Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Familial Guilt: Is It My Fault? Is It Theirs?

"Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?" – John 9:2

I received a call from a dear family friend the other day. I hadn’t heard from her in a while and she needed to talk. After we got through a few minutes of small talk, she said she had to share something important with me: her teenage daughter had been diagnosed with glaucoma.

It began with a straightforward statement and explanation of the doctor’s finding. But then, mid-sentence, she broke down in tears.

“I feel so awful!” she cried. “The doctor says it’s genetic. It’s my fault!”

I listened as my sweet friend poured out her heart to me, so broken that her own genetic makeup – including several chronic illnesses – had been passed down to the next generation.
Familial guilt is all too common…and all too painful.
Just ask the parents of a child who has gone astray. No matter what they may have done right, their question is always “Where did we go wrong?” We blame ourselves when our perfect little babies don’t stay so perfect.

It works the other way around too. How many addicts and alcoholics blame their disease on their family members? “If only my mother had loved me more…” or “If only my father hadn’t been a drunk…” are common questions that run through the minds of those who find themselves struggling to break free from a life of self-destruction.

In both scenarios, blaming doesn’t really accomplish anything, does it? If anything, it piles more pain on top of the pain that’s already there.
We can only change what’s ours to change.
One of the best prayers I know for both of these situations is the Serenity Prayer. “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”

If I’m a parent, I can’t choose which qualities of my genetic makeup get passed down to my child. Last night, my daughter was commenting on how soft and smooth my skin was compared to hers. I told her that she might not have skin as soft as mine, but she had a longer and leaner body type, which I would have liked to have had. She wanted my smooth skin. I wanted her body type. Guess what? Neither of us could have both! We get what we get.

Perhaps we have made mistakes as parents. Should we beat ourselves up forever? I have yet to see any type of time machine that would enable us to go back and un-make the mistakes of the past, so there would never be any consequences in our lives. I have, however, seen some modern miracles of people who have turned around their lives so dramatically that they became role models and inspirations for their children to follow. It’s never too late to make a positive difference.

Likewise, I’ve seen examples of wayward adult children who were able to stop blaming their families for all of their misfortunes and start owning their own stuff. Most families are dysfunctional to one extent or another. At some point, we have to grow up and take responsibility for our own lives. And when we lay aside all of that anger and blame, those relationships that may have been toxic during our upbringings can finally start turning around too.
What would Jesus say? Don’t miss God’s purpose in the pain.
Jesus had experience with people who were struggling with familial guilt. Several scriptures in the Old Testament refer to the consequences of sin being passed down to future generations. Therefore, it wasn’t uncommon for parents or even grandparents to blame themselves when something went wrong in a child’s life. Perhaps that was why, in the story of the prodigal son, the father was so overjoyed when the younger son returned, repentant.

That dad would probably have held onto the verse in Proverbs that says “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” Don’t you think that when his son rebelled and spent all of his inheritance on wild parties, abandoning his family duties, the father may have asked himself, “What did I do wrong? Is this my fault?”

Even physical illness was even explained away as the result of sin. When Jesus came across a man who had been blind since birth, the first question his disciples asked him was, “Whose fault was this?” They wanted to know if it was the man’s sins or his parents’ sins that caused him to be blind. Jesus had a simple, yet clear, answer: It wasn’t anyone’s fault. He was just born that way. BUT, Jesus said, God allowed the situation “so that the works of God might be displayed in him.” And with that, Jesus healed the man and God was glorified, not only by the man himself but by all who heard his story.

So often, we miss God’s purpose in our pain, as well as in the situations our children find themselves in. How many times have you been inspired by someone who was paralyzed, and yet still praised God? How often do we hear of miracles, like someone’s life that’s been turned around, and been awed by the power of the Lord? How often have we needed to hear what God was doing in someone else’s life in order to trust Him with our own?

In scripture, over and over again, God assures us that He will never leave us, nor forsake us. That doesn’t mean we won’t go through trials, however. God even has a purpose for those. In James 1:2-3, the Bible says:

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds,3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

So it is with our children’s trials. Whether their struggles are physical, mental or emotional, God has a plan and a purpose for it all. Sometimes it is to teach. Other times it is to comfort. And sometimes, it is to bring about a miracle. After all, as one of my friends said recently, “God is a big show off!”

Nowhere in the New Testament, however, does it say that we are responsible for our family members’ health problems. Just as we don’t get to choose which of our parents’ traits we get passed down to us, we don’t get to choose which genes we pass on to our children.

In my own family, I’ve learned that having the same health issues as my parents have frequently given me the tools to deal with them. I recognized the symptoms earlier in one case, helping to stop the progression of the disease, and found in another case that the medication my mother had used worked for me as well.

Likewise, if my child faces the same struggles that I have, it may be a blessing in disguise. I can teach her what I have learned from my own experience and offer her empathy I might otherwise not have. Just as sin can sometimes be passed down from generation to generation, so can healing and restoration. God has a perfect plan!

Do you ever struggle with familial guilt and blame? How have you seen God working things out for good, when things otherwise seemed hopeless? Are you willing to let go and let God, when it comes to you and your family members?

Familial Guilt: Is It My Fault? Is It Theirs? originally appeared on Spring Sight blog, by Linda W. Perkins. Click here for more posts. Get even more encouragement by following me on Facebook and Twitter

Many of Spring Sight's posts can also be found each week on Crystal Storms' Thoughtful Thursday,  Kelly Balarie's #RaRaLinkUp, Holly Barrett's Testimony Tuesday, Holley Gerth's Coffee for Your Heart, and Woman to Woman's Word Filled Wednesday. I also link up often with Jennifer Dukes Lee and Dawn at Journeys in Grace, as well as with Lori Schumaker.

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  1. I had to give this up many years ago. As a person with diabetes I had decided at 17 I did not want children. After I asked Sheryl to marry me we had to sort out the issue with children. I always wanted children but well could I do it knowing I had diabetes? We nearly broke up but I decided I could risk it. 39 years of marriage and two sons I love more than life itself both without diabetes. Oh and did I mention three grandchildren?

    Yes making a wonderful decision is putting it in Gods hands, who could have thought?

    1. What a wonderful testament to your faith, Rick, as well as God's blessing! I am so happy that you trusted Him and it all worked out well. Praise Him!

  2. oh yes ... so often. The enemy immediately uses that place of great big love for our children to speak false guilt over our souls. It's in the genetic stuff, the generational stuff, and in the parenting stuff. Unless we continue to release it to God, trust He will fill our gaps and hold the situation in His faithful hands, and contradict every lie with truth, we will be weighted down and defeated. Thanks, Linda, for this hope-filled reminder!!
    Blessings and smiles,

    1. Stay hopeful, Lori! God is good all the time. Peace, love and joy to you today.