Week 2, Day 2: Relationships
All of us have the need of [the] kind of homecoming in which
we claim our experiences as our own and acknowledge the ways
they have shaped us. Then we are in a position to take responsibility for ourselves rather than being driven by our unconscious patterns of manipulating and controlling reality.
- Ruth Haley Barton
READ: GENESIS 37:18-36
In 1954, a girl was born to an unwed teenage mother. As a child, she experienced sexual abuse from members of her own family. As a teenager, she became pregnant, but lost her baby in infancy. Subsequently, she was sent to live with her father, landed a job in radio while in high school, and became a co-anchor for the local news at age 19.
Today, Oprah Winfrey is one of the most well-known figures in America — successful, wealthy, and influential. She gives some credit to her grandmother Hattie Mae, who taught her to read before she was three and always encouraged her to speak in public, even if it was to recite Bible verses. But Oprah also once admitted that she chose not to be a mother because she herself had not been mothered well. She said, “I never felt compelled to do it. I always felt that I don’t even know how to do that.”
My eldest brother is a pastor. My middle brother is a pastor. I’m a pastor. Our dad, a bookish, corny-joke-cracking theologian, used to joke about us going to seminary as we were considering our educational paths. (Maybe he wasn’t joking after all!) I am who I am, in large part because of the people around me, the people who poured into my life, the people who were examples of what it meant to live the good, God-centered life. My parents were the first Christians in their respective families, but they laid the foundations for my brothers and I to serve in full-time pastoral ministry in a way neither they nor we could ever have guessed.
We have all been impacted by other people, for better or for worse, whether they were in our lives for moments or years, or because they were not present at all: parents, siblings, significant others, friends, mentors, and even strangers. Yesterday we looked at the experiences that have changed us. Today we will look at the relationships that have formed us — and continue to form us.
In yesterday’s reading from Genesis, we saw some of the family dynamics in Joseph’s family. Consider how his father Jacob’s favoritism and his own arrogance contributed to the actions of his brothers. Consider also how what his brothers did to him might have damaged him emotionally and psychologically.
Jesus was also undoubtedly influenced by his family. The Bible doesn’t tell us all that much about his parents — what they were like, what they enjoyed — but we do catch glimpses of their character:
In Luke 1, God chooses Mary, a young girl who was pledged to be married, to give birth to his son, Jesus. Undoubtedly, she would have felt a flurry of emotions and thoughts, but ultimately she submits to the will of God, saying, “I am the Lord’s servant. Let it be with me just as you have said” (Luke 1:38).
In Matthew 1, when Joseph learns that Mary is pregnant — and he knows the baby isn’t his — he decides to divorce her quietly rather than expose her to public humiliation. He did this because he “was a righteous man” (Matthew 1:19). Then, when God speaks to him in a dream and tells him to stay with Mary, he obeys, knowing that the talk of the town will be about their baby born out of wedlock.
Imagine the kind of people who would make such decisions; imagine the kind of home they would have made together; imagine the family dynamics Jesus might have experienced.
The people in our lives as we grew up have arguably the greatest impact on who we become; at the very least, they form the foundation on which our lives are built. How we handle conflict, for example, is likely to be a response to how conflict was handled in our family of origin — whether a continuation of it or a reaction against it. The family dynamics we grew up in will often influence the decisions we make and how we react to situations. Ask any married couple and the likelihood is you’ll hear how one person understood the other so much better after meeting their family.
But often, we aren’t aware of exactly how we are shaped by our early relationships and so we aren’t aware of the baggage or the blessings we carry with us. It’s easy to take for granted someone who has loved us unconditionally and provided a solid foundation for us — saying thank you is a good place to start! On the flipside, if someone we trusted has hurt us deeply, we may be carrying wounds that hamper our ability to trust or to be in a committed relationship; and we may not be able to be healthy until we have forgiven them or the situation has been resolved. So today we’ll think about the people who have made us who we are and reflect on how they still impact us.
REFLECT & RESPOND
Head: Write down 3-5 people who had the most impact on who you are today, for better or for worse. As you write each one down, add one or two sentences about how that person (and their attitude toward you) impacted you.
Heart: Who are the people you need to forgive for the hurt they’ve caused you? Who are the people you need to ask forgiveness from for the hurt you’ve caused them?
Hands: Think of someone who has made a positive impact on your life. Write them a note thanking them (and send it!).
God, thank you for the people you have placed around me who have loved me and spoken truth to me, who have picked me up when I was down and prayed for me when I didn’t know how to pray for myself. Help me to do the same for others. Amen.
The family dynamics we grew up in will likely influence
the decisions we make
and how we react to situations.