Debra Black finds lessons in Scripture that will help us heal our family dynamic today.
The first week of Lent is already behind us, and we prepare to embrace the Truth of our salvation, our redemption, as foretold to us in the Old Testament scriptures and fulfilled in Jesus Christ. How distant those tales may seem to our current life, and yet some things never change.
Looking, for example, at Joseph’s saga in the Book of Genesis, the human dynamics of family strife are akin to a reality TV show. Coming from a blended family and not counting his mistresses (concubines), his dad Jacob (Israel) has 2 wives (with 2 sets of kids) but liked Rachel better than Leah. In fact, Jacob didn’t even want Leah; he was tricked into marrying her (Genesis 29). Maybe that set of kids felt it too, given Reuben (the oldest) was never embraced by the father like a first-born son should in his time. The attitude of his mom’s jealousy is in the dynamic too (Genesis 30:15).
It is the favored wife Rachel who has the favored son Joseph, and he is spoiled. He’s given the finest robes (that should have gone to Reuben as first-born) which makes a visual, overt statement that he is superior to the others, particularly Reuben who should have this treatment instead (Genesis 37). Joseph gets to hang out in the house rather than labor in the fields with his brothers (Genesis 37:12)—that had to grind. It is one thing to feel unloved by your parent, and quite another thing to feel least loved. The dreams of his family being under Joseph’s rule might have been the last straw for Reuben. Tearing up that fancy robe and then smearing it with goat’s blood to falsify evidence of Joseph’s death must have had a twisted dark delight to it.
The family dynamics are universal and timeless: unmet expectations lead to bitterness, hurt and jealousy. Acting out of the pain, poor choices begin such as Reuben sleeping with his father’s concubine. Certainly, he wasn’t the only guy to be having illicit sex (otherwise they wouldn’t have had law as against it). But common sin leads to more severe sin as they carry out the plot for Joseph’s murder. The sin doesn’t relieve the pain nor heal the wound.
Now most families today might not have such extreme antics in their family dynamics. Or perhaps they do. In the absence of promiscuity, many have pornography, sexually-explicit entertainment, envy of another person’s relationship, lust in the heart. Meanwhile, people dump each other on TikTok or Facebook. And while we might not have cisterns into which people are tossed to die, how easily we toss them away in our hearts and become "dead" to them.
Imagine God from above looking down on Israel’s clan and seeing all these antics going on. He already had a plan for their redemption: Joseph survives, becomes a favorite of Pharaoh, and the residual social status enables him to actually save the entire people of Israel. Who would have thunk it? Just as promised in God’s covenant with Abraham (Genesis 15) and renewed with Jacob (Genesis 35: 9-12), the chosen people are saved even though they will continue to survive one nasty family dynamic after another until the covenant is perfected when God Himself comes to dwell among us: Jesus Christ is born.
Looking at the state of our own family dynamic today, it may be difficult to remember (or even believe) that God can and will redeem them. It is the trick of the enemy to place in our mind the universal negative that our spouse, parents, child, or sibling will always be that way. Nothing will change (we think) and so we take action into our own hands. Clearly that’s Reuben’s thinking, not God’s. Don’t give up on yourself or on God!
We still have one month of Lent remaining, and God can do wonders in your soul and theirs. He has already planned for your redemption and theirs too. And don’t underestimate the power of Hope itself to change that dynamic.
Copyright 2022 Debra Black
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About the Author
Debra Black is a spiritual director, perpetual member of the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars, international educator, and businesswoman. Her public service roles have spanned city commissioner, pregnancy clinic board of directors, youth and college ministry, public citizen activism, and homeless street ministry. Her writings can be found at TheFaceOfGraceProject.com, including her latest books, The Life Confession: A Discovery of God’s Mercy and Love and Kick Butt: The Quick Guide to Spiritual Warfare.