Let me talk to you about another principle for healing family relationships and this is healing through boundaries, healing through boundaries. This is a very deep and complicated subject and I’m only doing 10 minutes on it today, but Romans 12:18 says this, God says, “if possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” What does “if possible” mean? It’s not a trick question. What does if possible mean? If it’s possible translation: it might not be possible to be at peace with a family member because of decisions that they’re making because of attitudes that they have, but you notice the emphasis here: if possible, so far as it depends on you. In other words, if the relationship’s broken, if the relationship’s not healing, don’t let that be your fault.
This means that God wants us to be ready and willing to seek reconciliation. Now listen, being a person of peace, being eager for reconciliation, being eager for healing, it does not mean being a doormat. It does not mean looking the other way when there is sin, sometimes it means, and this is what we’re talking about now, sometimes it means setting boundaries around a situation with a toxic person. People get so confused about what forgiveness is and what forgiveness isn’t. You can forgive someone without trusting them. Forgiving someone does not mean trusting someone. So let’s say that you’re going through a difficult financial time and you share that with your mom and your mom posts a prayer request on her Facebook page about your financial problems and a week later she comes back to you and says, I wanted to share an update with my prayer group.
What’s going on? Okay, now it would be very appropriate for you to say to your mom, listen, mom, you shouldn’t have shared my personal stuff on Facebook under the guise of a prayer request. I forgive you, I’m not going to harbor anger and bitterness toward you, but I’m also not going to talk to you about my finances anymore. I’m not going to trust you with that information. See, I’ve forgiven her. I don’t harbor anger, bitterness, or resentment, but I’m not going to trust her with that again. It doesn’t mean allowing yourself to continue to be abused and mistreated by a person. Forgiveness also does not mean liking someone. You can forgive them and not like them. Okay listen, like, what is like? Like is a warm fuzzy that you have for nice people. You will like nice people. You have warm feelings for people, that treat you nice, you will like them.
Did you know there’s no commandment in the Bible that you have to like anybody? Thou shalt have warm feelings for all people. Not there because you’re going to like people that are nice and you’re not going to have warm fuzzies for people who aren’t nice. Now, don’t get too excited about that. You have to love the people you don’t like, right? So God doesn’t let us off the hook quite that easy. Let me give you a boundary example from scripture. You remember Joseph with his brothers, right? They’re jealous of him. Strip him naked. Throw him in the well. Sell him into slavery. Tell dad that an animal ate him. Okay, he goes off to Egypt, spends years in prison, but God raises him up right to second in command in Egypt. God uses him to save the people from famine. The brothers come down to Egypt, they’re looking for food. They come into Joseph’s presence. Joseph recognizes them immediately and says, guys, it’s Joseph! It’s me! I’m your brother! I love you! I’m so glad you’re here! Let’s forget everything that happened! We’re back together at last!
Hello. Not quite, right? I skipped some stuff, didn’t I? See Joseph, listen, the Bible does not explicitly tell us this, but I do think it’s a fair inference. I believe that after all those years in prison, that God blessed Joseph with forgiveness for his brothers. You don’t have the sense that Joseph is hanging on to bitterness and anger about what has been done to him. He sees God’s hand in what happened, right? But when the brothers come, so I believe Joseph was free of his anger and bitterness and resentment. He is not going to trust them again. He’s not going to open his heart to them again. He’s not going to enter into relationship with them again until he has evidence that their hearts have changed and that their behaviors changed. He wants to see repentance from them, he wants to see that they’ve acknowledged that what they did was wrong.
So the two events, first he overhears them talking and he says this, the brothers are saying, this is happening to us because of the guilt of our brother because of what we did to Joseph and that’s the first time Joseph goes away and cries, remember, and then the second time is he tests them. Is their behavior going to change? Are they going to sell out Benjamin to save their own hides and when they offer their own lives for Benjamin, they know that they’ve truly repented and it’s at that point then he drops his boundary. He is now willing to enter into relationship with them again. He’s willing to draw them close to him again because they have evidenced changed behaviors. Let me tell you a modern day story. This was couple that was connected to our ministry. Steve and Karen, names changed. Steve and Karen were having difficulties with Karen’s parents, the grandparents of their children.
Two things: Karen’s dad was fond of using colorful language, colorful sailor, nautical language, and used that kind of language a lot around the grandkids and they had tried to steer them away from that, but he just continued and Karen’s mom, grandma, was really harsh with the kids. Anytime they misbehaved, not only that, but she would kind of disregards Karen’s rules. So she would know Karen has a certain rule for her kids, but she would say, nope, I’m doing it my way, I’m the grandma. So Steven and Karen just sort of went with the flow for a little while, thinking that if they chose the path of peace and just didn’t say anything, that things would get better. Well, things continued as they went along and they realized that they had to take a risk and establish a boundary.
So they asked the grandparents if they could have a conversation, a personal conversation and I wrote this down. This is how it went: they said, thanks for being willing to talk to us. We want to tell you we love you and appreciate you because we care about our relationship with you and your relationship with our kids, we need to have an important conversation. Dad, I know that you use some swear words, but those are not appropriate words to use in our house or around our children. Mom, sometimes when you’re dealing with the kids, especially when they misbehave, you’re harsh with them and also there have been times when you know we have a rule for something, that you ignore our rules and do what you want. This is a pattern that needs to change. Now, here this is the key. We want to have a great relationship with you and we want you to have a great relationship with the kids,
but if these things don’t change, we won’t be able to spend as much time together. You see that, we love you, we want to have positive relationships with you, but this unhealthy pattern, this toxic pattern, this hurtful pattern, we have to have a boundary up to keep that out of our lives. Now, the initial conversation did not end very well. It was a little awkward and it was a little tense, but a few weeks later, the grandparents came back and circled back. Now listen, because the grandparents wanted to maintain a relationship with the grandkids. They did not want to be cut out of grandkid access. They said, okay, we’ll try and we’ll work on it and things weren’t perfect, but things were a lot better. Now, I want to give you some warning here. Boundary setters oftentimes become the bad guys in the family. So you see a lot of families are sweeping under the rug
families when there’s problems. So let’s imagine, I don’t know, that we have a, I know it’s carpet up here, but whatever. Let’s say we’ve got a rug up here on this stage. Every day folks come in to clean and they just sweep the dust off the stage under the rug. Well, one day of that, no big deal. Two days a week, maybe even a year, no big deal, but a hundred years at Bethany of sweeping it under the rug, our rug is now two feet off the ground, right, with dust over the years and if anybody touches that rug, over it goes and everybody comes in and sweeps it under the rug. Okay? A lot of family, sweep it under the rug family systems. Anyone who says, hey, I think we have a problem under the rug here. Okay, you’re accused of making the room dirty. All right? Or the other example, let’s say your house is burning down and you say the house is burning down! The rest of the family says, shut your mouth! Don’t talk bad about our house!
Well, I’m not trying to talk about the house I’m just saying it’s burning down, I think we need help. So just be prepared. Okay. Be prepared that if you’re in a family system that doesn’t deal directly with hurt and you’re going to choose to try to deal directly with it and set up some boundaries, you may be accused. Listen, you may be accused of being unloving and causing problems, but in reality, you’ve shifted into a mode where you are now loving enough to help the family move toward healing. One more principle, oh my picture of Joseph I failed to give that to you. It’s a multimedia extravaganza. Okay, third principle: healing through compassion. Healing through compassion. One of my favorite scriptures about Jesus’s ministry is from Matthew chapter 9 verse 36: Jesus looks out at a crowd of lost people and the scripture says He had compassion on them because they were harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd and I wonder as you think about your son or daughter that’s hurt you or a spouse or a parent or a family member.
I wonder if you ever have Christ’s compassion for them. One of the things that we want to ask God to do is God, would you give me Jesus’s heart for sinful people? Would you give me Jesus’s heart for messed up people? This is not excusing their behavior. This is not sweeping things under the rug. This is kind of that principle, this modern proverb you’ve heard before, hurt people, hurt people. The people who are behaving in toxic, unhealthy ways. They’re certainly responsible for what they’re doing, but a portion of what they’re doing comes from their own hurt and their own woundedness.
An excerpt from “Healing Family Relationships” by Rob Rienow: