When Family is Not Everything | Following Jesus When He Calls

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Hello again. Today's post is titled "When Family is Not Everything." This post is a very hard post for me to write because I have wrestled with this for a long, long time in my personal life. Culturally speaking the phrase "family is everything" is pretty much widely adopted and accepted throughout every culture that I can think of. Ideally families provide a sense of identity, acceptance, feelings of security and belonging. Even so, ideal concepts are not always the reality, so I am sharing why I believe God led me away from my immediate family, my personal struggles with that, and why we should follow Jesus when he calls us to even if it means distancing yourselves from relatives. In Luke 18: 29-30, Jesus said,
Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the Kingdom, who will not receive many times more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life.
Family Not Everything

When Family is Not Everything 

Before jumping in, I want to state the obvious. I love my family. It was my mom who planted seeds of faith in my heart and her witness that introduced me to the love of God. I remember the prayers before school and some of the principles she taught me that I later discovered in the Bible for myself. Even so, it is very difficult for people with traumatic pasts to leave the familiar and be set apart and allow God to renew and transform them. I state that in complete confidence because that is something I am seeking now to do for myself. It is one of the hardest things I've ever done and especially, at first, it was very lonely and confusing. Dysfunction is common in families, especially blended families and poor or working poor families. Those were my family's circumstances. In addition to that, my mom had a traumatic childhood herself and didn't have a proper family structure or dynamic. It was her grandmother, a strong, praying woman who took her in and taught her about God and read the Bible to her. 

My early childhood experiences were dark and confusing. Stress, anxiety and depression were tangible and took over the atmosphere of our home. Even so, my mom did the best she could. She met my stepdad when I was three. I was the oldest of three kids at that time. My youngest sister was born when I was around 6 and my mom married my stepdad a few years after that. There was some dysfunction in those years that I won't detail here, but I would like to add that my stepdad did not grow up with a father in his home and his uncles were very authoritative disciplinarians. So neither one of my parents grew up in a traditional family home.

Following Jesus When He Calls

As I mentioned beforehand, my mom first planted seeds of faith in me when I was elementary school aged. We didn't grow up in church. In fact, we moved around a lot. However, there was one period in time where my mom joined a church in the city we lived in for a short period of time. My stepdad didn't attend with us. I can recall comments that he'd made that clearly summarized his disinterest in church in general. Even so, that was one of the most secure times for me because my mom had such peace within her and clearly displayed the fruits of the Spirit. I'd felt God's presence during that time especially and even more so in high school. I used to watch  some TBN programs with my mom and even started watching them on my own. I was a freshman in high school when I prayed the prayer of salvation and confessed Jesus as Lord. It was while watching a program alone in my room. It was a different atmosphere in my home at that time and my mom seemed more like she was in my earlier years when she was stressed. She was more career focused and they were doing the best they could to support us. As a result, we moved around a lot as they sought higher paying jobs and cities with better costs of living. 

I started to feel drawn to read my Bible and draw closer to God during my junior and senior year of high school, which was the third high school I was enrolled in. Reading the Bible and learning about Jesus was such a powerful thing. That was when I first started feeling like God wanted to use me in a way that was contrary to the little peaceful, easy, comfortable life that I'd imagined for myself haha. It scared me honestly. I didn't know exactly what it would entail, but I knew I'd have to be courageous and honest like Jesus was. It was around that time that my family's dysfunction seemed to be more directed and targeted towards me, especially from my stepdad. I had graduated from high school and had been applying and preparing for college. That was the first time my stepdad told me that it was a privilege for me to live at home because I was grown now and didn't have to be permitted to stay. That broke my heart and I ran to my mom for reassurance, but little did I know the level of dysfunction, division, and abuse that was about to unfold.

The Troubled Years

During college, there were often occurrences of physical abuse, emotional abuse, control, manipulation, division, neglect, etc. I slowly became more angry, confrontational, resentful, and anxious. I didn't know what to do because your family is all anyone knows and all I wanted was for us to be healthy and united.
I remember praying to God that I simply didn't understand. Still, I used that time to motivate myself to finish college, work, and complete course internships so that I would be free and financially stable. However, before graduation, I was so tired of living in that environment and I left home. I ended up meeting two of my aunts from my biological dad's side around that time and receiving support to pay for my final semester of college and to help me pay for my dorm room. Prior to that, I lived with a friend for a while. I'd been invited to live with my aunt, but she was far from my school and job, so I was invited to move in with my ex boyfriend's family by his dad. 

After graduating college, I tried to settle there and obviously create a life with him, but God had other plans. I believe God led me away from family and my ex and his family, but I always wondered and looked back. Even though I moved out of state for law school, I was still more comfortable with the idea of a life involving my family and my ex. Ignoring that pull led to years of confusion, and guilt and even more extreme levels of dysfunction and chaos, especially once I became pregnant with my son. My resistance to control from my family and my ex's family made me the black sheep. I'd never felt more alone and rejected and like a failure in my life up to that point, but God is faithful. He heard my prayers and He gave me instructions and I returned to law school, graduated, and began this journey of seeking God seriously.

The Aftermath

Moving away from family is something so contrary to our societal values. I would hear things like you're supposed to honor your parents, family is everything, and you have to forgive and love them. So, I tried to distance myself and keep in contact, but even with that there was resentment as well as gossip, manipulation and slander occurring regularly. It was pretty much the same for my ex's family. I would try to play peacemaker and keep forgiving and hoping things would get better, but leaving that door open just kept opening the door to self doubt, temptation to return to that toxic life, low self-esteem, fear, and anxiety, and resentment. 

When I started pulling away even more, I started seeing how much all those years of dysfunction negatively impacted my relationship with God. With the failures, rejection, and pain from all of that, I  had trouble understanding my life and what I'd walked through. I wasn't allowing my mind to be renewed by pressing in to God when troubles came. I knew that I'd made bad choices in the context of my relationship with my ex and could more easily accept the consequences, but I didn't understand why. I was scared, my ex didn't want to be a family man and he'd hurt me by allowing me to be an outcast among his family. I was alone and I had no one else. Now I understand that God wanted to pull me away from that to learn of Him and His ways. He's given us all a free will. He entrusts parents with children, who are considered blessings from the Lord according to the Bible, and He expects parents to raise their children up in the way of the Lord. He expects fathers not to provoke their children to anger, but to instruct them and train them up in the Lord. He calls us to love others as ourselves according to the definition of love in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. With that being said, still, the GREATEST commandment is to love God with all of our heart, minds, and souls. That is understandable because God's perfect love is greater than anyone else's love towards us. I am by no means saying that I am completely healed and don't struggle emotionally with consequences of abuse, but I am saying that I am seeking God and trying to cast my cares on him and trust that He loves me and came to give me life and that more abundantly.

Biblical Support

I feel like I relate a lot to Abram's story beginning in Genesis 12 where he was called away from his country and his kindred and his father's house. I'm also drawn to the verse in Genesis 24:6 where Abraham in his old age instructed his servant to choose a wife for his son Isaac from his country and kindred, but stated that he must not take his son back there. The Bible really is so rich in stories and principles that can relate to everyone and any circumstance. 

I'm not saying that reconciliation isn't possible, but I'm noting that there may be times when God is calling you away from your family, even if it's for a season. We have to trust the impressions and the verses from the Bible that God leads and impresses upon us. It is better to trust in the Lord than anyone else. He is the one who is our shepherd. He knows the plans He has for us and we have to trust that it is for our welfare or our good. The devil comes to kill, steal, and destroy, but God comes to give us hope and a life more abundant. Everyone has to pray and be led by the Holy Spirit and seek guidance from the Word of God for themselves. Even so, these verses jumped out at me personally.

The verses are as follows:

  • Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. Ephesians 6:1
  • Do not think that I have come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a persons enemies will be those of his own household. Matthew 10:34-36
  • Another of the disciples said to him, "Lord, let me first go and bury my father." And Jesus said to him, "Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead. Matthew 8:21-22
  • Whoever loves a father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Matthew 10:37
  • And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. Matthew 10:38-39
  • If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and bothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Luke 14:26
This may be a heavy topic for some and a freeing topic for others. Anyone who has been at the receiving end of abuse over the course of years of their lives may very well find hope in this. Trying to pick up the pieces, having faith, and understanding God's love can be difficult when faced with experiences like these, so I appreciate anyone who provides their testimony. It is the truth found in God and His word that sets us free and faith in Jesus that gives us hope. Until next time,

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