:4-8)
How is this change of heart possible? Joseph saw the hand of God at work. All those terrible things that shaped me? God has shifted them around and made something new. Joseph saw that his life was more than the sum of his experiences. From an earthly perspective, Joseph should have been a wreck. But God took the ugly pieces and made something beautiful.
3) Find Your Place in God’s Spiritual Family
“For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes… You are all one in Christ Jesus. And now that you belong to Christ, you are the true children of Abraham. You are his heirs, and God’s promise to Abraham belongs to you.” Galatians 3:26-29
“Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.” And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mark 3:33-35)
God’s Word and His Spirit will work in us, but we need to reach out to His people and let them help to rebuild us. With the help of God’s Word, His Spirit, and the company of our Christian friends, we can move past the parts of our past that have been broken, look up and see God with ever increasing clarity, and live in such a way that we more clearly reveal the heart and the presence of God.
**The posts in this series (Look Beneath The Surface, etc) are built from a summary of notes I used when preaching a sermon series based on Peter Scazzero’s Emotionally Healthy Church and Emotionally Healthy Spirituality (both the books and the study guides). Most of the main points comes from his work. I note when I quote him directly, but most of what you read are this insights paraphrased or adjusted to fit my audience and venue. Learn more at his website and his blog, and by all means order his books and read them thoroughly.