A Note from Kelly King: I find it hard to believe that this is the last article I received from Deb Douglas. At LifeWay, we are still processing her sudden passing into the arms of Jesus. I hope you will read these words and continue to pray for her family in the days ahead. We will begin posting something different on Fridays, but we wanted to continue to honor the words she had already written before her passing.
“We put the ‘fun’ in dysfunctional.”
To families in a dysfunctional, prodigal state, there is no fun in being dysfunctional, and no wit in the cliché.
What is a prodigal family?
- Families that do not speak to one another.
- Families that dare their children to talk to other family members.
- Families that are in such chaos that the hurt, anger, and bitterness will not go away.
- Families that attack each other in public and in private.
- Families that are hurting and are desperate.
- Families that leave members wounded after a gathering or holiday event.
Just like toxic mold spreads, toxic family relationships spread. The dysfunction does not remain isolated. It seeps out and impacts others. It impacts the church. People start taking sides, sometimes because they care and want to lend encouragement and support to the family members who are close friends. Sometimes it’s because they like drama and somehow the drama of others relieves their own hurts and makes their own dysfunction seem not quite so harsh. Sometimes it’s because they do not know the entire story but have a need to jump in to fix things.
We cannot fix a prodigal family. But we can help stop toxic dysfunction.
- Pray. A family in crisis needs prayer. Pray with family members, pray for family members, and pray for ways to help the family.
- Advice counseling. Network to find the best counseling resources in the area.
- Squash rumors. Privately.
- Avoid prayer request rumors. These are prayer requests that are more gossip than the earnest sharing of a need. Keep all details confidential.
- Suggest the family seek resolution through a moderator.
- Encourage healthy boundaries. Many family problems occur because of a lack of boundaries. (Yes, I mention healthy boundaries a lot! It’s because they are crucial to healthy relationships.)
- Listen and share a biblical perspective. Notice, I did not say share an opinion!
- Confront attempts to make the family’s problem become a divisive church problem.
- Speak with the pastor first.
- Pray before confronting.
- Check personal motives for confronting.
- Remember we confront because we care and desire the very best for all involved.
What do we do if the toxic, dysfunctional, prodigal family is our own?
- Honestly seek God’s wisdom and discernment in how to reconcile your family.
- What happened?
- How did the events impact you?
- How did you react to the events? Was your reaction an appropriate response to what happened? (Did you overreact? Act out in anger? Lash out and harm someone?)
- How did you feel about the events and the impact?
- Did you do anything that caused the events? What was your part in the events?
- How do you feel about your family members? If bitterness and resentment have seeped in, pray and ask for God’s forgiveness and help in healing.
- Take responsibility for any wrongs you have done to others.
- Ask forgiveness. Humbly.
- Practice grace.
- You are not perfect. We all make mistakes.
- Gracefully adjust expectations.
- Gracefully keep healthy boundaries; see family members and their issues and weaknesses realistically. Some people are not capable of what you need or desire from them. Letting someone repeatedly borrow money when that money is not being wisely used is enabling the person to continue her actions. Continually allowing a person to control the family is unhealthy for all involved. Setting boundaries protects all family members.
- Pray for the strength to forgive others. Forgiveness is a process. Forgive each aspect of hurt as it comes to mind. Remember how Jesus said to forgive.
- Matthew 18:21-22 says, “Then Peter approached him and asked, ‘Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? As many as seven times?’ ‘I tell you, not as many as seven,’ Jesus replied, ‘but seventy times seven.'”
Living in a messy world is tough. Living in a dysfunctional, prodigal family is even messier. Messy living requires a lot of forgiveness, grace, prayer, and most of all love.
“…bearing with one another and forgiving one another if anyone has a grievance against another. Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you are also to forgive. Above all, put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. And let the peace of Christ, to which you were also called in one body, rule your hearts. And be thankful.” —Colossians 3:13-15
For more help and resources on ministering in the messy, check out Women Reaching Women in Crisis and Steps: Gospel-Centered Recovery or refer to the other articles in the Hurting Women or Ministering in the Messy categories.
God called Deb Douglas to make a difference in the world, one woman at a time. For over 39 years, Deb served in women’s ministry. She spent her time ministering to women in the sex trade and serving as the Director of Biblical Counseling at First Baptist Bossier City. Deb was a contributor to LifeWay’s All Access blog, a freelance writer, and an event speaker. Deb was the first to graduate from New Orleans Baptist Theological seminary with a Masters focusing on women’s ministry, and she earned a Doctor of Education in Ministry degree from NOBTS. Deb was “Pearl” to 3 sweet grand babies, “Mom” to Jared Douglas and Katie Chavis, and wife/sweetheart to Paul Douglas.