The Good News of “Dysfunction”
Growing up in the church around mostly “good” people and “good” families, broken families were seen as “less than.” Families with a track record of teenage pregnancies, multiple marriages and divorces, affairs, addiction issues, step children, half-siblings, and so on, were examples of what to spend your life avoiding. In fact, the foundation of the Christian faith as I had grown up to understand it, was to steer clear of the same behavioral mistakes and sins that make up and mark broken families.
So, when I met my wife Stacie and she started to tell me about her jacked-up family, I was taken aback. All of the issues on that list—from teen pregnancies to multiple divorces to affairs—make up just a small portion of the many dysfunctional narratives of her large and extended family. They were the exact kind of family I had been “warned” about growing up.
Even though my own moral high ground had recently sunk to the bottom of the ocean for the whole world to see (breaking up my own family), I instinctively latched onto a piece of moralistic driftwood to help me think I was better off than they were. After all, I came from one of the “good” families, an intact family, a famous Christian family. Sure, we have our own form of dysfunction, but not like her family. Our sins are more "respectable", "normal", and "acceptable." The sins of her family are more explicitly and socially grievous.
But all of my blind, self-righteous nonsense was confronted head-on when this rag-tag group of bedraggled “less thans” welcomed me with open arms. They embodied Jesus’ words that “those who have been forgiven much, love much” (Luke 7:47). In spite of the mess I was (and continue to be), they “adopted” me, loved me, and accepted me. They took me in when I was at my worst and most desperate. Not once have they raised an eyebrow or pointed a finger at me—both of which would’ve been understandable and justified. Not once have they made me feel like a threat, a pariah, or an outcast. Not once have they made me feel like a “less than.”
For example, whenever we all get together for birthdays or holidays, they typically ask me to pray. This may not seem like a big deal, but to me it is. Because of my sin, I have struggled to believe that I am “qualified” for something as seemingly small as saying a public prayer at a large family gathering. I know that may sound silly, but it’s true. Guilt and shame can be powerfully paralyzing. So when they ask me to pray, they do so in part to remind me that God still loves me and that He isn’t finished with me—that while my sin reaches far, His grace reaches farther.
As time has gone on, I have watched them love one another (and me) in ways that I have rarely seen from the “functional” people I’ve spent most of my life around inside the church. I’ve learned so much about the depths of grace and unconditional love by watching how these felons and failures, addicts and adulterers, divorcees and disasters support one another, rally around one another, and care for one another. Even though they hurt each other at times, they apologize and ask for forgiveness. They are “quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry” (James 1:19). They defend each other, shelter each other, and protect each other. In spite of their own needs and lack of resources, they carry one another’s emotional, spiritual, and financial burdens. They run (not walk) to the one in need, the one who has fallen, the one who has screwed up, the one who’s in trouble. They celebrate one another’s successes and shoulder one another’s failures. They “rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15).
Stacie’s family has suffered the devastating consequences of sin and selfishness, and it has made their lives harder. But through it all, God has also made them tender and kind, understanding and compassionate. They don’t gloat about their mistakes and they don’t excuse their poor choices. They own their stories without blaming anybody else. They struggle with heaping guilt, shame, and regret on themselves for some of the decisions they have made. But the beauty that emanates from their brokenness is this: they comprehend something profound about God’s mercy because they comprehend something profound about their messiness. To be sure, they are not soft on sin. But they are soft on sinners because they know their own sin.
So, thank you Granny, Tammie and Donnie and Marci, Amber, Mia and Garrett, Jenna and Brac, Shawn and Rhonda and Ashley, Cary and Regina and Alec, Morgan and Josh, Lauren and Waylon, Ronnie and Heather and Tyler and Justin…and to my sweet Stacie. In various ways, you have all proven to me time and time again that the best distributors of grace and forgiveness are those who know (really know!) by experience just how badly they need both. And that it is our failures, not our successes, where God’s grace shines the brightest through us into the lives of others.