by Skip Heitzig | January 19, 2021
The term “dysfunctional family” came into vogue in the ’70s and ’80s to describe families that struggle to deal with one another and that produce problems that follow children into adulthood. However, dysfunction may be more pervasive than you think. It’s said George Bernard Shaw once quipped, “I don’t know if there are men on the moon, but if there are they must be using the earth as their lunatic asylum.” Maybe you read that and think, He must’ve known my family.
Genesis features a prominent tale of family dysfunction among Jacob, his two wives Rachel and Leah, his father-in-law Laban, and Laban’s sons (see Genesis 29-31). There may have been a little bit of fudge in this family, but there were many more nuts. Jacob had deceived his own father and brother and faced a comeuppance from Laban, who tricked Jacob into marrying both of his daughters and kept him on the payroll for fourteen years to do it.
This particular dysfunctional family points to a greater truth: every family is dysfunctional. Does that sound harsh? Let me explain. Because of sin, we all operate at a certain level of dysfunction, especially compared to how God means for us to live. In some families, of course, it’s worse. Dysfunctional people attract other dysfunctional people, which compounds any issue. Jacob and Laban were two peas in a defective pod, but the reason we have their story is so that we can see how God worked despite their issues.
Jacob, who swindled his brother Esau’s birthright and tricked his aged father into giving him Esau’s blessing, left home, thinking he could escape his family’s issues. He wasn’t the first to do this, nor the last to learn that running away doesn’t work, because wherever you go, there you are. You bring yourself, problems and all. Yet Jacob, we read in the New Testament, ended up being described as a faithful standard bearer for God (see Hebrews 11:20-21). In spite of his messed-up behavior, God still had plans for him.
Every family is affected by sin. That’s because we are all broken, flawed individuals who need a Savior. Jesus spoke of the people He came to save as poor, brokenhearted, captive, blind, and oppressed (see Luke 4:16-19). We are inherently dysfunctional. But here’s the good news: God can function in our dysfunction.
In the midst of family squabbles, God came to Jacob and said, “Return to the land of your fathers and to your family, and I will be with you” (Genesis 31:3). God blessed Jacob while he worked for Laban, and when Jacob was mature enough to see God’s hand at work, God brought him into a new season. That’s because the perfect God works through imperfect people. Admittedly, there’s no other kind of people for Him to use, but use us He does.
You’ve heard it said that you can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family. However, you can choose to adjust to your family. And you can choose to add positively to your family. In fact, the only way to fail when it comes to dysfunction is to take failure as the final word. Let God have the final say, and watch Him work even in the midst of family issues.