I still remember that day in my undergraduate marriage counseling class. Insecure and broken, I came to college full of questions about my past, my purpose, my meaning, and my future. I wanted to understand the chaos I had left behind. Why was my family so controlled by fear, anger, and bittterness? What effect would my past have on my future? How did God fit into all of it?
That day, my professor introduced us to the “genogram.” The genogram is a tool used by marriage counselors to help gain a better understanding about a couple’s familial background. It is similar to a family tree, yet it includes information about the interpersonal relationships in the family, including dysfunction and discord. Like DNA helps us see the genetic markings for inheritable diseases, the genogram reflects generational dysfunctional patterns within a family.
As soon as my professor began describing the genogram, I felt an ominous shadow fall over me. I knew immediately what my genogram would look like. A sense of foreboding enveloped me. Overwhelmed and filled with despair; I was certain my future was etched in stone.
After all, I had fled to this mountain of refuge to escape the pains of childhood. Leaving my painful memories behind, I had hoped to start fresh with a new life. I believed that out on my own, hours away from home, my family’s legacy couldn’t find me. Yet, the further I got in my education, I realized just how hard it is to leave the past behind.
With the anniversary of my grandfather’s death having just past, I think about the legacy he was born into and the one he passed on. Born into poverty and raised in a broken family, he left school after eighth grade to help support his mother and brothers. Deserted by an alcoholic father, his family carried deep wounds that never seemed to heal. He fought in the army during WWII. Arriving one day into the Normandy invasion, he lived to recount his stories to me for years to come. Married to a tired and worn woman, my grandmother carried her own stories from a painful childhood. During the Korean War, when he learned of my grandmother’s emotional breakdown, he left the military to be at her side.
When I looked at my family history that day in college, I believed my life was doomed to remain bound by the chains of my family’s past. The mental illness with which my grandmother struggled all her life, I had seen passed on to others in my family. The dysfunctional styles of communication among family members never abated. The secrets, anger, cutting remarks, and bitterness all continued from one generation to the next. And that’s just one side of my family.
But even in the midst of darkness, there’s always a glimmer of light. After my grandfather’s father left the family, they went to live with his grandmother. While his mother worked multiple jobs, his grandmother helped raise him and his siblings. It was she who shared her faith in God and planted seeds of hope in his heart. It was she who passed on her legacy of faith which he in turn passed on to my father. While my family’s past is rich with pain and filled with hurt, broken, and imperfect people, God has always been at work.
I can look back and see the way He has been there all along, throughout the generations, weaving a story of grace. From a grandmother to a grandson to a son to a daughter to my own children, redemption’s story has been shared throughout the generations. While wounds may linger and scars take time to fade, they are a reminder of why we need a Redeemer and why He came to save.
I’ve learned that while the past has great influence on the future, it is never written in stone. While a genogram is helpful to lay out the past and see the impact it has had on a family, it is not a map for the future. It is only a history lesson and not a prophecy. It has been years since the day I faced my family’s genogram. Since then, my husband and I have been living out our own genogram, with God as the author and writer of our story.
God is in the business of redeeming and making all things new. He takes the stories of our past and redeems them for His glory and our good. He sent His Son, Jesus to break those chains that bind us. Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross frees us from our past and gives us hope for the future. He has given us a new family, one with a perfect Father who never fails, never leaves, and always loves. We are children and heirs of the Living God. We now have a new and perfect family story, a holy legacy, and a bright hope for the future.
Is your genogram riddled with brokenness and discord? Are you burdened with a painful family legacy? Know that Christ died to redeem your past and make a place for you in the family of God. You have been adopted and freed from the chains of the past. Do you know this freedom?
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” 2 Corinthians 5:17
“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” Galatians 5:1
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