Happenings

Nature, nurture and spirit probably have a hand in passing on Family scripts

Feb 2004    

FAMILY stories often seem to have recurring themes. Some therapists call them family scripts. It seems as if unwritten but nevertheless powerful scripts find expression generation after generation.

Researchers have noted that certain patterns in attitude and behaviour tend to be repeated in family history. Alcoholism, suicide, domestic violence, broken families, and other patterns of family pathology have all been suggested as family scripts that can be repeated across generations.

This idea of family scripts is not new. The biblical stories of the ancient patriarchs demonstrate a similar understanding.
Take, for instance, Abraham’s response to personal danger. God had called him to leave Ur to go to Canaan. When there was a famine in Canaan, Abraham decided to go to Egypt to survive the difficult circumstances. Before entering Egypt he told his wife Sarai, “I know what a beautiful woman you are. When the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife,’ then they will kill me but will let you live. Say you are my sister, so that my life will be spared because of you.” (Gen 12:11-13).

Notice immediately Abraham’s self-centred strategy of self preservation. He lied to save his own skin. Worse, he was willing to sacrifice his wife’s safety and honour for his own survival. In that panicky moment of fearing for his life, he ignored all that God had promised him – that he and his wife would produce a great nation (Gen 12:2). And he did not seem to care what happened to his wife. Believing that Sarai was Abraham’s unmarried sister, Pharaoh had her taken to the palace to be one of his wives. If not for God’s intervention, the truth would not have come out and the story would have ended tragically.

Years later, when Abraham’s son Isaac had married Rebekah, there was another famine. Isaac went to the land of the Philistines. There he repeated what his father did (Gen. 26:1-11). Fearing for his life, he lied that Rebekah was his sister. Later when the Philistine king found out the truth he confronted Isaac who confessed that he had been afraid of losing his life. And as in Abraham’s case, this happened just after God had promised Isaac that his descendents would be as numerous as the stars in the sky.

The details in the two stories have a striking resemblance. It was as if a script was repeating itself from one generation to the next. There are also other scripts in this ancient family, for example, the story of favouritism. Isaac favoured his son Esau (Gen. 25:28). Esau’s twin brother Jacob plotted with his mother (who favoured him) to deceive his father who was blind because of old age. He managed to divert Isaac’s intended blessing on Esau to himself. Years later, Jacob showed the same trait of favouritism when he favoured his son Joseph above all the other siblings (Gen.37:3).

Later in the Old Testament, family history can best be found in the stories of the kings of Israel and Judah. All 19 kings of Israel are judged by Scripture as evil, guilty of idolatry and other sins. Twelve of the 20 kings of Judah were also evil.

It is interesting to note that when these kings are mentioned and their actions judged, we often find a phrase that goes something like: “He did evil in the eyes of the Lord, just as his father(s)… had done” (e.g. 1 Kgs. 15:3,26; 22:52, where the finger is pointed at the mother too). When the actions of the good kings are described, they are accompanied by phrases like “just as his father … had done.” (2 Kgs. 15:3,34), or “just as his (fore)father David had done.” (2 Kgs. 18:3).
How do such family scripts get passed on? The usual answers are nature (as in genes), nurture (as in upbringing) and spirit (as in spiritual heritage or baggage). Though this is not the place to discuss these in detail, probably all three are true.

More importantly, what can we do about family scripts?

As a child, no matter what your age, you need to be aware of your own family scripts. Some of them may be good, others bad. Whatever the situation, we need to find another Script that redeems us. It is the story of God’s redemptive acts in the world, and more specifically, the story of Jesus. This Script is found in Scripture. We begin to live in this Script when we place our faith in Christ and are baptised.

In our baptism we are identified with Christ; we are buried into death with Christ and are raised with Him into new life (Rom. 6:4). His Script then becomes our life script. His Script frees us from bondage to all other scripts that infect our lives. It also helps us notice that in the scripts we bring to Him we can recognise some good things that resonate with His Script. We begin to be thankful that the Heavenly Script Writer had already begun working in our lives way before we came to know Him. Indeed, in Christ, we can thank God for the positive parts of our family scripts (cf. 2 Tim. 3:15) and become free from the negative parts.

As a parent, you need to realise the influence you have over your children. You must recognise the tremendous power of modelling. Our children tend to mimic our attitudes and actions. You can make a big difference in their lives. But what if your family script is bad? Are you fated to pass it on to your children and descendents? If you don’t take care, you probably will. The outcome depends on many factors such as your children’s own experience and character, and other influences.

What you can do though is that with the power of the Holy Spirit, the bad or sinful themes that may have been repeated in your family history can come to an end with you as you make Christ’s Script (the Script of God’s Family) your script. God can rewrite and redeem our scripts if we allow Him. And we can leave a godly legacy that can influence generations to come.

So think about the script you have received, the script you are living out and the script you are passing on.

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