There is no joy like family joy. And there is no pain like family pain.
Why is this so? Because family relationships are, by God’s own design, intense. God created the family to be a powerful experience of nurture and inspiration for every new generation. We all sense how the family is set apart from other human spaces. We don’t apply to join a family, like a job. God gives us to our family. Then we grow up in that family, day after day, during our most impressionable years. And we spend the rest of our lives responding to that mega-experience of our family — giving thanks, or breaking free, or maybe both.
Family dynamics have intensity built in. No surprise, then, that family joy is wonderful, and family pain is horrible.
Redeeming Your Story
No home is perfect. But few homes are completely awful. Most of us can thank God for at least something positive in our childhood.
Personally, my years growing up as a kid in the Ortlund home in Pasadena were, on the whole, amazing. I hit the family lottery! In addition, the memories I cherish of my years as a husband and father in my own home melt my heart. We were — and are — an imperfect family. There is always some drama going on. But I would dishonor the Lord not to rejoice in our family as blessed by his grace.
“You can turn the frustrations of your past into energy for your future.”
Sadly, others can’t honestly say that about their own experience of family life. Many have known the heartache of divorce, the betrayal of unfaithfulness, the exhaustion of conflict, the outrage of abuse. Maybe your family let you down, or maybe you were the one who let your family down. Either way, it might be hard for you even to keep reading. But you’ve come this far, so could we turn a corner now, together?
Could we consider together how God might redeem your family backstory? Why not dare to believe he can? Why not start building something new? The more disappointed you are with a broken past, the more stubborn you can be in fighting for a better future.
Ruins Can Be Rebuilt
God opens just such a door in Isaiah 58:9–12:
If you take away the yoke from your midst,
the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness,
if you pour yourself out for the hungry
and satisfy the desire of the afflicted,
then shall your light rise in the darkness
and your gloom be as the noonday.
And the Lord will guide you continually
and satisfy your desire in scorched places
and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water,
whose waters do not fail.
And your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
the restorer of streets to dwell in.
The prophet calls us to correct human wrongs, rather than continue them, and receive God’s blessings, rather than forfeit them. If you are fed up with “the yoke” of oppression, “the pointing of the finger” in false accusation and “speaking wickedness” in family fights, good! You are ready for the new beginning only the risen Christ can give.
And give it he does. Don’t be put off by the “if . . . if . . . then” logic of these verses. The condition we must meet is a gracious one. We cannot deserve a future filled with God’s blessing, but we must remove the obstacles to his blessing. Which means that anyone, from any background, can — through the merit of Christ — step into the picture Isaiah paints here.
From Good to Garden
For example, a friend of mine grew up in a home that did not “satisfy the desire of the afflicted.”
They were good people, in their way. But it just wasn’t their custom to share the depths of their hearts. “I love you” were words rarely spoken. The family navigated the issues of daily life with sarcasm rather than tenderness. Their intentions were good. But “pour[ing] yourself out for the hungry” just wasn’t a category in their mentality. Life was a matter of fixing meals, getting to school, working jobs — functional, not relational, not emotional.
As a result, my friend grew up lonely. He wondered if he really belonged anywhere. Then, by God’s grace, on his wedding day he resolved deep within, “No more of that! Today marks a new beginning. In our home we will love one another, comfort one another, defend one another,” and so forth. And it worked. God made sure of that. And my friend’s home became, not only for his own family but also for thousands of others through the years, “like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.”
Let Your Past Fuel Future Love
Like him, you can’t go back and change your past. But like him, you can turn the frustrations of your past into energy for your future.
“The darkness and gloom you suffered can become the very place where God-given radiance and joy and hope stand out.”
Even if you were seriously mistreated and deeply injured by your family — it’s unthinkable, but real — God can dignify your anger and sorrow and devastation as a profound determination that no one, within the range of your influence, will ever be wronged. Not on your watch. You know how vital it is that everyone be lifted up with respect, understanding, patience, and forgiveness. You feel that deeply, which means God is restoring you deeply. Trust him, and keep going. He can turn your devastating losses into richer investment.
Let your confidence in him empower you, for the rest of your life, so that you gather and welcome and nurture and protect others — in your own family, as much as possible, but also among the many sufferers all around you. And your “family” of comfort in Christ — meeting in your home or at your church — will become an open door to more and more broken people who long to start living again.
Bend Your Sufferings Around
So, how about it? What if you spend the rest of your life with this wonderful sense of purpose, inspired by Isaiah 58:9–12, correcting wrongs and receiving blessings? If you will, here is what God promises you: “Then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday” (Isaiah 58:10). The darkness and gloom you suffered can become the very place where God-given radiance and joy and hope stand out — for yourself and others.
You don’t need to deny your past. You don’t need to fear your future. You don’t need to assemble around you a perfect little life where nothing bad can ever find you again. Just the opposite. You can accept your dark family history as the call of God upon you to go help others who have suffered like you (2 Corinthians 1:3–4). You feel their anguish vividly. You can love them meaningfully. Please don’t deepen your own sufferings by self-focus. Instead, bend your sufferings around into comfort for others. God will honor you: “You shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to dwell in” (Isaiah 58:12).
God can make you a courageous repairer and a mighty restorer — both broken and beautiful.