Biblical Answers for Dysfunctional and Functional Families

Dysfunctional families are characterized by emotionally needy people and a lack of effective healthy boundaries.  They are usually the result of negative experiences growing up in an abusive, codependent, addictive, or otherwise dysfunctional family of origin.  Children from these families are usually insecure, codependent, and lack any understanding of healthy boundaries.  Applying boundaries to dysfunctional family situations has become an important part of marriage and family counseling today.  Boundaries are the very basis of healthy relationships, and the perceived violation of boundaries is the basis of all offenses.  The improper handling of offenses leads to a root of bitterness that is a significant factor in the majority of marriage failures.


Marital Difficulties 


            In a seminar that I was teaching I made the statement, “Marriage can be heaven or hell on this earth.  It is your choice which it will be.”  Because of the high expectations and tremendous possibility for love and teamwork in a marriage, marriage also contains the potential for tremendous pain, disappointment, and betrayal.  If a couple reacts out of their pain, things can easily escalate out of control. 


             Beginning in 1 Samuel Chapter 18, we are told the story of David’s marriage to Michal, King Saul’s youngest daughter.  Like most couples, they began their marriage romantically in love.  Sadly, through a process of disaffection, their marriage ended in contempt and deep hurt.  This story gives us a model of how marriages fail. 


            1.  God has a plan for our lives, and this plan usually includes a compatible mate and a successful marriage.  Many times, however, we have our own ideas of who we want to marry.  One of my supervisors once stated, “When God gave you a helpmate, He was not necessarily giving you someone to make you happy; but someone who will help you identify and face the problems in your life.”  This definitely seemed to be the case with David.  He was originally supposed to marry King Saul’s elder daughter Merab.  Merab means “to increase.”  She was given instead to Adriel (flock of God) from Mehol (of dancing).  Had David married her, she may have proved in the end to be a greater blessing to him.


           2.  Satan has a plan to destroy you through your marriage.  Saul’s actual intention was that David would die trying to obtain the dowry to win one of Saul’s daughters, and that his daughter would lead to David’s downfall.  That is the intention of Satan.  He wants to use our marriages to bring us down. 

1 Sam 18:21  And Saul said, I will give him her, that she may be a snare to him, and that the hand of the Philistines may be against him.  Wherefore Saul said to David, Thou shalt this day be my son in law in the one of the twain.


          3.  The perception of love is essential to marriage.  If a man feels respected and appreciated, he will do almost anything for his wife.  At its most rudimentary level, love is “having the other’s best interests in mind.”  This is almost a magical line in marriage.  On one side the couple is on the same team and friends; on the other they are enemies trying to protect themselves and get their own needs met.  Although Saul asked for the foreskins of 100 Philistines, David risked his life killing 200 Philistines to obtain the dowry so that he could marry Michal.  He was willing to do more than he was asked.  Most women judge the love of her husband by what her husband is willing to sacrifice for her.  In fact, most wives evaluate everything her husband does in their relationship to answer only one question, “Does he really love me?” 

1 Sam 18:25  And Saul said, Thus shall ye say to David, The king desireth not any dowry, but an hundred foreskins of the Philistines, to be avenged of the king's enemies.  But Saul thought to make David fall by the hand of the Philistines.  27  Wherefore David arose and went, he and his men, and slew of the Philistines two hundred men; and David brought their foreskins, and they gave them in full tale to the king, that he might be the king's son in law.  And Saul gave him Michal his daughter to wife.  28  And Saul saw and knew that the LORD was with David, and that Michal Saul's daughter loved him.


           4.   If a woman feels loved she will do almost anything for her husband.  When Saul sent men to kill David, Michal risked her life to help him escape in spite of the fact she was well aware of her father’s dangerous fits of rage.  The use of the image or idol here suggests that, to her, David was even more important to her than her gods were.  Unfortunately, as we have previously seen in the discussion of codependency, many wives try to make their husband into the God “who will meet all their needs according to his riches in glory.”  David clearly could not measure up to such a task, especially since it appears he had not previously insisted that all images of other gods be removed from their house. 


1 Sam 19:11  Saul also sent messengers unto David's house, to watch him, and to slay him in the morning: and Michal David's wife told him, saying, If thou save not thy life to night, to morrow thou shalt be slain.  12  So Michal let David down through a window: and he went, and fled, and escaped.  13  And Michal took an image, and laid it in the bed, and put a pillow of goats' hair for his bolster, and covered it with a cloth.  14  And when Saul sent messengers to take David, she said, He is sick.  15  And Saul sent the messengers again to see David, saying, Bring him up to me in the bed, that I may slay him.  16  And when the messengers were come in, behold, there was an image in the bed, with a pillow of goats' hair for his bolster.  17 And Saul said unto Michal, Why hast thou deceived me so, and sent away mine enemy, that he is escaped? And Michal answered Saul, He said unto me, Let me go; why should I kill thee? 


            5.  Offenses will happen in any marriage.  Because poor communication is so prevalent between husbands and wives, many times more than half of all the offenses in a marriage were not intended by their mate.  All offenses are caused by perceived boundary violations.  In this case, while Saul was hunting David to kill him, he gave Michal to another man.  Phalti, her second husband, means “my deliverance.”  He was from Laish, which means “lion” which was in Gallim meaning “spring.”  This implies that he was a strong man (lion) who delivered Michal from her father’s dysfunctional house and brought her a new life (like a spring of water.) 


1 Sam 25:44  But Saul had given Michal his daughter, David's wife, to Phalti the son of Laish, which was of Gallim. 


            6.  The offenses continue to pile up.  After the death of Saul, David, as part of a peace treaty with Saul’s son Ishbosheth, required that Michal be returned to him.  Her second husband Phalti thought so much of Michal that he followed along crying until he was ordered by Abner, the commander of the army, to return home.  David never asked her if she wanted to come back to him.  Any time another person’s free will is violated, a personal boundary violation has occurred.  We can only guess how Michal felt about this since by this time, David had a number of other wives.  Each offense erodes the belief that the other person has our best interest in mind.  To a woman, each offense makes her question whether her mate truly loves her. 


2 Sam 3:14  And David sent messengers to Ishbosheth Saul's son, saying, Deliver me my wife Michal, which I espoused to me for an hundred foreskins of the Philistines.  15  And Ishbosheth sent, and took her from her husband, even from Phaltiel the son of Laish.  16  And her husband went with her along weeping behind her to Bahurim. Then said Abner unto him, Go, return.  And he returned.         


          7.  Unresolved offenses result in bitterness which eventually turns into contempt.  When David finally succeeded in bringing the Ark of God back to Jerusalem, Michal was offended by his open exuberance for the Lord.  Possibly, she was jealous that he was happy when she was not.  When a woman feels distance in a relationship, she many times assumes it is because her husband is interested in other women.  She accused him of shameful behavior, another boundary violation.  I suggest that this was a reaction to the previous offense. 

2 Sam 6:16  And as the ark of the LORD came into the city of David, Michal Saul's daughter looked through a window, and saw king David leaping and dancing before the LORD; and she despised him in her heart.  20  Then David returned to bless his household. And Michal the daughter of Saul came out to meet David, and said, How glorious was the king of Israel to day, who uncovered himself to day in the eyes of the handmaids of his servants, as one of the vain fellows shamelessly uncovereth himself! 


            8.  Many times a husband will fail to probe for the underlying reason for his wife’s displeasure and excuse his behavior, not realizing that he does not understand the real issue.  Instead of trying to understand Michal’s emotional reaction, David reacted in anger, put down her father Saul, and said he would continue doing what she disliked.  It is not unusual for a husband to violate his wife’s boundaries by discounting her feelings. 


2 Sam 6:21  And David said unto Michal, It was before the LORD, which chose me before thy father, and before all his house, to appoint me ruler over the people of the LORD, over Israel: therefore will I play before the LORD


            9.  The conflict may eventually result in the ending of intimacy in the marriage.  Who wants to make love with their enemy? 

2 Sam 6:23  Therefore Michal the daughter of Saul had no child unto the day of her death. 


            10.  When love has left a marriage it results in unmet needs that can lead to an affair.  Approximately ten years later, from his rooftop, David saw Bathsheba taking a bath.  They slept together that night, she became pregnant, and David subsequently had Uriah, her husband, killed in order to cover up the affair.  David later took Bathsheba as another of his wives. 


            11.  The bitterness continues until both are fully convinced that the other no longer has their best interests in mind.  When this happens they both become defensive and critical, and lose their feelings for each other.  When there was a famine in the land because of Saul’s persecution of the Gibeonites, David offered up Michal’s five adopted sons for execution.  To make matters worse, he spared Jonathan’s son.  Clearly he valued his past relationship with Jonathan more his relationship with Michal.  I believe Michal would have seen what David did as a personal attack and a gross betrayal of their marriage.  There was probably nothing worse that a husband could do to hurt his wife than to kill her children (even if they had been adopted).  Unfortunately, there seems to be no limit to the terrible things that mates will do to hurt each other in an estranged marriage.  It is an irony that Michal’s five adopted children were hung during the days of harvest, a time normally associated with joy and abundance.  Possibly this suggests that their marriage did not have to turn out this way, but could have been a wonderful blessing. 


2 Sam 21:7  But the king spared Mephibosheth, the son of Jonathan the son of Saul, because of the LORD'S oath that was between them, between David and Jonathan the son of Saul.  8  But the king took the two sons of Rizpah the daughter of Aiah, whom she bare unto Saul, Armoni and Mephibosheth; and the five sons of Michal the daughter of Saul, whom she brought up for Adriel the son of Barzillai the Meholathite:  9  And he delivered them into the hands of the Gibeonites, and they hanged them in the hill before the LORD: and they fell all seven together, and were put to death in the days of harvest, in the first days, in the beginning of barley harvest. 


            Unfortunately, in our society and churches today, over half of our marriages have followed a similar pattern that ends in divorce.  Couples who were originally very much in love have ended their relationships in deep hurt and bitterness.  It might even be hard to believe that many marriages from highly dysfunctional families can ever succeed.  However, as we review the failures in David and Michal’s marriage; we can see where simple communication skills and the application of effective boundaries could have changed the entire situation. 


            1.  The very basis of a marriage is a commitment to have the other’s best interests in mind even when it may require sacrifice on our part.  The first major offense was when David used his political power to get Michal back.  It is true he had every right to do so, especially in that time in history.  But we have to ask the question if David was truly acting in Michal’s best interest?  He had a number of other wives at this time.  He might have thought that what he was doing was best for everyone, but it appears he never asked her.  Having the other’s best interest in mind is basic to making the other person feel loved.  Without it, a couple feels no better off than living with an enemy in the same house.  Each mate usually concludes that they have to watch out for themselves, they are usually critical of each other and very little grace and mercy is shown in the marriage. 


            2.  Issues need to be resolved with solutions where everyone wins.  Most dysfunctional  families operate as David and Michal did, resolving problems with win-lose solutions.  Consequently, the person who loses becomes bitter or expects that he or she should win the next time.  Many times the winner is the one who yells the loudest or has the least to lose.  Mutual win-win agreements must be reached and perceived boundary violations must be dealt with when they occur.  Many couples do not want to talk things through because trying to do so usually ends in a fight.  If they do not talk, the buried anger will eventually result in bitterness that will defile the marriage.  If a man will not talk things through, most women feel that they are not loved.  This is because most women use communication to establish closeness in a relationship.  Most men use communication primarily to accomplish tasks.   


            3.  Husbands and wives need to learn how to understand each other and communicate at a deeper level.  When Michal attacked David for dancing before the Lord without his tunic on, she was expressing the emotional pain of her marriage.  Most men react the way David did.  Had he not discounted her pain, this could have been an opportunity to understand or at least ask forgiveness for previous offenses.  Like David, most men have not yet learned that a woman sends a primarily emotional message; and men send technically accurate data.  The Bible directs that we must learn to live with the opposite gender “according to knowledge.”  (1 Peter 3:7)  Teaching communication is a large part of counseling couples. 


4.  Once communication is established, the couple needs to establish mutually agreed-upon boundaries.  This is done by identifying areas of continuing conflict.  Since all offenses are the result of perceived boundary violations, previous conflicts help identify what boundary agreements are required.  Each boundary consists of a clear, agreed-upon action or restraint and the natural consequences that will follow if it is violated.  Boundaries work through behavior modification.  If a person violates an agreement and gets a negative result he will do it less often.  If he gets a positive result, he will be encouraged to do it more often.  Consequently, mutual boundary agreements will not immediately stop all conflicts, but they will eventually improve the marriage.  If either mate violates an agreed-upon boundary, he or she will not have any excuse for not accepting the consequences.  The first boundary that is usually required is an “anger break.”  The couple needs to agree on what they will do to keep an argument from escalating into an abusive fight.  Usually this requires that they separate for a period of time and cool down before the attempt again to resolve the issue.  


            5.  Past offenses must be dealt with in order to end the bitterness in the marriage.  I suggest dealing with the future, then the present, then the past.  I do this because it is much easier to forgive something that will probably not happen again.  Boundary agreements provide a framework for working together in the future.  Established boundaries also allow for current cooperation.  For past issues I suggest what I call Monday Morning Quarterbacking (MMQ).  This method is based on the analogy of reviewing the videotapes from the previous Sunday’s football game.  Each person is to be totally honest about what they did, why they did it, and how they perceived what happened.  No blaming is allowed.  Each is expected to take responsibility for what they did and ask for forgiveness if what they did was wrong.  The objective is not to find fault but to plan how to avoid the same problem in the future and to obtain forgiveness and closure.  


            6.  Because no one is or will ever be perfect, each spouse must quit trying to fix or blame his or her mate.  As you will probably remember, codependency is excessive dependence or independence on someone or something to meet our needs.  Usually mates try to “fix each other” so that their needs can be met.  We are to rely primarily on God to meet our unmet needs.  The Bible tells us that we are not to set ourselves up to judge or try to fix one-another.  We are all God’s servants, and He asks us, “Why do you judge another man’s servant?” (Rom 14:4)  We are to proactively take responsibility for our own actions and not excuse our own behavior based on what someone else has done.  Each of us will stand before God for what we have done.  What our mate did or did not do will not be an excuse!  


           7.  As much as possible, those who are affected by or will receive the consequences of a decision should have a say in that decision.  In an ideal world, we would only receive the consequences of our own personal choices.  In life, this is not always possible.  But we are almost always offended when we get someone else’s consequences.  Much of the conflict in a marriage can be resolved by including those who will receive the consequences in the decision process.  Even after we are married, there are certain decisions that do not affect our mates.  In these situations, each mate should be allowed to make their own choices as long as each one is willing to take responsibility for them and learn from his or her own consequences.  In this case, the person should say, “I have a problem.”  This indicates to the other mate that they are not involved and will not receive significant consequences from any decision that is made.  In situations where both mates are affected, they need to agree on the decision since both of them will receive the consequences of that decision.  In speaking about problems that affect both mates, they should say, “We have a problem, what are we going to do about it?”  If a person says to his mate “you have a problem”, he is admitting that he is violating the other mates boundaries because he has no right to be involved in the decision in which he does not receive any of the consequences.  Of course, if either one chooses, he or she may ask the mate for advise even when the decision does not primarily affect them.  But the final decision should still be made by the mate who will, in fact, get the consequences of that decision.  No person ever has a right to force his view upon another adult. 


            8. The overall goal of marriage counseling is to help the couple resolve their conflicts to the extent that they again perceive that their mates actually do have their best interests in mind. Once this perception is re-established, they will again be able to cooperate on at least a friendship level and work toward a better marriage and life.  Until both mates truly believe that the other one does have their best interest in mind, working together as a team is almost impossible and the marriage will continue to struggle. 


It is not unusual for couples coming for marriage counseling to be so disheartened that they believe there is only one solution—divorce.  Many times one of the mates comes hoping the counselor will agree that in their special situation God would sanction divorce, especially when domestic violence and abuse has occurred.  The Bible is very clear that divorce is allowed only in cases of adultery (Matthew 5:32), or if the other mate is unsaved and chooses to leave (1st Corinthians 7:15).  Because divorce results in such deep emotional pain and significant consequences, God requires us to do everything possible to prevent it.  Sometimes temporary separation is required to protect one spouse from further abuse.  However, I have found that if one of the partners will learn to biblically deal with his or her own problems and set strong, effective boundaries, the other mate will have to change or will eventually choose to divorce them.  If the mate that leaves commits adultery or remarries, the first spouse has grounds for remarriage (because the divorce now meets biblical criteria).  Either the marriage will be restored or at least the client will know that he has done everything possible to save the marriage.  In either case, the non-offending spouse is better off since divorce recovery is much easier without the guilt of feeling they gave up on the marriage too soon.  

Problems with Children 


            When a couple is in a dysfunctional relationship or when a marriage is conflicted, the entire family will be affected.  Discipline will usually be inconsistent or ineffective.  Without both love and effective boundaries, family life becomes chaotic. 


            In the Bible, the continuing story of King David’s family demonstrates how poor choices by the parents can dramatically affect their children.  This story continues in 2nd  Samuel Chapter 12.  


            1.  Family problems generally originate with the parents.  Children come into the world with certain inherited personality traits and a blank slate.  How they are brought up depends on the environment provided by the parents.  The Bible tells us that David’s problems with his children go back to his affair with Bathsheba and the murder of Uriah.  Even by today’s standards David’s family was dysfunctional.  In addition to this secret affair and murder, every one of his male children were from a different wife; and they were competing for his favor and eventually the throme.  The fact that he favored Solomon, the son of Bathsheba, over the rest probably did not help. 


2 Sam 12:10  Now therefore the sword shall never depart from thine house; because thou hast despised me, and hast taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be thy wife.  11  Thus saith the LORD, Behold, I will raise up evil against thee out of thine own house, and I will take thy wives before thine eyes, and give them unto thy neighbour, and he shall lie with thy wives in the sight of this sun.           

            2.  The sins of the parents can provide the seed for the sins that are repeated in the next generation.  In 2nd Samuel Chapter 13 we are told that Amnon, the oldest son of David, loved his step-sister Tamar.  He acted like he was sick, asked David to send her to minister to him in his sickness, and, when she came, he raped her.  The sexual sin, which began through David’s adultery with Bathsheba, was repeated in the next generation.  Unfortunately, most of the time the children will even go beyond the sins of their parents. 


            3.  Because of their own sins or insecurity, many times parents feel they have no right to set or enforce effective boundaries with their children.  Because of their past failures, they feel they can not really blame their children, and therefore, fail to discipline them effectively.  This almost inevitably leads to an increasingly dysfunctional family.  We are told that David was “very wroth” over what Amnon had done but took no action. (2 Sam 13:21) 


            4.  Without action to enforce effective boundaries, the dysfunction will escalate.  After two years passed Absalom, Tamar’s brother, decided to take justice into his own hands and assassinate Amnon.  Children do not respond to words but to action.  In Absalom’s mind someone had to do something about Tamar’s rape, and David had done nothing.  If the parents will not act, the children may feel justified in taking revenge for them. 


            5.  The lack of effective discipline results in a disrespect for the parent. The fact that David was blatantly manipulated to be part of both the rape and the murder shows the disdain that the children had for their father. 


            6.  Children need both love and appropriate boundaries.  Children that have no boundaries feel insecure and do not develop responsibility.  Children who are over-controlled and never given a chance to make choices never learn self-discipline.  David’s children were given excessive liberty as indicated by the inclusion of Jonadab (liberty) in both plots. (2 Sam 13:5, 32)  When Absalom was brought back from exile through the manipulation of Joab, David refused to see him.  Possibly David saw his coldness as his means of disapproving of what Absalom had done.  Absalom most likely saw it as rejection and a lack of love. 


            7.  Rules or boundaries without perceived love brings rebellion.  Absalom conspired to over-throw and kill his own father.  The basis of this rebellion was clear.  He accused his father of not being just to the people.  Of course, it was Tamar, his sister, who had not received justice; and Absalom, himself, felt rejected for doing what David should have done.  The basis of the rebellion can also be tied directly to David’s adultery, since a co-conspirator with Absalom was David’s past advisor, Ahithophel, the grandfather of Bathsheba.  Absalom carried out exactly what the prophet Nathan had predicted; he slept with his Father’s concubines on the roof of the palace. 


            8.  Really caring for your children is not enough.  They have to know that you love them enough to discipline them.  After Absalom’s death, David’s real feelings were apparent when he said he would have rather died himself. 

2 Sam 18:33  And the king was much moved, and went up to the chamber over the gate, and wept: and as he went, thus he said, O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! would God I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son! 


             9.  A lack of effective discipline will eventually result in rebellion.  While over controlling children usually results in a lack of self-control when they grow older, a lack of discipline makes a child feel that they have to take care of themselves.  After Absolom’s death his brother Adaonijah decided to make himself king.  We are told that David had never “displeased him at any time.”  Possibly this was because David was still grieving the death of Absalom.  I recommend that every family needs a set of family rules.  These are a set of mutually agreed-upon boundaries, which specify what is expected, and the consequences for any violation.  These boundaries need to be consistently and impartially enforced.  They provide a framework within which children can be taught responsibility, yet allowed to learn from their own choices and consequences, so that they also learn self-discipline. 


1 Ki 1:5 Then Adonijah the son of Haggith exalted himself, saying, I will be king: and he prepared him chariots and horsemen, and fifty men to run before him.  6  And his father had not displeased him at any time in saying, Why hast thou done so? and he also was a very goodly man; and his mother bare him after Absalom.      


 Principles of a Healthy Family


             David’s family did not recover from its problems.  Two generations later these problems resulted in the division of the nation of Israel.  Consequently, in order to illustrate what a healthy family is to be like, we need to find another biblical example.  Not all families are so dysfunctional that they end in divorce or that the children need years to recover from the effects of growing up in their family of origin.  Some marriages are entered into by two reasonably healthy people who have learned to use effective boundaries in their lives and who rely primarily on God to meet their needs.  We find such a family in the New Testament story of Joseph and Mary, the mother of Jesus. 


            1.  Both marriage partners must be completely dedicated to God and desire the will of God in their lives.  Doing God’s will should be even more important to them than becoming married to a particular person.  Mary was so humble and dedicated to having the will of God carried out in her life that she risked her coming marriage to Joseph.  When the angel came to Mary, she openly accepted the will of God even though she did not understand it.  Becoming pregnant before she was married would probably bring her disgrace, emotional pain, and an end to her engagement to Joseph. 


Lu 1:38  And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her. 

Joseph was also open to the will of God and took Mary to be his wife in spite of the fact that she was already pregnant.  It must have been hard for him to believe that she was somehow pregnant without having a relationship with other man even after the angel of the Lord revealed this to him in a dream.  It is doubtful that any of his friends or the people of Nazareth would have believed this “story.”  


Mt 1:20  But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost.     

            2.  They must believe that God has their best interests in mind no matter what He asks them to do.  Elizabeth complimented Mary on her faith in God and declared that what was promised would come to pass. 

Lu 1:41 And it came to pass, that, when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost:  42    And she spake out with a loud voice, and said, Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. 45    And blessed is she that believed: for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord. 


            3.  They must be dedicated to working together as a team to do what God directs, in spite of what difficulties life might bring.  A joint vision is essential to a strong marriage.  The fact that Mary accompanied Joseph all the way to Bethlehem to register for the census when she was about to give birth is amazing.  This trip is more than 70 miles mostly on rough trails and must have taken a number of days!  Later, when Joseph had a dream that Herod would try to destroy the child, they left immediately that night for Egypt.  When Joseph received another dream, they returned to Israel.  They were both submitted to the direction of God in their lives and to each other.


            4.  They must learn to work together for the betterment of the family and not easily give up.  Joseph and Mary’s unity and teamwork are clearly illustrated when Jesus was twelve years of age.  He stayed behind in Jerusalem after the Passover celebration and somehow they were not aware of it.  When they did not find Him immediately, they sought him among the relatives.  When they did not locate Him, they both returned to Jerusalem and kept searching together for three whole days.  They did not seem to blame each other.  (Luke 2:43-50) 


            5. The parents of a healthy family must demonstrate the healthy use of boundaries to resolve family disagreements.  When they finally found Jesus, they simply asked Him why He had stayed in Jerusalem.  Jesus’ answer shows that His action was the result of a boundary disagreement.  It should be understood that when, in the Hebrew tradition, a boy turned 12 years old, he was considered a man and capable of making his own decisions.  They expected Jesus to follow them home because He was their son, but He felt that He needed to stay longer in Jerusalem to prepare for what his Father in heaven was calling Him to do.  He expected them to understand this.  Even though they probably did not really understand His point of view, they accepted it; and He returned home and was obedient to them.  The result of their healthy handling of this boundary situation was that Jesus increased in wisdom and favor in His relationships.  


Lu 2:48  And when they saw him, they were amazed: and his mother said unto him, Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? behold, thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing.  48 And he said unto them, How is it that ye sought me? wist ye not that I must be about my Father's business? 50  And they understood not the saying which he spake unto them.  51 And he went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was subject unto them: but his mother kept all these sayings in her heart.  52    And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.


            6.  Effective and honoring communication skills are essential for a healthy family. At the wedding in Canaan, they ran out of wine.  Mary succinctly approached Jesus with care that appropriate boundaries be maintained between them.  He made it clear that He was now a grown man, so she did not have the right to tell Him what to do.  She honored Him by telling the servants to do whatever He said and did not even suggest what choice He should make.  This showed faith that He would do the right thing. 


Jo 2:3  And when they wanted wine, the mother of Jesus saith unto him, They have no wine.  4 Jesus saith unto her, Woman, what have I to do with thee? mine hour is not yet come.  5 His mother saith unto the servants, Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it. 


            7.  Doing the will of God must be even more important than the family itself.  When Jesus’ mother and brothers came wanting to speak to Him; He clearly set a boundary concerning His priorities.  As a grown man, he must do the will of God rather than the desires of His family. 


Mk 3:31  There came then his brethren and his mother, and, standing without, sent unto him, calling him.  32  And the multitude sat about him, and they said unto him, Behold, thy mother and thy brethren without seek for thee.  33  And he answered them, saying, Who is my mother, or my brethren?  34  And he looked round about on them which sat about him, and said, Behold my mother and my brethren!  35  For whosoever shall do the will of God, the same is my brother, and my sister, and mother.  


            8.  When conflicts arise, healthy family members do not try to control the other members, do not put others down for their choices, and set the other members free to make their own decisions and live with the consequences of their decisions.  Jesus brothers suggested that He should go up to the feast, so he could increase his public following.  Jesus explained that it was not yet time for him to do that.  They went to the feast anyway.  This clearly demonstrates a healthy level of separateness in this family, even though they did not agree on everything.  In fact, His brothers were not even convinced He was the Messiah. 


            9. Love for each other (having the other’s best interest in mind) must take priority (even under the most dire circumstances).  Even when Jesus was hanging on the cross, he still showed concern for His mother.  By that time Joseph must have already died or he would have been there.  Jesus directed John to provide for Mary’s needs, since He would no longer be able to do so.  

Jo 19:26  When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by, whom he loved, he saith unto his mother, Woman, behold thy son! 27  Then saith he to the disciple, Behold thy mother! And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home.  


            10.  The real test of a healthy family is how the members of the next generation function during the remainder of their lifetime.  Jesus, Mary’s son, went to the cross for all of mankind.  His mother and brothers were all in the upper room at Pentecost.  Jesus brother James became one of the main leaders in the church in Jerusalem along with Peter.  In spite of all the difficulties that this family suffered, Joseph and Mary successfully passed on the torch of serving and obeying God unto the next generation. 


            Someone might complain that using the family of Jesus as a model moves it out of the realm of human possibilities.  I do not believe that this is a valid point because Joseph and Mary appeared healthy even before Jesus’ birth.  Just because one of the members of the family was perfect (Jesus), this did not necessarily insure that all the members would be healthy.  David’s family was lead by a man after God’s own heart and was very dysfunctional.  We are all called to be conformed to the image of Jesus through faith.  No matter where we might be today, God expects us to become more functional through the process of salvation.  This is made possible by faith each day until we become the glorious, whole, healthy individuals and family members that He created us to be.  It is also God’s goal that our families be transformed in a similar manner.


            When I counsel families, I sometimes use Boundaries (1992) and the Boundaries Workbook (1995), as resources.  For communication and gender differences I use Hidden Keys of a Loving Lasting Marriage (1988) by Gary Smalley.  For families on the verge of divorce, I recommend Before a Bad Goodbye (1999) by Tim Clinton, and for families with older children who are out of control, I suggest Parenting Teens with Love and Logic (1992) by Cline and Faye.  More recently I have found Safe Haven Marriage (Hart and Morris, 2003) and Love and Respect (Eggerichs, 2004) especially useful.  THese boopks are avaiable in our online bookstore.


Steps for Healing Dysfunctional Families 


1.   The first and most important step is for all members of the family to accept Christ as their Savior and Lord, quit trying to direct their own lives, give control over to God, and become willing to be obedient to His word. 


2.   Help each member of the family take responsibility for their own actions no matter what other members do.  God holds us accountable for what we do and how we react, not what our mate or children do.  We must learn to respond with what is right instead of reacting out of our hurt. 


3.   Teach the family communication skills so that they can discuss and resolve issues without fighting. 


4.   Teach all members of the family how to use effective boundaries to resolve conflict and not to be excessively passive or aggressive when their personal boundaries are violated. 


5.   Help develop a set of boundaries or rules for the family that all agree are reasonable and fair.  These boundaries may have to include how the family will deal with arguments and outbursts of anger.  They must be consistently followed. 


6.   Help the family discuss, resolve, and forgive past offenses.


7.   Once the family believes that the other members do have their best interests in mind, help them reach out in love to develop healthy relationships, work together as a team for the betterment of every member, and do the will of God.

Books on Family Counseling

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