Going Back to Go Forward
This week’s Daily Readings have been written by Meghan Matthews, who began a one-year internship with The Well in October 2021. Meghan is working on her Masters of Divinity with a specialization in Biblical Studies at McMaster University. She is passionate about spiritual formation and building healthy church culture. Meghan attends the Vaughan site but is looking forward to spending time at Bolton and King over the coming months.
As I was thinking about how to intro this week’s readings, I couldn’t help but think about my own family—the blessings and the sins that have been passed down to me, the framework and the stories that make up my own life. I want to write something that is valuable for you, but what I’ve realized is that valuable for you may mean vulnerable for me. Generational sin, and being set free from it, isn’t just about looking at those who came before and saying look at what you did, it’s also about looking at yourself and saying look at what I’ve done and am doing. So while I started out writing about being recognized on a small town street for the brown eyes and dark hair that I inherited from my fathers side of my family, I’ve landed instead on the side of embarrassment, maybe shame.Because I need to tell you that the branches of my family tree makeup patterns of pride, of wanting to be centre stage, of the desire to be liked over doing what’s right, of joking and shrugging off responsibility when I’m needed by others, of abandonment, addiction, and abuse.
It’s not fun, but it is good.
It’s good because there is breakthrough to be found when we go backward. When we are stuck it might be because of a hindrance in our past, but in looking at our family of origin we can come to more fully understand the gift and the blessing that happens when we step into our role in God’s family, when we allow ourselves to be re-parented by doing life Christ’s way.
This week may bring up some challenging thoughts, feelings, and experiences. In light of this possibility, we want to resource you to seek further help if needed. Below you will see some names (and websites with contact details) for some local therapists and counseling clinics and we encourage you to seek the help you need from these resources. Additionally, The Well’s own Prayer Ministry Team is available if you sense that further prayer healing and release is needed. A good read to help with this is Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Peter Scazzero. Some of the definitions and recommendations below come from insights gleaned from EHS, and from the Renewal Prayer Handbook compiled by Jenn Krishnan & Lori Billing.
Kathleen Sutcliffe – Psychotherapist: http://kathleensutcliffe.com/
Marianne Deeks – Psychotherapist (works with Youth Unlimited): https://reroutedcounselling.com/
Susan Armitage – Registered Psychotherapist; Registered Marriage and Family Therapist: https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/therapists/susan-armitage-richmond-hill-on/89673
Joyce Van Andel – Clinical Social Work/Therapist, BA, Psyc, MSW, RSW: https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/therapists/joyce-van-andel-bolton-on/267489
Adrianne Sequeira, M Div/Counselling, RP . RMFT . RN . Certified Psychoanalyst: https://www.ifl.on.ca/associates.html
Tangerine Walk-in Counseling:: http://www.tangerinewalkin.com/
Tyndale University Family Life Centre: www.Tyndale.ca/Family-life OR https://www.tyndale.ca/counselling
Charis Clinic: www.charisclinic.ca
Juniper Tree: www.junipertree.ca
DAY 1—What is Generational Sin?
Read: Exodus 34: 6-7
When we read the word family in the bible, we may think about it from our lens as 21st century North Americans; meaning we may think about those people we live with, and maybe a few of those folks in our extended family. People who we see on special occasions…as one of my aunts calls them wedding and funeral relatives. Family in the bible refers to people beyond those we know, reaching out to our entire extended family over three to four generations.
While we can all recognize the events and circumstances within our own lives that have shaped us, it can be a little tougher to distinguish the ways our family’s history and way of doing things have shaped us. Family creates a good deal of the framework of our lives. Whether or not we want that to be true, whether we embrace or reject that reality, it remains for us to work through. We have to go back in order to move forwards.
The repetition of family patterns may be obvious, (divorce, addiction, sexual or physical abuse, inability to sustain relationships, etc.) or more subtle (worrying, lying, unforgiveness, fear, judgement, resentment emotional abuse, manipulation etc.) But we know that unless we put in some serious work, what happens in one generation is likely to repeat itself in the next.
We can see this in the bible, in the family of Abraham. Of course, Abraham’s obedience to God brought blessings to himself, his children (Isaac), grandchildren (Jacob), and great-grandchildren (Joseph). But there are also patterns of lying, deceit, favouritism, brothers being cut off from one another, and poor intimacy in the marriages of each generation. When God told Moses that he “punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation,” this is what he means. That we will relive what we have seen in our family of origin unless we recognize the patterns, intentionally put them off, and learn the new patterns of transformation from Christ.
If left unchecked, generational sin patterns can keep places within ourselves that are resistant to the change and renewal that comes when we give our lives to Jesus. They can be spots for the enemy to hold on to resisting total transformation that God offers us. The good news, of course, is that through identifying the patterns (sins), confessing, and repenting of them we can be set free of these ungodly patterns. Through working with the Holy Spirit we can set ourselves, and generations to come, on a path that will lead us closer to Jesus.
Spend some time with the scriptures listed above before moving on to the prayer below. Ezekiel 18 talks about the responsibility of sin, and highlights both our individual responsibility to face our sins, as well as our responsibility to recognize our place within our family/group. The passage listed above is an encouragement and reminder of God’s pleasure when we turn from our sin. When you move to the prayer part of today’s practice, you should feel free to add to this prayer of preparation. The rest of the week will be more practice and less reading so feel free to do what you need to to get ready.
Lord, give me the ability to see. To see the good and the bad in my family’s history. Help me to recognize where we have disobeyed and strayed away from you and your good plan, help me to find those places in my family’s story that may be keeping me stuck and hindered. Soften my heart, Lord, so that your truth may enter in, and set me free. Amen.
DAY 2—Repeated Sins & False Ideas
Read Romans 8: 12-17
Today we are going to create a family tree, sometimes called a genogram. We are looking at our families to get a realistic sense of what was healthy and unhealthy so that we can grow into our most authentic Christ-centred selves. Today and tomorrow, are just about information gathering. So grab a pen and some paper and create your family tree going back two generations (your parents, and grandparents), if possible. For this exercise do what you can with the knowledge you have; names, for example, are great, but you don’t need to have the birth, death, marriage, and/or divorce dates of every person on the tree.
Once you’ve got the names in place, consider jotting down 1-3 adjectives next to the people in your direct line (sibling, parent, grandparent, child). These are not meant to be judgemental, just descriptive.
Next, use the symbols in the “Emotional Relationships Legend” to depict the relationships between family members. If you’re not sure, leave the solid line you’ve already created or add a “?” Feel free to add other symbols that make sense for your family’s dynamics.
As you think about the relationships, use some of the language Pastor Vijay mentioned on Sunday.
- Were (are?) there any repeated sins that characterized
- Ex: addiction, lying, worrying, abuse (mental, physical, emotional), anger, absentness, workaholism, promiscuity, self-absorption, etc.
- Were (are?) there false ideas that were embraced and passed down?
- Ex: money is the best source for security, avoid conflict at all costs, sarcasm is an acceptable way to release anger, sadness is a sign of weakness, don’t air family’s “dirty laundry” in public, don’t show vulnerability, only have relationships with people of the same race/culture, etc.
- Look up “10 Commandments of Your Family, Peter Scazzero” on either Google, or in Emotionally Healthy Spirituality (if you own a copy) if you need more ideas for this one
- Are there any other dynamics that you want to include today?
- Ex: major events (aka: “earthquake events”), themes you’ve noticed, etc.
Example (Family of Jacob, genogram from Peter Scazzero’s Emotionally Healthy Relationships Workbook):
Prayer: Lord, thank you for the work that you have done on, with, and through my family tree. Thank you for this opportunity to look backwards, and may it give me the strength, courage, and conviction to move forward, to become the person you have called and created me to be. God, it can be difficult to engage with this work. Make your presence known to me, and be a balm for those tender places that may be revealed. Continue to give me eyes to see clearly, a soft heart that can be molded, and a spirit that is oriented towards you. Amen.
If you are interested in purchasing Emotionally Healthy Relationships Workbook it is available through this link: Emotionally Healthy Relationships Workbook
DAY 3—Family Tree: Unhealthy Attachments
Scripture: 1 Corinthians 5: 16-19
We are going to continue to use our family tree to gather information about ourselves, again, today is about information gathering not judgement. Tomorrow, we’ll look at what to do with the information we’ve accumulated.
Remember that this week we are looking backwards in order to move forwards. Look through your family tree/genogram, this time, think through the relationships through the lens of unhealthy attachments.
Unhealthy attachment may look like, spending more time with one person than with any other (because of jealousy or a sense of obligation), a parent living vicariously through the successes and failures of their child, prioritizing someone because of their wealth/status, holding on to and elevating the memory of someone regardless of what they may have done during their life, etc.
To think through unhealthy attachments, ask questions like:
- How was emotional support offered between these people?
- Did anyone appear to be drained or resentful of the relational dynamic with another family member?
- Were there places of significant neglect in caretaking responsibilities (parents towards children or vice versa)?
- Was the approval of one person critical to the validation and self-confidence of another?
- Is what someone does more important than who they are?
- Were there any forms of enmeshment or co-dependence in your family relationships?
- Were there any patterns of manipulation, fear-mongering, or control between any family members?
Mark these unhealthy attachments on your family tree using a symbol that makes sense to you (maybe a chain, a tear, or a lightning bolt…)
Repeated sins, false ideas, and unhealthy attachments are some of the ways in which generational sin may have crept into our lives creating obstacles that have left us stuck and/or hindered. While it may seem like we are spending a lot of time on the challenging and unhealthy parts of our family tree, I’d like to acknowledge that there are likely places (people) on your family tree that are healthy, bringing joy, security, and blessing to your life. You can, and should, acknowledge those parts and praise God for them. However, when we are seeking breakthrough the likelihood is that it will come through the gentle exploration of difficulty. This is the tension that we can hold as Christians, we (and our family trees) are both beautiful and broken.
Prayer: God, thank you for being with me in the work of examining my family tree over the last couple of days, thank you for giving me clear vision and for revealing some places where brokenness occurred. Your compassion is overflowing and I pray Lord, that I may feel it in the hours and days ahead. Help me to acknowledge where I, and my family have fallen short, and help me to embrace and fully step into my true identity as your child. Amen.
DAY 4—Confession and Repentance
Read: 1 John 1:9/ James 5:16 / Acts 3:19
Now that we have gathered information from our past, we likely have some ideas about where there is sin in our family tree that needs to be confessed to God and repented of. While it may seem odd (or even unnecessary) to pray for the sins in the past it is a way for us to trust God’s goodness, to believe that Christ came to set us free from the chains that bind us, and to bless future generations through good works and prayer.
Today we are going to confess the sins and unhealthy patterns we identified, then we are going to repent of those sins. To repent simply means to turn away. When we repent we choose to turn away from the path we are on in order to walk in a different direction, leaving behind the broken patterns of earlier generations.
The outline of those prayers is below, you’ll need to fill in the details that will make this prayer about you and the generational patterns of your family.
Prayer of Confession:
Father God, I come before you in the name of Jesus Christ. I confess that my ancestors and myself have sinned in your sight. Thank you for sending your Son, Jesus, to pay the penalty for my sin and to bear the punishment for the sins of my ancestors on the cross. I choose now to confess and renounce the sins you have revealed to me on my family tree.
I confess…[generational sin]
I confess…[generational sin]
I confess…[generational sin]
I lay these specific generational sins at the feet of Jesus, and ask that the Lord release me from the pain and brokenness that they have caused, so that I, and future generations will be free from them. I choose to forgive past generations for their sins and release them into the freedom of forgiveness that Jesus extends.
I confess and renounce my own sins in these areas, especially as they affect my family. I repent and turn from them and ask for you to forgive me, Lord. Please heal me, renew me, and lead me in your way, Lord Jesus. Amen.
DAY 5—Start a new generational story
Scripture: Matthew 1: 1-16
Did you actually read that? Or did you just skim over the genealogy of Jesus in order to get to the point? For many of us reading Matthew 1, feels like an unnecessary preamble to the actual story. But I want to encourage you (before reading on) to go back and take another look at those names. Maybe circle or underline the names you recognize from other bible stories (I bet there are few in there!)
We spent time this week writing up, and praying through our own family trees, our own geneologies (although, my guess is that most of us weren’t able to go back as far as Jesus could…) hopefully, you found something helpful in that process, a growing awareness of how the past effects the present or a clarity around a thing that has been keeping you stuck or hindered.
I want to draw your attention to Jesus’ genealogy because there is more going on in it than a list of names. More going on than drawing a straight line from Abraham to David to Christ.
There is something unusual about this genealogy…there are women listed.
This would have been nearly unheard of in the Ancient Near East, and yet, there they are: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba (dead Uriah’s wife). If it weren’t odd enough that women are named, it is even odder that these women are named. These are women whose stories center around sexual experiences outside of marriage. Tamar dresses like a prostitute to seduce her father-in-law (Genesis 38: 12-23), Rahab was an innkeeper who made additional money selling her body (Joshua 2), Ruth spends the night at Boaz’s feet (Ruth 3), and Bathsheba commits adultery with David (2 Samuel 11). These are stories that many would have wanted to hide, to leave in the past, to focus on the good that came later instead of the difficult reality of truth. But God has other plans. God includes their names. God holds them up as if to say look here I am trying to show you something wonderful.
Interestingly, there is a fifth woman mentioned in this genealogy, and she has no sexual sin to speak of, even though many thought that she did, since she was pregnant our of wedlock. Mary, mother of Jesus is added to this list and by her addition we can see that God is redeeming the actions of the past, breaking the chain of this generational pattern, resetting the branches of this family tree, so that they can grow full and wide towards him. This is what happens when we open up our past to God, when we acknowledge the sins of our ancestors. We can be used to change the world, to make it more like the kingdom which is to come.
God is at work in this scripture, just like he is in the list of names that leads to you. We may not realize exactly what he is doing when he reveals generational truths to us, but we can be sure that He is redeeming the sins of the past, working them for our good according to his will, and inviting us to join him on a new path forward. We have identified, confessed, repented, and now I invite you to pray for renewal, for breakthrough, and to boldly step into it knowing, confidently, that God has already laid the groundwork, and that he will meet you there.
Think about the new family dynamic that you want to create. Consider some of the following questions as you begin to solidify this new path that God has invited you to walk:
- What legacy do you want to start?
- What does God call his family to be and do?
- Look at the people in your life who are a little ahead of you on this path, is there anyone who you can meet with to talk though this new path?
- Who can be praying for you?
- Who can give you advice, and keep you accountable?
- Where can you list out these new generational patterns so you can regularly see them (post it notes, bathroom mirror, journal, a piece of word art, etc.)
Lord, I pray for renewal, for breakthrough in this area of generational sin. Set me free Lord, and help me to accept the freedom that can only come through you. Help me to tread a new path, to find and follow the narrow path that leads to righteousness so that the generations that come after me may also come to you. Jesus, I know that you are for me that you are for those in my family tree, and I ask for your blessing as I step forward in your holy name. Amen.