Why Your Family is Dysfunctional

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June 27, 2022

The hit song “We don’t talk about Bruno” from the Disney Film Encanto took the world by storm this past year. The piece explores how the Madrigal family tiptoes around, discussing the broken relationship between Bruno and the rest of His family. It’s a song about family dysfunction and secrets often left ignored and undiscussed.

If we were to guess why that is the case, I think it’s because most of us can relate to what the song explores. Every family experiences some level of dysfunction. It might not be “Bruno,” but it might be “We don’t talk about Dad’s drinking.” “We don’t talk about Grandma’s racism.” We don’t talk about family business outside of our home.” “We don’t talk about…you fill in the blank.”

Too often, family dysfunction is ignored, overlooked, hidden, or left unaddressed. Because of this, many of us are left on our own to figure out how to navigate the challenges of our family’s dysfunction.

Thankfully, the Bible is full of dysfunctional families where “we don’t talk about [Blank]” isn’t the standard practice. Take Isaac, Rebekah, and their two sons, Jacob & Esau, for example.

Isaac is the son of Abraham and the one through whom God’s covenant promises were to continue forward [see Genesis 12:1–3]. However, as we continue to learn about this family’s story, we get a hint that things aren’t quite right. Let’s take a look at Genesis 27:1–4.

When Isaac was old and his eyes were dim so that he could not see, he called Esau his older son and said to him, “My son”; and he answered, “Here I am.” He said, “Behold, I am old; I do not know the day of my death. Now then, take your weapons, your quiver and your bow, and go out to the field and hunt game for me, and prepare for me delicious food, such as I love, and bring it to me so that I may eat, that my soul may bless you before I die.”

Now, at first glance, you might be wondering how these verses display the root of this family’s dysfunction. But, to see that, you have to keep in mind that God had made a specific oracle over the two brothers, Jacob and Esau when they were born.

And Isaac prayed to the Lord for his wife, because she was barren. And the Lord granted his prayer, and Rebekah his wife conceived. The children struggled together within her, and she said, “If it is thus, why is this happening to me?” So she went to inquire of the Lord. And the Lord said to her, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the older shall serve the younger.” -Genesis 25:21–23

So, God had said that it was to be the younger rule over the older and thus receive the family blessings. However, Isaac determined in his old age to bless Esau, the older brother, in direct contradiction to God’s Word.

Here, we are introduced to one of the main issues that leads to this family’s dysfunction, their disobedience. Isaac’s choice begins a series of dysfunction that we see over the following several verses. Rebekah responds to Isaac’s decision by hatching a plan with her younger son Jacob. She tells him to prepare a delicious stew like Esau’s. Not only that, since Esau is harrier than Jacob, they will cover him with goatskin and put him in Esau’s clothes, so that blind Isaac will not know it’s him. Jacob goes along with the lie and directly tells his father that he is, in fact, Esau. Instead of digging into his suspicions, Isaac, blinded by his disobedience, continues to bless Jacob thinking it’s Esau. Deception frames the entire reaction to Isaac’s disobedience, which causes an incredible amount of distress within the family.

Esau returns, and the deception is discovered. The text notes that Esau responds to the discovery with “an exceedingly great and bitter cry” (27:34), highlighting the agony the deception has caused him. Isaac cannot bless Esau as he has already given that to Jacob. This causes him to hate Jacob, and he desires to kill him. Rebekah finds out and sends Jacob to visit her brother Laban to save his life, but she will never see her beloved son again. Throughout the entire story, we see the distress that disobedience causes. The narrative focuses on the repercussions of Isaac’s disobedience and the fallout that happens because of it.

God’s Word is meant to lead us into flourishing and life. And yet, when we believe the lie that we can live by our word and our ways, and we turn from God’s Word, this is what causes dysfunction. Adam and Eve turned from God’s Word, which caused dysfunction in their family. Isaac sought to turn from God’s Word, which caused dysfunction in His family. And when you or I, or our parents, grandparents, or even great-grandparents, turn from God’s Word, it causes the dysfunction and distress we experience in our families and lives.

Thankfully the story doesn’t end there. If you continue reading Genesis 31, you’ll see a moment where Jacob and Esau reconcile. Grace is extended and received.

Friend, I might not know your family’s story, but I can tell you this, it’s no worse than the dysfunction that exists between you and God because of your sin. And if God, out of His grace and mercy, would do what was necessary to restore our relationship with Him, we can also trust that He is working to help us restore our broken relationships and families. In the Gospel of Jesus, there is hope for each of our families. It might take a while. Jacob and Esau were estranged for 15 years, maybe more, but if God could reconcile these brothers, certainly he can do the same thing in the broken places of our families.