by Steven Gledhill for the FREEdom from MEdom Project
What does your family look like? Does it look more like the model supplied by our TV Cosby family, cohesive and loving, accepting of one another’s flaws, able to effectively communicate with one another? Or does your family tend to resemble our TV family of severe codependent dysfunction, the Simpsons?
What is so interesting about The Simpsons, a 30-minute show that can be so funny, is that if it were a real life family, it would be miserable and so tragically sad. It has your irresponsible, undisciplined alcoholic husband and father; your codependent emotionally neglected and abused wife and mother; the overachieving ‘carry the weight of the whole family’s inadequacies’ daughter and sister; the irreverent ‘desperate for father’s love’ underachieving problem son and and brother; and last but not least, the most emotionally mature and stable one of the bunch who’s not even old enough to walk. Actually, this TV family does resemble real-life families everywhere.
Somewhere between these two family’s is the Everybody Loves Raymond family that incorporates the dysfunctional codependent relationships with the matter of spouses’ parents and in-laws. The hilarity and tragedy ensues.
But everybody’s smiling for the cameras.
These families have existed since the first families came to be. In the Old Testament are stories of several families that routinely gave in to their ‘me’dom urges, which led to severely dysfunctional behavior breaking down health of these famous families. There was jealousy in Adam and Eve’s family that led to Cain murdering his brother Abel. There was Abraham and Sarah so anxious to have the son promised by God that they concocted a scheme to hasten God’s promise. Abraham committed adultery with Hagar and out came Ishmael. Isaac would be born to Sarah and today this family is still at war with millions of lives at stake.
When Jacob took more than one wife (Leah and Rachel), jealousy abounded among his sons when it became clear that Rachel’s son, Joseph, was the favorite (Rachel was the wife Jacob loved). Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery and told their dad he’d been killed. Later in the Old Testament, King David yielded to his ‘me’dom urge and committed adultery with Bathsheba. To cover up her pregnancy, David conspired to murder Bathsheba’s husband and then he married her. “Me’dom would persist in David’s family leading to more incest, rape, betrayal and murder. And so it goes.
‘Me’dom behavior is the malignant undoing of families. Sometimes we read these Bible stories and don’t really put the thought into realizing how devastating the consequences of jealousy and selfish ambition were to those families. Keep in mind that the order of the family was established by God. Jealousy and selfish ambition are evil and are vehicles for disorder in the infrastructure of the family. What is behind a spouse’s wandering eye that can so easily lead to undisciplined choices and problemmatic attention outside the covenant of marriage? What’s behind sibling rivalry? Why so many problems with parents and in-laws? Jealousy and selfish ambition is why.
For wherever there is jealousy and selfish ambition, there you will find disorder and evil of every kind. James 3:16 (NLT)
The teachings of Scripture plainly unveil the truth of invasive infectious self-centered thinking and behavior hastening the procurement of ‘me’dom values as the destructive dysfunction of families. When the infection becomes a cancer it can ruin and destroy families. When the cancer enters into its latest stages husbands and wives who are mothers and fathers experience the death of the cells within their marriage until the marriage dies tearing apart relationships through the tragedy of divorce.
Even the best of families throughout history have been ripped apart because of resentment and jealousy from self-absorbed parents who don’t see the pain being endured by their children through the clouds of their self-centered agendas. It’s happened from the first family, historically speaking, until now. The question is, what are you going to do about it? What needs to change in your family beginning with you?
What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your (‘me’dom) desires that battle within you? You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. James 4:1-3 (NIV)
Some very famous people and families in Scripture struggled with this in their family systems. It is painfully clear that as they willfully participated in self-centered ‘me’dom behavior borne out of their obsession with their dissatisfaction, those families self destructed. There seemed to be no limit to the lengths they would go to try in vain to achieve contentment. Your family may not resort to incest and murder like King David’d family did to somehow achieve some semblance of satisfaction; you probably haven’t sold anyone lately into slavery like Jacob’s family did; but do you use sarcasm to reduce someone else in order to hopefully feel better? Do you lie to protect yourselves? Do you gossip and triangulate to feel better?
Triangulation occurs when you are in conflict with someone but feel anxious about confronting the person. So, to relieve the anxiety it becomes “necessary” to bring in a third party. Once you have pulled in a third party, that person tends to share in your feelings about the person the two of you are talking about. Then, based on your story about the person you’re in conflict with, the third party now has a problem with that person as well. Then, when the person you are in conflict with meets the third party, the person you’re in conflict with is now in conflict with the third party. And then you all triangulate with other folks who each have their own ‘me’dom agenda until you have a mess—disorder.
Triangulation is a key ingredient in family conflict and codependency. Family members are withdrawn, distant, and cold. No one is taking unless alliances have formed in these triangles and back-biting and back-stabbing conversations occur in secret. Holidays and family gatherings are full of tension with extended family members walking on egg shells. Perhaps you’re walking on egg shells in your home now. Who’s talking to whom? Who’s on whose side? Ultimately, interactive triangles in the family system reap destruction to the system. Call it “Death by triangulation”.
Codependency occurs when family members who are emotionally dependent in their own ‘me’dom issues, also become enmeshed in the ‘me’dom issues of other family members. The result is intense anxiety, stress and fear. In order to alleviate your own anxiety, you will fight in futility for control in the lifestyle concerns of others.
Another word for codependency is co-addiction. I am addicted to me and you are addicted to you. But, I am also addicted to you and you are addicted to me in the system of the family. So, whatever your dependency issues are, because I am addicted to you, I am co-addicted, or codependent, on your dependency stuff. It sounds convoluted, but think about it for a bit and it makes sense.
When we identify our dependency issues as resentment, unforgiveness, anger, shame, alcoholism, drug addiction, perfectionism, approval’ism’, and so on, then bring in the element of codependency and triangulation, it is not all that difficult for families to be closer to our Biblical examples of dysfunctional families than we’d like to admit. Our families will trend toward quarreling and fighting against each other motivated by jealousy and selfish ambition. We will become stuck coveting out of our dissatisfaction within our family system, killing each other with our words.
But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. James 3:14-16 (NIV)
Husbands pray for their wives, and wives for their husbands, motivated by ‘me’dom intentions. Brothers and sisters will pray for each other and for their parents motivated by ‘me’dom desires. And the motives of parents are always pure when they pray for their kids, right? When parents pray sermons at the dinner table for their children to be obedient, and to not talk back, and to make better decisions choosing their friends, it’s always from a purely motivated heart for their well being; or is it? Can we be honest enough to consider that we might be praying for each other according to what we want for each other? Most times, what we want for each other is healthy and right, but there are definitely times when we ask God from impure motives, motivated by fear and anxiety, skewed by anger, adjusted for personal gain, fortified in defense of our own selfish interests.
What would happen if we triangulated God into all of our relationships—our marriage, our family, our friendships, our acquaintances, and even our professional relationships? This is the core ingredient to freedom from ‘me’dom in our families and all of our relationship interaction. Jesus said that we are to love God with all that we are, and love our neighbors as ourselves. How is this possible, especially when in darker times we don’t necessarily feel love for our spouse, our siblings, our parents, and sometimes even our children? How is it possible to love God with our entire being when we don’t necessarily feel love for God? We are confused and off course when we measure love by our emotions. Love is a matter of the will measured by what we do for God and one another. It is in relationship with Jesus that we are empowered to love and serve our neighbors as ourselves.
“The rule for all of us is perfectly simple. Do not waste time bothering whether you ‘love’ your neighbor; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him. If you injure someone you dislike, you will find yourself disliking him more. If you do him a good turn, you will find yourself disliking him less… But whenever we do good to another self, just because it is a self, made (like us) by God, and desiring its own happiness as we desire ours, we shall have learned to love it a little more, at least, to dislike it less… Some writers use the word charity to describe not only Christian love between human beings, but also God’s love for man and man’s love for God. About the second of these two, people are often worried. They are told they ought to love God. They cannot find any such feeling in themselves. What are they to do? The answer is the same as before. Act is if you did. Do not sit trying to manufacture feelings. Ask yourself, ‘If I were sure that I loved God, what would I do?’ When you find the answer, go and do it.”
When we commit to living in the will and care of God, we become a disciple of God, following his example and adhering to his teachings. Jesus says, then, that we are friends of his (John 15:12-15). Jesus treasures his friendships. Then, as we desire in relationships what God desires in relationships, we can interact with others with the sincere and fearless love for our family and friends that Jesus has for his family and friends.
The Apostle Paul describes that kind of love like this:
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 (NIV)
Finally, Paul says that real love never fails (1 Corinthians 4:8). John writes that love from a pure heart, motivated by godliness, drives out fear (1 John 4:18). Is there reservation in your family—your marriage? Are you afraid to go places emotionally with your spouse, your children, or your parents because there is reservation in the recesses of your heart afraid of what they will think or how they’ll react?
When it comes to family, God created it, put in order, then when we messed it up, He sent His son to save it without reservation. Jesus loves my family so much more than I ever could. God loves without reservation with nothing to fear. Jesus did something for my wife and my kids I have never done. He died for them. He wants for them things I haven’t even thought of. Over the years, God carried my family through some difficult times, including cancer. He is loving and powerful and is in complete authority over all things.
Our families have been infected with the ‘me’dom disease. Our families are flawed by ‘me’dom intentions and damaged by ‘me’dom behavior. Instead of fighting each other we would do well to be freedom fighters through submission as entire families to the sensible Biblical strategy for recovery. God’s way of recovery for our families is to let go of our selfish attitudes and ambition and trust God to work his will into our intentions and behavior.
For it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. Philippians 2:13, NIV
The purpose of God is for us to admit that our plans do not work and to believe that God’s plan for our family is exactly what works and then commit to trusting in God’s plan. Stop and imagine for a moment how this would change the way your family does its business. Just as Jesus asked the paralytic if he wanted to get better (John 5), he is asking you and me, do you want your family to get better—to be made well? Jesus came for the sick, the Bible says. Most families are sick and in need of a remedy.
God is a healing God. He desires nothing but good things for your family. When things happen that bring disappointment, and at times, extreme pain, God did not do that to you. Life happens, and sometimes the consequences of an evil world have horrific effects on us. It becomes absolutely necessary then that we do what we know to do through recovery to minimize the damage and maximize the opportunity to be blessed by God. Instead of fighting one another in our families we can be fighting for each others’ freedom by submitting to the will and plan of God with love for each other. Where does this plan start? FORGIVENESS. Obvious, when you think about it, isn’t it?