“Parents are a child’s escort through life. We have, in our culture, approximately eighteen years to escort our children safely into their own way, like a police escort that escorts specially designated travelers through traffic. Parents are to escort their children through life, safely, during the time that we have responsibility for them.”
Escorting our children through life is a long-term commitment. “Some parents think that by sending a child to college they are getting rid of them. What they don’t realize is that by sending them away what they are really doing is increasing their phone bill, their fuel bill, and the amount of counseling time. Parenting will always be hard work.”
Sometimes escorting children through life is hard to do because of the lack of functionality parents had in their own childhood. I find it hard to comprehend why children grow up making the same mistakes as their parents. However, dysfunction brings about dysfunction.
A parent’s responsibility is to be the filter on the home. Water filters keep impurities from getting into the home. Air filters keep dirt and dust out of the home. Parents are filters for their families so that the dirt and contaminates stay out of their children’s lives. Being a filter is tough when the dirt is from your own past. However, parents, we have to dust off our dysfunctions through God’s help and a lot of effort.
Joseph is a survivor of dysfunction. He is one of the main characters of the book of Genesis. In the stories of the beginning of Creation, life, humankind, and God’s people, God included the incredible struggle and triumph of Joseph. This is God’s way of introducing the truth of his guidance and plan in the lives of individuals who go through suffering. The theme verse for Joseph’s life was written hundreds of years later by Paul.
Romans 8:28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
Joseph emerged in the pages of the Bible as a teenager with ten older brothers. His family was dysfunctional. Like Jesus, Joseph was betrayed and sold by his closest companions and suffered for the benefit of God’s people. Joseph ended up alone, captive in a pit, and then sold into slavery by his own family.
Joseph’s problems began, in part, because of his father’s poor judgment. Jacob, Joseph’s father, unintentionally set Joseph up for an adversarial relationship with his brothers. Jacob’s love for his son Joseph had caused alienation and disgust among the other children.
Genesis 37:1-11 Jacob lived in the land of his father's sojournings, in the land of Canaan. 2 These are the generations of Jacob. Joseph, being seventeen years old, was pasturing the flock with his brothers. He was a boy with the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, his father's wives. And Joseph brought a bad report of them to their father. 3 Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his sons, because he was the son of his old age. And he made him a robe of many colors. 4 But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him and could not speak peacefully to him. 5 Now Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers they hated him even more. 6 He said to them, “Hear this dream that I have dreamed: 7 Behold, we were binding sheaves in the field, and behold, my sheaf arose and stood upright. And behold, your sheaves gathered around it and bowed down to my sheaf.” 8 His brothers said to him, “Are you indeed to reign over us? Or are you indeed to rule over us?” So they hated him even more for his dreams and for his words. 9 Then he dreamed another dream and told it to his brothers and said, “Behold, I have dreamed another dream. Behold, the sun, the moon, and eleven stars were bowing down to me.” 10 But when he told it to his father and to his brothers, his father rebuked him and said to him, “What is this dream that you have dreamed? Shall I and your mother and your brothers indeed come to bow ourselves to the ground before you?” 11 And his brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the saying in mind.
Three Warnings against Family Dysfunction
1. Parents must guard against showing favoritism.
The temptation to be impartial or show favoritism is often greater when the child is younger. Sometimes, showing partiality is easier with younger children because the parents have more resources than they did when they had the first child. On the other hand, it is important not to penalize the youngest child just because he or she is the “baby” of the family.
In a similar way, parents often favor a child who happens to have a more cooperative or cooperative attitude. These behaviors are right and must be rewarded. However, a child may be more affectionate or relational by nature. Rewarding the sweet child without showing favoritism can be a tightrope walk.
Jacob’s favoritism was displayed in his gift to Joseph of a richly ornamented robe—a coat of many colors. Many families find themselves at odds when significant gifts are given to one member of the family and not others. The robe Jacob gave to his son was a gift of love, but it drove a wedge in the family.
Jacob’s obsession with his son Joseph at the expense of his relationship with his other children did great harm. The father’s inequity set Joseph up for a lot of pain. The Bible says that Joseph’s brother’s “hated him” (vv. 4, 8). The older brothers who were supposed to look out for Joseph would try to destroy him.
The unfortunate truth about Joseph’s brother’s hatred is that it bound them together in evil. People are sometimes drawn together by hate, just as others are drawn together by love. When persons who are united in hatred begin to collaborate and work together, fueled by the resentment, they are capable of heinous acts.
I find it incredible that a man shared the same father, dinner table, and business with his brothers and their character could be so different. Joseph emerged from his family with an amazing story and impeccable character. This means there is hope for you if you come from a dysfunctional family.
2. Our past experiences and family environments impact the way we make decisions.
“In swimming, there is an event called the medley relay. The medley relay involves each swimmer on the relay team taking different strokes with each person doing fifty yards of each stroke. The strokes in the relay include the backstroke, butterfly, breaststroke, and then the freestyle. In the medley relay, the backstroke leads off. Each stroke has a guideline that must be met. For example, the breaststroke must touch the wall with two hands and the top of the head cannot be submerged underwater after the first stroke. He’s got a guideline. The butterfly has to hit the wall simultaneously with both hands. There has to be a proper turn off the wall if you are doing the backstroke or the freestyle. If you disregard the rule, you do not only hurt yourself, you hurt the three other swimmers who are on your team.”
“When parents blow it in the home, they are not only blowing it for themselves, the repercussions are felt down the line. When mother and father get divorced, it’s not just that the mother and father don’t like each other anymore or can’t stand to live together anymore. What they’ve done is torn asunder brother and sister and there are repercussions down the line. For good or for bad, the actions of parents touch somebody else.”
Many of our challenges in families are related to the mistakes and patterns of others. This was true in Joseph’s case. When we are young and impressionable, we lack the wisdom and experience to filter out the dysfunction that can take root in our own approach to life. When we grow older, we can make serious mistakes in judgment if we do not think introspectively and gain wisdom from God and others.
To become wise, we must learn to think biblically and let God determine our patterns instead of relying mindlessly on our past experiences.
Jacob, Joseph’s dad, had made a lot of mistakes. He married a woman he didn’t love, Leah, so that he could marry her sister, Rachel! The first wife had children. The second did not. So, to have more children, Jacob brought other women into the equation and had a total of twelve sons. Jacob’s true love, Rachel, had two children in the arrangement: Joseph and Benjamin. When Joseph’s little brother Benjamin was born, Rachel died to leave Jacob heartbroken.
Joseph, probably taking cues from his father Jacob, had no qualms about naively sharing the dream he had of the head of grain rising over the others. His revelation of rising to prominence was something he shared with no explanation, it seems. Certainly, Joseph’s dream became something God would use to give him hope in the days ahead. Nevertheless, the brothers were focused on their seething resentment of Joseph.
Max Lucado wrote, “Your family history has some sad chapters. But your past doesn’t have to be your future. The generational garbage can stop here and now. You don’t have to give your kids what your ancestors gave you.”
“Talk to God about the scandals and scoundrels [in your family]. Invite him to relive the betrayal with you. Bring it out in the open. . . . Revealing leads to healing. Don’t just pray, ‘Lord, help me forgive my father.’ Unearth the details: ‘God, Daddy never wanted to be a part of my life. He didn’t even come to my birthday parties. I hated him for that. Or: ‘Every day I came home from school to find Mom drunk, lying on the couch. I had to make dinner, take care of baby brother, do homework on my own. It’s not right, God!’”
“Difficult for certain. But let God do his work. The process may take a long time. It may take a lifetime. Family pain is the deepest pain because it was inflicted so early and because it involves people who should have been trustworthy. You were too young to process the mistreatment. You didn’t know how to defend yourself. Besides, the perpetrators of your pain were so large. Your dad, mom, uncle, big brother—they towered over you, usually in size, always in rank.”
“When they judged you falsely, you believed them. All this time you’ve been operating on faulty data. ‘You’re stupid . . . slow . . . dumb like your daddy . . . fat like your mama . . .’ Decades later these voices of defeat still echo in your subconscious.”
But they don’t have to! ‘Let God transform you. You are not who they said you were. You have a God-given destiny.
3. We make our worst decisions when we are fearful or insecure.
Caution and prayer are in order when we face a crisis or become anxious. Often, when people feel backed into a corner, they make decisions that cause more pain and rejection.
Joseph’s brothers—Reuben, Gad, Levi, Zebulun, Judah, and the rest—reacted violently to Joseph’s dream. They did not hug Joseph and promise to kneel gladly before Joseph and obey him. To the contrary, they took Joseph in his royal coat of many colors and committed to doing away with him. After a last minute plea from the oldest brother, Reuben, they decided instead of killing him, they cast him into a pit and sold him to a group of slave traders.
Our fears and insecurities can drive us to do things that do not make sense. I hate yellow jackets. They are angry, territorial insects. They are merciless. They travel in swarms. When I was a child, I remember running from a swarm of yellow jackets I had stumbled onto. As I ran from them, I dove through a thorn bush to escape. I was so distracted by yellow jackets, I was pierced, scratched, and bloodied by the painful thorns. When we mindlessly react to our fears and insecurities, we hurt ourselves and others.
Joseph’s brothers were reacting to their painful experience of rejection. Their hatred for Joseph was really an expression of their disgust for their own father.
Could you imagine how Joseph must have felt in the bottom of the cistern? He was deserted by his family. The brother stripped off his fancy coat. They left him crying for help and mercy. Joseph was regretting that he shared his vision from God. How terrible to hear the merchants negotiating a price for him.
Joseph was carried away to Egypt without any money, family, or security. He was surrounded by clean-shaven people who worshiped foreign Gods. They spoke differently. They ate different food. They built pyramids. Joseph was completely alienated and confused. How would the dream from God about his rise to prominence ever become a reality?
The good news is that in spite of his family’s complete dysfunction and ruthless behavior, Joseph believed God had a plan for his life. Joseph knew that even though his family abandoned him, God did not. His response reminds us that God has a plan for us too.
John 15:16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.
Joseph was probably seventeen when he was sold as a slave. He would have been around thirty when Pharaoh put him in charge of preparing Egypt for the great famine. His time of being a slave and in prison would have spanned thirteen years. For thirteen years, God made Joseph do something significant with his life. Joseph was being fashioned on the anvil of pain for some higher, greater purpose than he could have experienced if he had stayed close to the comforts of home.
Joseph could have lived a life of bitterness, playing the victim. Instead, Joseph believed God had a purpose for his life. He would eventually forgive his family for all of the pain they had caused him. Joseph did not allow disappointment to destroy his life. Joseph put all of his trials into God’s hands, and God turned them into an incredible story of triumph.
Nevertheless, the goodness Joseph experienced did not excuse the actions of his father and brothers. Joseph did not deserve to be abandoned and left for dead by his brothers. Sure, Joseph was boastful, but he did not deserve to be tossed away like garbage—sold for a small sum.