Families

How to Grow Beyond the Pain of a Broken Family

Unresolved conflict with family members will affect all your other relationships. But there is a way to overcome your past.

Mike Woodard

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My parents, both drunk, were having a fight.

I was sleeping on the couch, or so they thought.

My father pushed my mother with enough force to break her pelvis. She ended up in the hospital.

I remember another time when they called my two brothers and my sister and I from our beds in the middle of the night. They were drunk again as they announced they were getting divorced.

We were asked to choose which parent we wanted to stay with.

These are just two among many crazy memories I have of my family. Some of the carnage of that time remains untold.

As a child, despair and sadness moved into my life like a fog. Thoughts of suicide sometimes lingered within that fog.

And the experiences of my closest relationships defined my life in ways I wasn’t sure I could overcome.

What about you? Do you struggle with memories of family relationships that feel like scars, maybe even open wounds?

Your primary relationships shape all the others

I am a survivor. Some might even describe me as a success as I graduated from high school and university with honors, despite my home life. But my survival carries with it the baggage of my childhood.

I’ve experienced deep-seated anger and bitterness toward my father. That anger infected other relationships.

I have no scientific proof but I believe that when you have significant, unresolved issues in your family, it affects all other relationships.

I call this “the theory of primary relationships”.

Forgiveness is easier said than done

I will never forget a conversation I had with a roommate at Colorado State University. He asked lots of questions, and the topic of my relationship with my father came up.

My friend said, “Mike, you need to love your dad.”

I knew that I didn’t, and wasn’t even sure I could. At best, my anger was mixed with pity.

I’m not sure my father ever understood how his actions affected me, but I know how mine affected him. So I chose to give him love as a gift.

A few months later, I looked my dad in the eyes and told him, “I love you.”

I’m not sure my father ever understood how his actions affected me, but I know how mine affected him. So I chose to give him love as a gift.

Then, on Father’s Day, I wrote him a letter, telling him the good things he’d done as a parent.

I never heard back from him, but my mother told me, “Your dad got your letter. He sat in his chair, read it and cried.”

Dealing with my relationship with my dad taught me lessons that improved other relationships.

How to move from bitter anger to love and forgiveness

Only by experiencing love and forgiveness myself, could I discover how to love and forgive the people who hurt me.

My sister, who shared my painful memories, helped me understand that God loved me even when I chose to reject Him. She told me that Jesus died to demonstrate God’s love for me, and then came back from the dead to offer me forgiveness.   

As I experienced God’s forgiveness day-by-day, I developed a greater capacity to love and forgive others. My relationship with my father became the ultimate test of this ability to forgive. If God chose to love and forgive me, how could I not do the same for my father?

As I experienced God’s forgiveness day-by-day, I developed a greater capacity to love and forgive others. My relationship with my father became the ultimate test of this ability to forgive. If God chose to love and forgive me, how could I not do the same for my father?

Pain and hurt from our “primary relationships” can be carried for a lifetime. The result is multiplied misery. Or it can be laid down as we choose to take hold of the forgiveness God offers us.

How do you take hold of what God is offering you?

This will sound too simple. But basically you ask Him for it.

Christians refer to this as praying, but that just means talking with God.

God already knows what you’re thinking and feeling. So He’s less concerned with your words than the attitude of your heart.

If you feel ready to receive the forgiveness God wants you to experience, you could pray something like this:
 

Lord Jesus, I want to know you. Thank you for dying on the cross so that I could know forgiveness for the ways I turned my back on you. I now invite you into my life and choose to hand over control to you. Make me the kind of person you want me to be.
 

Were you able to pray those words?

If you have, you have taken a huge step of faith. God will meet you as you come to Him each day with your hopes, dreams, fears and the pain of your past.

All relationships need time and intentionality in order to grow. It’s no different with God. We want to help you to go deeper with God using these resources which help you take the next step and the ones after that.

If you don’t feel ready to say that prayer yet, we can help you continue exploring what it means to know God and experience the life He wants for you.


Adapted from an article first published on familylifecanada.com

 


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