Dealing With Family drama
Kirsten loved her family, but she struggled
to spend time with them. Her parents had divorced when she was young, so she had
two blended families.
Her older sister was super religious and
spent every holiday critiquing other relatives. Her younger brother had a
falling out with their mother and wasn’t speaking to her.
Her step-sister loved Kirsten and treated
her well, but she couldn’t tolerate the family and wouldn’t attend reunions and
other events. Her father was in and out of rehab for his drug
addiction—sometimes stealing money and valuables from other relatives.
Kirsten couldn’t help but feel disappointed
every time she saw a movie that portrayed a warm, kind family or heard her
friend complain about her loved ones. She felt like she had gotten the “broken”
family from God, and she didn’t know how to deal with it.
Why ALL The Family Drama?
It doesn’t matter whether they’re rich or
poor; conservative or liberal; spiritual or agnostic; family has the potential
to drive us crazy! Most of the time, it’s not that you don’t care about the
people that God gave to you—it’s that you just don’t understand how to love
To begin healing rifts and start fresh in your
relationships, it helps to understand where your family drama stems from. Here
are a few reasons that families become fractured…
One of the most common reasons for family drama is differing opinions. King Saul and Jonathon had radically different views of David. Saul was the current king of Israel, but God had rejected him and chosen to anoint a new king, a young shepherd boy.
David was that boy. While Saul plotted to kill the future king, Prince Jonathon became his friend, loving David as he loved his own soul (1 Samuel 18:1).
Not only did Jonathon save David’s life multiple times, but he also gave his own garments to his friend, as in verse 4:
4“Jonathan took off the robe he was wearing and gave it to David, along with his tunic, and even his sword, his bow and his belt.” (1 Samuel 18:4)
This act symbolized Jonathon’s acceptance
of God’s will in his life. He didn’t try to fight for his legacy. Instead, he
trusted God even though the future wasn’t going to look like what he’d imagined
as a boy.
Jonathon’s story is an excellent example of
family drama. Just like him, you’re not called to agree with your family on
every issue. You can choose to quietly do the right thing and trust that God
sees your heart.
Another reason your family might be experiencing drama is a lack of grace toward one another. A prime example of this is the story of the prodigal son. If you’re not familiar with the story, it’s about a young man who goes to his father, demanding half of his estate.
He’s asking for the inheritance, essentially wishing for his father’s early death so he can do as he pleases. His wise father grants him his request, and the prodigal leaves.
After he’s squandered the money, he finds himself living in filth and unable to pay his bills. He can’t even afford to order off the Dollar Menu at McDonald’s. So the young man sets out for home. He hopes he can plead with his father to make him a servant, so at least he’ll have food to eat.
When he comes begging for forgiveness, his father ignores his apologies and yells for the servants to bring the young man a fresh change of clothes. His father restores him back to his place as his son and throws a party to celebrate his return.
But the prodigal’s older brother, who hears of the party, is angry. He won’t join the celebration, so his father comes to him, pleading with him.
The older brother recounts all of the things he’s done to serve his father over the years. After he comes to the end of the list, he makes a telling statement:
30“But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!” (Luke 15:30)
The older brother wasn’t willing to give
his sibling the grace to grow. He couldn’t see that his brother was trying to
turn over a new leaf. He was so focused on who his brother was that he couldn’t understand that God was doing a new work in him.
It’s hard when family members don’t live up
to our expectations. But it’s equally hard on them when we won’t give them the
space they need to experience God’s change in their life.
Maybe you have a sister who was an
alcoholic, and you remind her of this at every get-together. Perhaps your father
failed you in some way as a child, and you bring it up during family holidays.
It’s not that you must accept bad behavior.
But at some point, you need to decide if you want to follow the example of the
older brother or the loving father who welcomed his precious son home again.
A third reason for family drama is unresolved hurts. This was the major cause of problems in Esau and Jacob’s relationship. Their parents both chose a favorite son, with Isaac preferring Esau and Rebekah taking Jacob’s side. This created an unhealthy dynamic of two-against-two, rather than four joyfully walking through life together.
When Jacob stole Esau’s blessing, a bitter feud broke out between the two brothers.
Esau held a grudge against Jacob because of the blessing his father had given him. He said to himself,
41“The days of mourning for my father are near; then I will kill my brother Jacob.” (Genesis 27:41)
To avoid this outcome, Rebekah sent Jacob
away to her relatives. There, he started working for his uncle, married two women,
and had many children. When God called Jacob to return to his homeland, he set
off to do just that.
But while traveling, Jacob learns his
brother is approaching along with four hundred men. Jacob fears his brother
will kill him, yet he calls out to God, reminding Him of all His kind promises.
When the two brothers finally meet, the
reunion is not bitter but sweet.
4“But Esau ran to meet Jacob and embraced him; he threw his arms around his neck and kissed him. And they wept.” (Genesis 33:4)
The story of Esau and Jacob illustrates
that there can be reconciliation and healing in a family. Even if you’ve given
up hope that anything will happen, God can still soften hearts. He can change
painful legacies and mend broken relationships.
When Family Rejects You
As much as we might want it, family doesn’t
always understand or support us. Sometimes, your family may even outright
reject you. Perhaps they feel you aren’t living up to your potential. Maybe
they disagree with your views. Or maybe you spoke the truth about a situation
everyone wishes would go away.
Nothing cuts quite as deep as family
The people God gave to love, protect, and
honor you now sneer at you. They slander your name. They mock your pain. They
betray you again and again.
When dealing with rejection, the first
thing to remember is that you are dearly loved by God, and nothing can separate
you from that love. In Romans 8, Paul writes:
38“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,[a] neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)
In Psalms, David talks of family rejection, proclaiming,
10“Even if my father and mother abandon me, the LORD will hold me close.” (Psalm 27:10) NLT
When your family rejects you, it can be
helpful to look for the “family” that God has placed around you. For example,
Jonathan was like a brother to David. He was a special blessing from God, meant
to refresh and comfort David. Perhaps God has put or is leading a Jonathan into
Although Timothy grew up with his father, the
man was listed as a Greek in Scripture (Acts 16:1). This means he most likely
didn’t share Timothy’s faith or the faith of Timothy’s mother. So in many ways, Timothy was without a spiritual
father to guide him.
But God provided Paul to be a mentor, a
friend, and a father figure to Timothy. Paul even refers to the younger man as
his beloved son:
17“For this reason I have sent to you Timothy, my son whom I love, who is faithful in the Lord. He will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus, which agrees with what I teach everywhere in every church.” (1 Corinthians 4:17)
Ruth is another example of a family that God
provides. Naomi sent her daughters-in-law away in the hopes that they would
find good husbands and once again know the joy of family. Notice their
14“Then Orpah kissed her mother-in-law goodbye, but Ruth clung to her.” (Ruth 1:14)
Although she had been released from any
moral commitment to Naomi, Ruth still treated the older woman as if she were
her beloved mother. She swore that she would share in whatever fate that Naomi
did (Ruth 1:16).
Family rejection is never easy to deal
with. But you must remember that family members do not always see you as you
are. For example, an emotionally abusive parent may have called you ugly, fat,
stupid, or worthless as you grew up.
None of these words are true. But they can
leave deep scars. This is when it’s helpful to remember what God says about
you. Here are some of the words that God uses to describe you…
- You are His child (1 John 3:1)
- You are accepted (Romans 15:7)
- You are made in His image
- You are God’s handiwork (Ephesians
- You are a special possession (1
- You are engraved on His palm (Isaiah
- You are a Holy temple (1
- You are free from condemnation (Romans
- You are a new creation (2
- You are held securely in God’s
hand (John 10:28-29)
- You are an overcomer (Romans
- You are a valuable member of
the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:27)
Stop Looking to Broken Cisterns
When dealing with family drama, keep in mind that
most people only love as well as they’ve been loved. This is not an excuse for
poor or abusive behavior. It doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t call an
emotionally abusive family member out on their actions or that you should let a
physically (or sexually) abusive relative escape justice. Indeed, seeking
justice is one thing God requires of His children (Micah 6:8, Isaiah 56:1, Isaiah
However, this does mean that you can stop
looking to unkind family members for the love and validation you need. In
Jeremiah 2, God makes an interesting statement about his people, the nation of
Israel. He says:
13“My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.” (Jeremiah 2:13)
When God spoke about this, He was referring
to the Israelites who often turned after idols. They worshipped these lesser
“gods,” praying to them, seeking their favor, and looking to them for help.
God compares these idols to “broken
cisterns.” A cistern in Biblical times was a reservoir meant to collect water.
A broken cistern cannot hold water and is useless to someone living
in a harsh, desert climate.
Often, we do the same thing the Israelites
did…we keep seeking the validation, affirmation, and love we want from
dysfunctional people (broken cisterns) who cannot supply what we really need
(the love that’s found only in God’s embrace).
This doesn’t mean that you can’t have a
relationship with a family member or relative who is unable or unwilling to
meet your needs. You just stop expecting those needs to be met. Instead, you
focus on loving them where they are and being there for them.
Is There Hope for Healing?
If God had a slogan, it would simply be:
“Restoring Relationships.” That’s what He does—that’s the whole theme of the
Bible! It’s a story of the God who loves His creation (that’s you!) so much
that He spends centuries wooing you, loving you, and seeking you.
Jesus came to earth, calling out to the
unrighteous (that’s you and me!) and proclaiming that we could be made whole:
32“I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners and need to repent.” (Luke 5:32) NLT
God’s forgiveness restores us…and even now, God is still in the process of restoring areas of your life, including your relationships. Esau and Jacob were apart for years before their relationship was healed. The rift between Paul and John Mark was also healed in time. Look at what Paul said about him in Colossians:
10“My fellow prisoner Aristarchus sends you his greetings, as does Mark, the cousin of Barnabas. (You have received instructions about him; if he comes to you, welcome him.)” (Colossians 4:10)
In another book, Paul even goes on later to describe the younger man as
11“...helpful to me in my ministry” (2 Timothy 4:11)
As you hope for healing in a troubled relationship,
keep praying and seeking God’s will. Ask Him to show you how to be gracious in
this challenging place. Pray that God would give you a spirit of compassion and
gentleness with the other person. Be quick to forgive and extend grace even if
you don’t want to.
10“This is real love--not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins.” (1 John 4:10)
Agents of Healing
Sometimes, God even lets us participate in
the healing that’s taking place. This happened to Kirsten with her family. She
was out for lunch with her mother when her mom asked about her brother’s
With a deep breath and a prayer for wisdom,
Kirsten explained the situation from his perspective, sharing the deep hurt
she’d seen her brother go through. Her mom had been unaware she’d wounded her
son and had assumed his cold shoulder stemmed from the breakup of her first
Once Kirsten’s mom understood where her
son’s hurt came from, she sat down with him and had an honest conversation. She
apologized for the pain she’d caused and asked for help to heal the rift
“While it’s not the total healing in my
family that I’m praying for, it’s a start,” Kirsten shares. “I’m thankful that
God let me be a small part of the redemption story He’s weaving in the lives of
my loved ones.”
Sometimes when we ask God to heal
relationships, He opens up doors for us to have painful or scary conversations.
If this happens in your life, pray that God would give you a Spirit of
discernment so you could speak the truth with courage and love.
And remember, you aren’t responsible for
how the other person responds. Your only job is to proclaim truth and grace
when you’re presented with the opportunity. Then let God handle the rest!
Grace and peace,
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