Sometimes it’s hard to admit, but if we honestly evaluate the emotional and psychological well-being of our families, most of us would find patterns of dysfunction — some more apparent than others. Whether it’s an unethical parent or grandparent, an inappropriate uncle or aunt, a toxic sister or brother, our families often repeat destructive patterns for generations … draining the “fun” out of “Dysfunctional”!

Over and over, I talk with people who grew up — as I did — in a dysfunctional family. While stories vary, the resulting trail of tears is tragically the same.

The first book of the Bible records the story of Joseph, a child who grows up in a family where jealousy, dishonesty, anger, vengefulness, and fearfulness are passed from one generation to the next. However, embedded in Joseph’s story is also a biblical portrait of what God can do in the midst of a dysfunctional family … if just one family member is yielded to Him.1

Long before Joseph is born, his family is … a mess! Father Jacob is a liar and a cheat. Uncle Esau tries to kill Jacob for identity theft. When the time comes to marry, Jacob’s father-in-law, Laban, tricks him into marrying Leah, the older sister of Jacob’s true love, Rachel.

When Joseph is only 6-years-old, father Jacob moves the family to Canaan. But on the trip, mother Rachel steals the family idols and lies to her father, who seeks to find them. (Lies, lies, and more lies!)

Not long after they arrive at the outskirts of Canaan, Joseph’s half-sister Dinah is sexually assaulted by a man named Shechem. Joseph’s brothers convince Shechem and every male in the city to be circumcised so that the offense will be forgiven. Instead of a reprieve, two of Joseph’s brothers attack the town three days later, murdering all the males, stealing all the livestock, and taking away all the women and children, along with their belongings. Imagine the huge hodgepodge of dysfunctional behavior Joseph witnesses firsthand?

The Bible describes more dysfunction with Jacob, who loves Joseph more than his other sons. This favoritism enrages the brothers, who vengefully sell Joseph into slavery. Through God’s divine favor, however, Joseph is taken to Egypt, where he later becomes second-in-command — subject only to Pharaoh himself. In this strategic capacity Joseph later saves his entire family when famine overtakes their homeland.

What touches my heart the most about Joseph is this: While he comes from a long line of dysfunctional family members, God has an amazing, unprecedented plan for his life. Joseph’s intimate walk with the Lord far outweighs his family circumstances. By surrendering to God, Joseph chooses a different path than the inherited tendencies of his past. He chooses to be trustworthy in character, chooses to be obedient to authority, chooses to be sexually pure, and chooses to be forgiving instead of vengeful. As a result, although Joseph’s brothers mean to harm him, God uses their treachery as part of His far greater plan. To quote Joseph: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good …” (Genesis 50:20).

No matter how troubled your past, no matter how turbulent your present, God has a plan for your future. Joseph’s story is a powerful reminder that you don’t have to be a prisoner of your past. Jeremiah 29:11 says, “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’”

Dear friend, God promises that if you put your trust in Him, you have real hope for a transformed life. And God will walk with you every step of the way! If you or someone you know is experiencing difficult family dysfunction … struggling to change repeated, painful behavior … let me encourage you to take the following steps:

  • Ask God to give you eyes to see what you need to see.
  • Identify which dysfunctional patterns need to change.
  • Prioritize several achievable action steps that will enable you to move toward emotional health and healing.
  • Make a “no-turning-back” decision to give up your own unhealthy, immature patterns.
  • Share your struggle with someone wise, specifically asking that person to hold you accountable.

Recently we received this note at Hope For The Heart….

“When I married my husband I was introduced to a new level of family dysfunction. Through the Dysfunctional Family Biblical Counseling Keys from Hope For The Heart, I saw how I needed to set more specific boundaries. I also realized that I was assuming too much responsibility for unhealthy family members who were living with us. I was exhausted! Through your materials, I’ve learned that God did not call me to be loaded down with all the responsibility they should be carrying. Today, I’m living in freedom and now know how to deal with my extended family.”

Be assured, with the power of Christ inside you, your past does not have to dictateor sabotageyour future. Memorize and apply this Scripture to your life right now: “His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life …” (2 Peter 1:3).

I sincerely want to thank you for being a part of our Hope For The Heart family. It’s through your continued partnership that so many around the world are able to discover God’s truth and experience His hope and healing.