Dealing with Difficult Home Environments

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Extended stays at home for college students can be difficult. Parents seem to forget that you have been managing your own schedule, siblings may not seem thrilled to have you home, and your ideas of demonstrating your spiritual growth to your family can quickly be dashed. Especially if your home environment is a difficult one. Unresolved family issues can reappear and old hurts can resurface, making it difficult to want to be at home much less be mentally present with your family. As a follower of Christ, what can you do?

Pray for each family member and relationship

Start by praying for your relationship with each family member. Often, we pray for others to change, but prayer also shows us where we need to change our hearts and how we need to depend on the Lord for strength to love.

Seek progress, not perfection 

If you blow it in a family conflict and say things you regret, don’t let that be the end of the story. Seek to make things right and start again. The Lord’s mercies are new every morning (Lam. 3:22-23). While perfection is unattainable, seek progress in your family relationships through growth in loving each family member. How do we get there? We grow there.

Don’t expect perfection from them

While we can’t handle conflicts and difficult relationships perfectly, neither can our parents or siblings. One of the most helpful things to me as a college student was when my campus minister challenged me, “TJ, when are you going to stop demanding that your parents be perfect?” That question took me aback, but it also helped me start to love my parents where they were. Give your family grace to be imperfect too.

When you need to address a concern…

First, go to your family member and talk through things with them (see Mt. 18:15-16). Talk “with” your family, not “about” them. Also, when you need to discuss a concern, address the behavior not the person’s character. For example, you can say: “When you didn’t invite me to go with you, I felt unimportant to you” rather than saying: “You are such a snob.”

Own your part and apologize for it

Seldom are conflicts completely the result of one party. Examine your words, actions, thoughts, and heart. And then own your part of the problem. Take responsibility for your part and for seeking to make things right. That likely will mean you need to apologize for the part you have contributed to the situation.  But be encouraged by this: Apologizing is a mark of maturity.

Be quick to forgive 

“Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.” Paul indicates that love “keeps no record of wrongs” (1 Cor. 13:5b). God has given us wonderful gifts of forgiveness and reconciliation to mend relationships. He has demonstrated sacrificial love on the cross. Forgiving others as we have been forgiven in Christ is indispensable for family relationships. Be quick to forgive.

Stay committed to loving your family members 

I have two older brothers who are very, very different from one another. At times, I have wondered how much they really cared for one another. Now that one has potentially life-threatening cancer, I have watched them reach out to and care for one another. Underneath their differences remained a strong love for and commitment to the other. Through ups and downs now and beyond, stay committed to your family relationships—to loving each family member. As followers of Christ, loving others is not only our responsibility, it is essential to our calling.

Seek additional help 

If you continue to struggle with a difficult home situation or relationship, draw on the body of Christ for help. Seek wise counsel from Christians you consider mature. If you have deeper concerns about your family dynamics or how those dynamics are affecting you, it is wise to talk with a Christian counselor. Jesus commanded us to love our neighbor as ourselves (Mt. 22:39), so it is right and good to love ourselves appropriately by seeking help that can bring us healing. In the process, we become what Henri Nouwen called “wounded healers”—comforting others with the comfort with which we ourselves have been comforted by God (2 Cor. 1:4).

Prayer

Lord, help us to love our families the way you love us. Help us to forgive our families the way you have forgiven us. We need your strength and help to do this. The only way we can love when it is difficult is through your life and Spirit in us. Thank you for the healing and redemption you bring through Christ.

Tommy Johnson

Regional Campus Minister

WKU BCM/Bowling Green

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