Last night at our Emotionally Healthy Spirituality group I spoke about “multigenerational transmission.” Freud coined the phrase that describes how family interactional and emotional patterns tend to repeat themselves across generations. This is evident in many men I meet with that struggle with passivity. Their fathers were weak and their mothers were strong. If you ask about their grandfathers it is likely they too abdicated their role as fathers and you find it is multigenerational. Great providers but weak to bring the form a young boy needs to take risk and confront the challenges that lay ahead in adulthood.
As I considered my past and the issues of my childhood I think about the favoritism that was shown to my youngest sister, and the rivalry it created amongst the rest of my siblings. Forty years later it still exist for some of them and it distances them from entering into a depth of bonding that is loving. Grudges are held for years and family gatherings are never attended because of the bitter hostility.
I also think about the abandonment, the anger that was and still is present, the competition amongst us, and the deceit that was present in each one of us. I could see it in the other generations of my family at gatherings as these issues manifested in different ways.
Our dysfunctional family patterns were so evident yet never spoken about or challenged. These are hard habits to break in such a broken family system. The power struggles and the envy is still evident amongst my siblings and I.
And the burdens of our generation have been handed down to the next and more than likely will be passed on to the one after that. What is not dealt with by earlier generations becomes the burden of the next generation. Family patterns become part of real problems that we each must find a way to solve, whether we are consciously aware of them or not. It is vital for us to continue to look at the generational inheritance that contributes to our lives.
A couple of years ago when I took the time to write out a time line of my life I fell into a dark place. The negatives far out weighed the positives. Up until the age of 19 I think I was able to identify one or two positives. My family legacy was one of abuse, fear and darkness. The cards I was dealt were not winners. These cards shaped my life, shaped the habitual patterns I fell into, and the fears that kept me bound and hidden for years. I did not know how to deal with challenges or difficulties in life so I fled them or avoided them. I felt overwhelmed and ashamed that I couldn’t figure them out and I had no one to help me. Even if I did have someone I’m not sure I would’ve asked for help.
The fears that were handed to me left me preoccupied with remaining safe and secure. As I shared with you knit into my family stories are themes of darkness with very little light. I grew up with a very rigid father who was uncompromising in his punishment of my failures.
So when I became a Christ follower the fears of my past got brought into my present situations. Hide, deceive, don’t get caught lived deep within me and these fears kept me paralyzed from ever sharing honestly and openly the truth about my life.
1 John 4:18 rings true for those who struggle with fear. “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.”
When the love of Christ gets set deep within our hearts our fear of judgment and punishment subsides greatly. I obviously had not reached that point in my journey. I lived in fear of the dark thoughts I had within, my sexual passions that remained unspoken, and the anger I carried towards my abusive father and honestly towards God. Unfortunately I used religion in a rigid way against those longings, passions and emotions within. And of course I harshly judged those who expressed them outwardly. I was a legalist that lacked any sense of grace or mercy towards others and myself.I believed that as a Christ follower I should not have these kind of passions and feelings. I feared even talking about these things because I believed I was the only one having these feelings and passions.
The darkness within me terrified me. I was terrified of what would happen if I actually shared this with another person and the process of change. So I continued to try to find my identity in “my goodness” and not the wholeness Jesus offered to me at the foot of His Cross.
Something had to die within me before something could be birthed within me. This meant I had to face what I had been afraid of for so many years. That began as I started to face the abandonment I felt as a child and the feelings of being an orphan, an outcast, one that isn’t chosen. I must be honest with you my body was trembling when I first shared this with a trusted other. I’m pretty sure I was on the verge of a panic attack.
This trusted other wasn’t put off by my sharing the dark things within or the feelings and anger that came forth. With great compassion and tenderness they led me into the presence of Jesus were I could receive His empathy and mercy towards the shame and pain I felt within. I needed a freedom from the pain of feeling like an abandoned child and the constant fear of God not loving me because I wasn’t praying enough or reading my Bible daily. God was giving me a heart of a child that is beloved and not one that is a disappointment. His perfect Love was being revealed and demonstrated in a way that allowed me to drop my guard. I knew how to be the son of a dysfunctional father; God was teaching me what it meant to be a son of a loving Father.
As I began to accept the things and circumstances that brought about the damage within I found a freedom to begin to share my story with others and found that many of them could identify with parts of my narrative. In sharing my story much of the grief that remained buried for years began to be released from within. Joy was part of the fruit of the loosing of the grief within.