Maybe you’ve seen the commercials making fun of the fact that as we get older we all become like our fathers or our mothers, complete with sweaters, reading glasses, and tinkering in the attic. In one ad, a man dances in “dad clothes,” while his friends at the club look on in dismay.
We all laugh along, because we know from our daily lives that we do adopt our parents’ mannerisms. We do look like them as we age, but we also may tend to carry out even harmful ways in which they interacted. The older I get, the more aware I am of this.
This is addressed in Numbers 14:18. The Complete Jewish Bible says: “Adonai is slow to anger, rich in grace, forgiving offenses and crimes; yet not exonerating the guilty, but causing the negative effects of the parents’ offenses to be experienced by their children and even by the third and fourth generations.”
This is not a “generational curse,” necessarily, like the situation detailed in Deuteronomy 27 and 28, so much as a truism, a cause-and-effect sequence. The negative behaviors and effects of our parents’ offenses, mannerisms, and standards do impact us.
We see it in our own families. Our habitual sins are modeled before our children’s eyes, say a sin of constant criticism and negativity. They are the victims of those sins when we aim our criticism and constant negativity at them. They are impacted.
Then, unless they are mindful and aware of the grace of God to help them, they unconsciously model our behavior as they grow up, also having a negative focus. And then their children are victims of the same, and so on. This is how human nature works. Pause to reflect how this is so within your own family and every other human family on the earth.
However, because God is slow to anger and rich in grace, he forgives our offenses. When we turn to him in repentance and ask for his mercy, we unleash a powerful force in not only our lives, but in the lives of our children and grandchildren. This is God’s grace, the power of God to change us.
“Therefore know that the LORD your God, He is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and mercy for a thousand generations with those who love Him and keep His commandments” (Deuteronomy 7:9).
God’s grace provokes change in the entire family when we confess our sins against our children and ask for their forgiveness. When coupled with the fruit of true repentance, an actual decrease in negativity and criticism in this example, which is replaced with affirmation and praise, God’s work in our lives produces powerful medicine for healing.
For any of this to take place, we much be open to the Spirit’s work in our lives and the lives of our children, for he is the one who convicts, gives us the desire to change, and provides the power for change.
My growth involves an increasing awareness of sin–this is the Spirit’s work. Then I recognize that I’ve mindlessly carried out a learned behavior or thought process for far too long, all the while totally unaware. I pry deeper into it, detecting the fact that a subtle sin lies underneath. Then, with God’s help and prayer, I attack it, attempting to root it out and to establish a new way of behaving.
Often, for me, I become aware of these sins by the pushback from my children, because they love me. They are all adults now, but our kids have been our best allies in our spiritual growth since The Hypocrisy Police lived with us, starting twenty-eight years ago when our oldest turned thirteen. Our children have front-row seats to our lives. They notice when we don’t do as we say or live as we proclaim.
We discuss what I’m doing and how it impacts them negatively. We often have to come at this many times and from different angles. It’s hard to hear it at first. I might cry. Maybe, I can’t even recognize it, but then, I grow increasingly aware that before I do or say certain things I feel like my mother or my father or even a grandparent. This is my tip off. The Holy Spirit works in me.
If I pause then, I can usually discover that I’m acting in some way that was also a learned behavior from a parent or grandparent. It’s during this pause that the change begins to take root.
Can I stop long enough to evaluate what is about to come out of my mouth? Can I allow the Lord to shine his light on the falsehood or harmful interaction pattern that is buried underneath? Can I determine what set in motion my reflex to repeat it?
If I do, by God’s grace, I can replace the learned harmful action with truth, goodness, and love. The longer I have this strategy in place, the faster I respond and the more I grow.
As parents, our grown children can help us to see ourselves clearly, to poke at those besetting sins that remain, and to help us take the steps to move out of harmful habits or disjointed ways of interacting. Children bless our lives in many ways. Having a team of beloved adult children is one of our greatest assets, yet another reason that children are a gift from God.
Do you see these dynamics within your own family? How does this bless your life, whether you’re the child or the parent? If you experience the reverse, by God’s grace and with his help, how can you turn this around?