Keeping the Faith

Putting the Brakes on Generational Cycles

There’s a statistic I recall from one of those lose-weight-quick, boot-camp-style television shows that shocked me: obese parents are 80 per cent more likely to have obese children. The show was about breaking cycles of obesity in families.

I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised at that figure (the numerical one). We see similar patterns perpetuated in other nasties – abuse, divorce, poverty, alcoholism and so on. Parents who unwittingly pass bad habits onto their children.

“I’m gonna be like you, dad, you know I’m gonna be like you,” Harry Chapin sings in that ‘70s hit, Cat’s in the Cradle.

We know from experience that parents don’t intentionally set out to bestow their weaknesses on their children. We want the best for our kids. Yet the cycles continue.

It’s what the Bible calls a curse: a generational curse.

One of the Ten Commandments has some pretty stern words on the matter.

“…I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.”
Exodus 20:5-6

I always thought this was so unfair. It seems downright sinister to punish a child for their parents’ wrongdoing.

There is much theological commentary around this – largely because the Bible also presents a seemingly contradictory position in verses like Ezekiel 18:20, “The son will not share the guilt of the father, nor will the father share the guilt of the son…”

It all bubbles down to consequence.

The son does not share the father’s guilt, but he may feel the consequence of his father’s actions.
The daughter won’t be blamed for her mother’s poor choices, but she may live a life scarred by them.

The second commandment paints a black and white picture of life with God, and life without God. It gives a promise of rescue to those who love God – rescue from generational torments to begin a new story that instead pedals cyclic patterns of deliverance.

Circles that loop and link like legacy’s hoola-hoop, keeping the momentum and harmony of familial ties.

Girl_twirling_Hula_Hoop,_1958
I went to the Flourish Women’s Day Out recently and heard teen expert Michelle Mitchell speak about adopting a “generational mentality”.

“Stop and consider what you are unconsciously passing on,” she said.

Because consciously, we pass education, wealth, experience, love and manners on the upcoming generation. But we all have certain parasites that we unwittingly bequeath our dearest, like a contagious illness. And the sickness spreads.

Michelle hauled a backpack onto the stage. It can be overwhelming, she said, to instigate generational change. But if every generation unpacked one issue and “kicked it to the kerb”, generations to come would be the well-balanced people we’d be proud to call our successors.

And the generational pack would get lighter.

And the cycles would cease.

To be taken up by looping, linking hoola-hoops of deliverance.

I know my parents have offloaded some generational baggage. I see it with clarity now. I remember it was hard for them. But I’m so grateful now.

It’s my turn.

Right here, I can wrench a generational leach from the skin of my family and bleed its potency into the dirt.

There are many, but change starts here.

Michelle challenged us again:

“Stop and consider what you are unconsciously passing on.”


First published in The Examiner Newspaper for Keeping the Faith column on Monday August 31, 2015.

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1 Comment

  1. If only it were that simple. So much of who we are comes from being ‘knit together’ in our mother’s womb; we find today that even raised completely apart, the character of twins remain more alike than not.

    The old Word had it right; you really can’t deal with generational problems in a single generation. It takes three or four, sometimes more, and they need to be consistently focussed on achieving that goal. Hard choices, good choices.

    View it as a generational task that you will hand on. And the best thing you can do? Drive the value of marriage into your kids, see that they marry well, and present you with lots of grandchildren.

    Not that I have to tell you that. God bless.

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