What unhealthy relationship or family rules such as those described in the Introduction have you experienced?
Human brokenness and sin impact more and are bigger than individual persons and choices. In its ripple effects, sin also brings damage to families, organizations and communities. Since the disobedience of Adam and Eve in the garden, we have been living under the curse of sin on our world, work, and relationships. See Genesis 3:16–19.
The Bible does not seek to hide or sugar coat this reality. Time and again we are told in Scripture the stories of families and cultures who disobey God and the results it brings into their lives and futures. One such family is the one the entire nation of Israel is named for. As we can see from the passage cited this week, along with the fuller story found in Genesis, Jacob’s (Israel) family had its share of dysfunction. A mother who favored one son, a father who favored the other, a husband and wife who are not working together, sibling rivalry, lying, cheating, stealing, betrayal, and threats of violence. It’s all there. And yet, from the beginning, God shows that He is interested in not only redeeming individuals who turn to him but families, communities and nations as well. The fact that God chose, redeemed, and used Jacob as a patriarch of His chosen people is proof of that.
As social workers, we work with individuals and families to identify and unravel unhealthy and dysfunctional family dynamics to participate in God’s work of leading people toward greater freedom and healing. One of the ways we do this is to help people learn to operate according to healthier rules of relationships. Instead of focusing on solving problems in a healthy way, dysfunctional families and systems like Jacob’s spend energy on avoiding, hiding, denying, manipulating, or blaming others to deal with them. As a result, rules of relating develop that keep people dancing around the unresolved problems (addictions, anger, hurts, marital issues, abuse, etc.) instead of overcoming them. Author Sandra Wilson summarizes these rules as follows:
Be Blind (to your own perception of reality, to mixed messages and role reversals)
Be Quiet (in public and at home so as not to reveal the family secrets, struggles, or pain)
Be Numb (to strong feelings and personal boundaries so as not to upset others)
Be Careful (walk on eggshells and stay alert—you never know when something will happen)
Be Good (parents and caregivers are focused on themselves, their pain, or their problems—you’d better be good because they can’t handle taking care of you)
These unhealthy ways of thinking and relating to others damage people’s understanding and ways of acting in their relationships toward God, themselves, and others and can keep people trapped in negative emotions and behaviors. Breaking the power of sin includes breaking free from patterns such as these that trap families and communities in hurtful habits. In Jacob’s story, we see God leading him to the truth, changing him, and in turn using him to begin to create a new and healthier family based on God’s ways and not his.
In working with clients, families, organizations, and communities, we too are a part of this kind of process. As you help individuals achieve new and healthier ways of relating, you are also helping to create new ripple effects of healing and change to replace histories of pain and oppression as part of God’s redemptive plan.
Wilson, S. D. (1990). Released from shame. Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press.
The boys grew up, and Esau became a skillful hunter, a man of the open country, while Jacob was content to stay at home among the tents. Isaac, who had a taste for wild game, loved Esau, but Rebekah loved Jacob.
When Isaac was old and his eyes were so weak that he could no longer see, he called for Esau his older son and said to him, “My son.”“Here I am,” he answered.
Isaac said, “I am now an old man and don’t know the day of my death. Now then, get your equipment—your quiver and bow—and go out to the open country to hunt some wild game for me. Prepare me the kind of tasty food I like and bring it to me to eat, so that I may give you my blessing before I die.”
Now Rebekah was listening as Isaac spoke to his son Esau. When Esau left for the open country to hunt game and bring it back, Rebekah said to her son Jacob, “Look, I overheard your father say to your brother Esau, ‘Bring me some game and prepare me some tasty food to eat, so that I may give you my blessing in the presence of the Lord before I die.’ Now, my son, listen carefully and do what I tell you: Go out to the flock and bring me two choice young goats, so I can prepare some tasty food for your father, just the way he likes it. Then take it to your father to eat, so that he may give you his blessing before he dies.”
After Isaac finished blessing him, and Jacob had scarcely left his father’s presence, his brother Esau came in from hunting. He too prepared some tasty food and brought it to his father. Then he said to him, “My father, please sit up and eat some of my game, so that you may give me your blessing.”
His father Isaac asked him, “Who are you?”
“I am your son,” he answered, “your firstborn, Esau.”
Isaac trembled violently and said, “Who was it, then, that hunted game and brought it to me? I ate it just before you came and I blessed him—and indeed he will be blessed!”
When Esau heard his father’s words, he burst out with a loud and bitter cry and said to his father, “Bless me—me too, my father!”
But he said, “Your brother came deceitfully and took your blessing.”
Esau said, “Isn’t he rightly named Jacob? This is the second time he has taken advantage of me: He took my birthright, and now he’s taken my blessing!” Then he asked, “Haven’t you reserved any blessing for me?”
Isaac answered Esau, “I have made him lord over you and have made all his relatives his servants, and I have sustained him with grain and new wine. So what can I possibly do for you, my son?”
Esau said to his father, “Do you have only one blessing, my father? Bless me too, my father!” Then Esau wept aloud.
Esau held a grudge against Jacob because of the blessing his father had given him. He said to himself, “The days of mourning for my father are near; then I will kill my brother Jacob.”
When Rebekah was told what her older son Esau had said, she sent for her younger son Jacob and said to him, “Your brother Esau is planning to avenge himself by killing you. Now then, my son, do what I say: Flee at once to my brother Laban in Harran. Stay with him for a while until your brother’s fury subsides. When your brother is no longer angry with you and forgets what you did to him, I’ll send word for you to come back from there. Why should I lose both of you in one day?”
Then Rebekah said to Isaac, “I’m disgusted with living because of these Hittite women. If Jacob takes a wife from among the women of this land, from Hittite women like these, my life will not be worth living.”
Genesis 27:1–10, 30–38, 41–46
Navigate to the threaded discussion and respond to the following discussion questions:
What unhealthy relationship or family rules such as those described in the Introduction have you experienced? How have they impacted you or your family relationships?
How has God brought change to relationships in your life by calling you or others to new and better ways of relating? What are some of the new rules that replaced the old ones? How did this change happen?
Based on your experience, how do you think you can help others to face and overcome unhealthy relationship rules and dynamics?
Sometimes it takes time for people (like Jacob) to face their dysfunction and admit to being a deceiver, manipulator, controller, etc., in order to repent. What can you learn from the story about how God can work in people’s lives who are stuck in unhealthy patterns? How can this knowledge help you in your role as a social worker?