Today we finish our look at forgiveness by looking at forgiveness within the context of our families. How do we forgive our parents or children and how do we offer and receive forgiveness from our brothers and sisters. It’s important to consider forgiveness in these relationships because these are often the most formative and most difficult relationships in our lives. Our lives are shaped by our parents and families and even when these relationships are positive and nurturing, forgiveness can be difficult, but when families are broken and dysfunctional, forgiveness can seem impossible and without forgiveness we end up carrying around deep pain for years. Now forgiveness may not always mean that relationships with our parents, children or siblings can be reconciled and restored but if we are able to let go of our bitterness and anger then at least we can experience a measure of freedom and wholeness that will open up our hearts and lives to a better and healthier future.
To help us think about forgiveness in the midst of our families we are going to look at the very first time the word forgiveness appears in the Bible because it appears in the midst of a story about one very dysfunctional family, the family of Joseph. Joseph was the son of Jacob and Rachael and had 11 older brothers, half brothers really because Jacob had children with his two wives and their maidservants. Joseph had a total of 13 sons to 4 women! To make matters worse, Jacob did not love his children equally, he loved Joseph more than all the rest and he was pretty clear about making this known by giving Joseph alone a beautiful multicolored robe. That robe became a symbol of Jacob’s love and a source or great anger and resentment for Joseph’s brothers. This family was filled with jealousy, bitterness and sibling rivalry which was all brought on by the parents, but we can’t really blame Jacob for this because that was how he was raised.
If you remember the story of Jacob, he was the son of Isaac and Rebecca who had two sons, twins actually, Esau and Jacob. Growing up Isaac favored Esau while Rebecca favored Jacob and both boys knew this. The sibling rivalry drove Jacob to deceive his father and steal the birthright from his brother all with his mother’s blessing. As we can see, this family was also filled with jealousy, bitterness and sibling rivalry encouraged by the parents. Sound familiar? But in some way we can’t blame Isaac because he learned all this from his parents.
Isaac was the son of Abraham and Sarah and he had an older brother Ishmael who was Abraham’s first child to Sarah’s servant, Hagar. If you remember that story, Abraham and Sarah were told by God they were going to have a son but when that son didn’t come quickly enough they took matters into their own hands and Abraham had a child with Hagar. When Sarah finally did have a son, she became so jealous of Hagar and Ishmael that she sent them away. God had them return, but there was strife, conflict and jealous that remained part of that family and shaped Isaac’s life, which shaped the life of his son Jacob which in turn shaped the life of his family, his 13 sons which included Joseph.
One of the things we see here is that without forgiveness and grace restoring relationships, we continue to pass on to future generations our pain and problems which means it is important for us to learn how to forgive those in our family. The other thing that is important to remember as we look at Joseph’s family tree is that these were the people God chose as his own. God did not choose perfect people and perfect families. God chose very ordinary people who were all part of broken families and he worked in them, with them and through them – which means God is more than willing and able to work in and through us. Just because we may not come from the perfect family doesn’t mean God is not able to do something significant in and with our lives, but if we are going to move forward in life and faith we need to learn how to forgive.
So now let’s go back to Joseph’s life. When Joseph was young he knew he was his father’s favorite and all his brothers knew he was his father’s favorite. Instead of trying to build good relationships with his brothers by being humble and kind, Joseph announced to his brothers that he had a dream where they were all going to bow down before him. As you can imagine, this did not go over well. When Joseph kept going on and on about how he was going to rise up as the greatest among his brother’s they had finally had enough so one day decided to kill him. The anger and resentment in this family had boiled over and it took control of the hearts and minds of Joseph’s brothers.
Instead of killing Joseph, they decided that a better idea was to sell him to group of slave traders who were travelling through the area and then tell their father that Joseph had been torn apart my some wild animals. So they took Joseph’s beautiful coat, ripped it into pieces, covered it in blood and told his father that his favorite son had been killed. The brothers spent years watching their father mourn for his favorite son while they kept the secret that he was really alive and living as a slave. Think about what that must have done to the brothers. There must have been guilt for what they had done and pain watching their father grieve, but also anger at Joseph for in their minds he caused all this to happen and disappointment that their Dad still didn’t love them as much he loved Joseph. There is a lot of pain and brokenness here. There is anger, jealousy, resentment, disappointment, plotting against a brother, keeping painful secrets from a father – lots of stones getting throne about here into everyone’s backpack.
If you have been with us the last few weeks we have been talking about sin and the pain we cause one another in relationships by using the analogy of rocks and a backpack. The backpack is our heart and soul, it is the totality of our lives and the stones are the sins that we commit against others. Some sins are small and we need to learn to just let these go. If we don’t let them go then they will build up in us over the years and may not cause the other person any grief but it will weigh us down in life.
The medium sized rocks are larger sins that often require both repentance and forgiveness to overcome. These are things we might intentionally say or do to belittle or hurt someone and when we do this it is like throwing a stone in their backpack. For Joseph and his brothers this might be reminding your brothers that you are the favorite and that you are going to become a great leader that all the rest will bow down to someday. To remove these stones we might need to go and apologize to the person we have offended and work to take the stone out of their backpacks. When we apologize we need to be acknowledge of what we have done, feel genuine remorse, confess our actions and work to change.
Now if the stones have been placed in our backpacks, if we are the ones who have been offended then we need to learn how to offer forgiveness to others. Even if the one who hurt us never comes to apologize, we need to at least forgive them from our heart so we aren’t poisoning our own lives. Remember, holding a grudge is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die, so we need to learn to forgive and this means S.P.A.R.ing with them. Not fighting but:
Seeking to understand who they are,
Praying for them,
Assuming the best in them, and
Remembering our own sin so that we see things in context.
All of this helps us ask for and offer forgiveness but then there are big stones that really take time, energy and effort to overcome. In Joseph’s story this might be his brothers selling him into slavery or lying to their father about Joseph being dead. If people come to us to repent it can help us offer forgiveness, but if they don’t we still need to work through this pain and let go of our anger.
In families today, these stones look like years of verbal abuse and being put down by a parent. Or it might be physical or sexual abuse by a relative or it might simply be knowing that you are not the favored child, which is what Joseph’s brothers faced. These stones can hurt and weigh us down and they often require some help in letting them go. Sometimes we find that help in a therapist or counselor and if ever there was a family that needed some counseling it was Joseph’s family. Sometimes we find help to learn how to forgive in support groups or small groups and sometimes we can find it in someone who just knows what we are going through.
What is portrayed so powerfully here is that the coach was still learning how to forgive his dad. Forgiveness for a lifetime of hurt within our families doesn’t happen overnight, but it can happen and when we learn how to forgive and let go then we can help others learn to forgive and let go. This is the power of support groups and small groups. When we share our experiences with one another we are teaching them and showing them how to forgive. Our lives become the road map for others to follow and it gives them hope that they might be able to come to a place of healing and wholeness themselves. But sharing our experiences does more than help others, it helps us. Just like in the movie, when we reach out to help others forgive we find more healing and hope ourselves. When we help others forgive we continue our own journey of forgiveness.
Other ways we can begin to work through the pain and hurt within our families is to confront the situation with the person. It might be having a heart to heart talk with a parent or child and sharing the hurt we have experienced or confessing the pain we know we have inflicted upon a brother or sister. We can write a letter to someone and put into words all the hurt and pain we feel or feel we have caused. Even if the other person has died, we can still write that letter and allow the words we write be part of the healing process and our journey of letting go. We can also pray. People have found that praying the Lord’s Prayer over and over again helps but we have to focus on what we are saying:Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. Prayer can really shape us and help us forgive.
Some people have also found that the most helpful part of the journey of forgiveness is looking at the painful situation we have gone through and realizing that God can redeem it and turn it into something good. A good friend of mine grew up in a very dysfunctional home. Her mother was an alcoholic who often ended up in the hospital because of her drinking. One day when Linda got home from school the ambulance was there and they were taking her mother out on a stretcher. When she saw Linda, she grabbed her hand and said you are coming with me. Linda went to the hospital with her mother where her mother eventually died.
A few years later Linda’s family visited her at her summer job in Yellowstone and on their way home to Illinois, her father and three sisters were in a car accident. One sister was killed, one received severe and permanent injuries to her leg and her father remained in a coma for weeks. At 19 years old Linda had to plan her sister’s funeral and make sure it was all videotaped for her father to see if he got out of a coma. This trauma caused Linda to make some poor choices and she ended up in some legal trouble, but through it all she kept turning to God. She didn’t allow bitterness, anger and resentment get the best of her, she simply kept trusting God. In time, Linda learned to forgive herself and others and her journey brought her to a place where she now helps others.
Linda became a Christian counselor who specialized in working with youth and families. She helps young people and families work through the dysfunction of alcoholism and addictions and she helps them work through the grief and pain of loss. Linda has worked with people struggling with the lingering effects of low self esteem and self worth. While Linda could have held on to all her pain and anger – she allow God to actually redeem it all and turn it into something good in her life and in the life of others.
And now this brings us back to Joseph’s story. After Joseph had been sold into slavery he suffered unjustly for years. He was falsely accused of rape and ended up in jail, but instead of getting angry at God he simply asked God to continue to be a part of his life. I’d like to think that Joseph prayed something like this, God I can’t change my past. I can’t change what has happened to me, but you can shape my future. I don’t know if Joseph prayed this, I don’t know if Linda prayed these words, but I know God did exactly this in their lives. God redeemed them and used them.
Joseph not only rose to leadership in the nation of Egypt but his plan to stockpile grain helped keep Egypt and all the surrounding nations alive during years of drought and it was during this time of drought that his brothers finally ended up back in Joseph’s life. Needing food, Jacob sent his sons to Egypt to buy some grain and to do this they had to go to Joseph. Joseph’s dream had come true, his brothers were bowing down before him, but instead of being angry or arrogant or proud, Joseph had learned how to give his past to God so he could now forgive. Not only did he forgive his brothers, Joseph said that all that had happened to him had prepared him to reach out and bless his family, which is where we pick it up the story in Genesis 50:15-21.
While Joseph’s brothers had intended to harm him, God used it for something good. We don’t always see this when we are going through the difficult times, but if we can learn to forgive and trust God, in time we might see the larger plan God has for us and all the ways God can bless us and use us. The apostle Paul said that God works for the good in all things for those who love Christ Jesus. But God can’t do this, God can’t work for the good in our lives, if we are weighed down by un-forgiveness. So today we have a choice, we can hold on to these rocks and keep carrying them around in our hearts and souls, or we can let them go or let God take them away or slowly chip them away until we can let them go so that we can begin to experience all the fullness of life. So today, the choice is ours, we can hold on and carry these rocks or we can turn and cling to this one.
Forgiveness in Families
1. Dig deeper into the story of Joseph. See Genesis 37 – 50
· In what ways did Joseph sin against his brothers?
· How did Joseph show humility toward his brothers?
· How did the brothers seek Joseph’s forgiveness?
· How did Joseph offer his brother’s forgiveness?
· What events during Joseph’s life helped him forgive his brothers?
· What one practical lesson about forgiveness in the family can you learn from the life of Joseph?
2. Who in your family do you struggle to forgive? Spend some time S.P.A.R.ing with them.
· Seek to understand them.
· Pray for them.
· Assume the best in them.
· Remember your own sins.
3. Now ask yourself if their sin against you is small, medium or large?
· If it is small, can you let it go?
· If it is medium, can you approach them and begin a journey of forgiveness?
· If it is large, can you invite others to help you learn what forgiveness might look like?