Why Do We Hurt the Ones We Love?


by Glenn T. Stanton

It’s a glorious, unseasonably warm Sunday afternoon, and we’re all trying to decide what to do. My wife, Jackie, would like to run some errands, and the kids want to take advantage of the weather to play at the park. But task-oriented, analytical Dad notices something rather important: There is virtually no food in the house. So I make the authoritative declaration that we’re not doing anything until we buy groceries. Boom. Decision made.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with spending time handling an essential task. The problem, this time, was the way I said it. My tone and body language screamed that any plan not including the important task of getting groceries was stupid. I could tell what my family was thinking: Why does Dad have to be such a jerk?

Later, I asked myself the same question. It was one of those all-too-frequent moments of family life that I wished I could rewind and try again.

Hurting the ones we love

I’ve never yelled at a co-worker or insulted a neighbor. I’ve never made kids at the playground cry. Yet I’ve done each of these and more to the people I love most dearly.

Of course, I’m not the only one. As in most families, the Stantons all have times when they treat their fellow family members with something less than grace and kindness—moments when frustration and impatience boil over and we’re all left wishing we could have a do-over.

Why do we save that behavior for those we should love the most? Why can our kids be little saints in public but act like chiefs of sinners at home? How are all of us able to treat total strangers with more grace and kindness than our own flesh and blood? And is there any sort of remedy?

A slow transformation

Famed Charles Spurgeon wrote, “What we are at home, that we are indeed.” It’s true. And what we all are, among other things, are sinners. No family in history has been exempt from the corrupting nature of sin. We’re all infected with the same “it’s all about me” nature. Home is where our own kind are, the people we’re most comfortable with. And that’s why we act like ourselves—our real selves—when we’re with them. And don’t forget to add in the ongoing pressures of work, school and just living in the same house!

But we can help our kids understand that behind the bumps and bruises of family life is a slow, beautiful process. One of the goals of the Christian life is a gradual transformation into the character of Christ. And since God uses others to participate in our transformation, He’s going to use those who constantly see where, why and how we need that redemption. He’s going to use the people we live most honestly in front of. Family members are some of the most powerful agents God uses to transform us.

We’re a bit like rocks in a tumbler, bumping against each other and wearing away our sharper points. Help your kids recognize this ongoing process of transformation, how times of frustration and impatience, disrespect and retaliation are all opportunities to improve. Two key ingredients will be of great value: a home filled with a spirit of grace and forgiveness, and a desire to pursue growth and improvement. You might say to your kids, “In this situation, we messed up, but we will be better next time.”

Think of Christ’s story of the prodigal son. Is the spirit of your home more like the gracious heart of the loving father or the hard-hearted, condemning older brother?

Taking grace for granted

When our oldest daughter, Lizzy, was 8 or so, she seemed to have hit her teen years a bit early. Her frequently bossy, self-centered attitude had us stymied. How could such a big, ugly attitude fit in such a precious little girl? But what puzzled us most was the difference between her behavior at home and her interactions with teachers and other kids’ parents. These adults often complimented us on Lizzy’s perfectly polite behavior. We were reminded of another reason that we often act like grizzly bears at home: We simply fail to appreciate the treasure that we have in our families. 

Our families are . . . well, familiar, and we tend to underappreciate the familiar. We assume that our family members will always love and forgive us—and we often abuse this truth.

Continually help your children recognize that each family member is a treasure, a precious gift from God. How might your lives be different without the gifts of each family member? Celebrate the strength, support and sense of belonging that your family provides as you journey together through a complex culture.

God has called us to appreciate and encourage each other. We are instructed to love our neighbors; we shouldn’t forget that our family members are our closest neighbors! We share something much more intimate than the same street or community. We share the same flesh, the same name, the same toilet. 

Family matters

Family is truly important to God, and no one knows this better than Satan, God’s jealous enemy, who has a deep interest in messing up God’s design. He will always try to destroy that which God loves.

Teaching the importance of God’s design for the family probably won’t transform your kids’ behavior overnight, but I believe a foundational part of loving each other and loving Christ in our families is having a biblical understanding of why family matters. As you study Scripture together, pay special attention to the importance that God places on the human family, whether it’s in His design at the Creation, the family origins of the nation of Israel or the life that Jesus was born into. Consider that incredible truth for a moment: God chose to present His only Son to the generations of the world upon the stage of a common family doing common things. What does this fact say about God’s view of family life, and how does it affect your participation in family relationships?

Throughout Scripture, we see and understand our loving, gracious Father and His kingdom through the concept of family. God’s interest in daily family interactions communicates something deep and true about His love for humanity. It gives us a model to strive for as we lead our own families.

Is there a remedy?

So are we left to be relational boneheads at home, insensitive dolts who treat each other poorly? Unfortunately, this behavior will always be some part of life this side of eternity. As the apostle Paul said, we all have “the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out” (Romans 7:18). But it doesn’t end there! Paul also celebrates the grace and hope we have, saying there is “no condemnation for who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).

Our families aren’t perfect. But gradually we grow and transform, keeping our eyes fixed on the author of our faith. God, in the fullness of His being—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—is the source of love and life in our families; He helps us reflect that love, giving us a new life characterized by joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).

What family wouldn’t be more pleasant with these wonderful traits growing every day? These things don’t come in a singular event, but rather in the slow, growing process of learning how to love.

It’s not easy, but it is real. Our families play a key role in this sacred journey..

This article appeared in the March/April 2014 issue of Thriving Family magazine. It was adapted from My Crazy Imperfect Christian Family: Living Out Your Faith with Those Who Know Your Best. Copyright © 2004 by Glenn Stanton. Used with permission.

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