Just around the corner from my home office lurks a dark place where I rarely venture. I look the other way when I pass the door on my way to the bathroom multiple times each day. And I keep that door shut unless I absolutely must retrieve something from behind it.
It’s a closet. And it desperately needs to be cleaned out.
Many of us choose to stuff things in closets when we don’t know what else to do with them. Right? And then things pile up and become jumbled and confusing. Eventually things even topple over and cause a mess.
We joke about our families having secrets in closets, too. Maybe there are subjects, memories or even names we just don’t broach…even in our own minds. There’s unfinished business. There are unhealed wounds. There are carpets with piles of regret, bitterness and misunderstandings swept under them.
But if we are going to experience true, lasting and deep healing, we will have to take a peek into and even clean out a few family closets. Why? Because family secrets and issues tend to jump out of closets generations after they’ve been stuffed behind those doors.
That simple truth became glaringly obvious to me when I first began looking into the deeper nuances of Joseph’s story in Genesis 37-50. I didn’t want to just follow Joseph’s journey, after all, but I wanted to keep a close watch on his hurt heart.
When I spent some time with Joseph in Genesis 37, I saw the heat rising between him and his ten older brothers. I saw a dad who seemed oblivious to that heat and even fanned it hotter with an extravagant gift and an ill-measured assignment. And I saw a young man desperate to please his doting dad at any cost.
And I asked Joseph, so to speak, “Why? Why the tension? Why the heat? Why the favoritism? Why the desire to please someone so clueless, so passive?”
How did things get so off track? Where did everything go so horribly, horribly wrong? Why was his family like this?
Well, when you crack the door to this family’s “closet,” sure enough, out jump multiple skeletons — deadly issues, words, events and attitudes that were buried alive…never dealt with sufficiently, never resolved.
- birthing a child had become somewhat of an idol for the women
- favoritism ran rampant
- parents had turned a blind eye to sibling rivalry
- sibling tensions were handled by separation instead of communication
- violence was pooh-poohed but never punished
- emotions were allowed to rule
Those are some of the skeletons I found lurking in Joseph’s family’s closet. What might you find in yours if you were to open that forbidden door? You do realize, of course, that every family has some things in their past that they are not proud of. Right? You might find:
- marital infidelity
- sibling rivalry
- incestual relationships
- poor self-esteem
- abuse of various kinds
- you name it…
- Let someone help you. A Christian counselor, a wise mentor or a patient and godly friend can help you see what hides in there with some necessary perspective. And they can encourage you to clean it out with forgiveness and truth rather than just taking a look and slamming the door shut again. And they can keep you from piling it up and throwing it at someone, too! That leads to my second suggestion…
- Don’t expect everyone to join you. Just because you are ready to deal with the past doesn’t mean everyone else is. You’ll have to give some substantial grace to those who don’t want to tell the truth, offer an apology, call a spade a spade (or a sin a sin), admit their mistakes, make things right or even accept an apology.
Here’s the bottom line: We can’t do anything about the past. We can’t change it and we can’t fix it. But we can honestly assess it in light of God’s standards. We can call a spade a spade. We can say, “That hurt.” We can seek counseling if necessary. We can take the past to a loving and righteous God and ask Him to point us in a new direction. And then…we can forgive. We can offer grace and mercy. We can choose to line up with God’s Word instead of just continuing to do things the way our family always did them in the past.
Once we’ve cleaned out the closet, we can break free from family sins and choose to live a new life…one fitting of a child of God.
It’s funny. When we finally get up the nerve and the resolve to clean out a closet in our homes, we pat ourselves on the back. We consider ourselves brave and responsible. We commend ourselves for getting a nasty job done and we post a picture on Facebook of our freshly tidied pantry or linen closet.
Not only do we allow ourselves to clean out the closets in our homes; we know we need to.
But when it comes to the dark and murky closets in our families, we worry that they are off limits. We fear that we are stepping into forbidden territory, being disrespectful or unearthing that which has already been buried…even if it was buried alive.
Look, I’m not encouraging disrespect or even finger-pointing. And I certainly don’t advocate digging up that which truly was sufficiently buried or put in the past with words of explanation, tears of repentance, expressions of forgiveness and grace, sweet grace. If that past wound or scandal or offense or season was sufficiently put to rest and now flowers of mercy are growing on that grave…leave it be. But if something unresolved lurks in your closet, it may be time to open the door, let in the Light and put things in order.
You’re not just trying to dig up dirt; you’re trying to put things in order so you can really live.
If family scars or wounds from your past are keeping you from healing and thriving, you might find good company with Joseph. Not only that, but when you do start pulling things out of your family’s closet you’ll need to shine the light of God’s Word on them for proper perspective. Joseph – Keeping a Soft Heart in a Hard Place could help you do that so, like Joseph, you can experience true and complete healing. You’ll find more information about it here.