Growing Up in a Dysfunctional Family

Has your life gone exactly as you had planned and hoped? If not, you are not alone. 

As a person who had dreams of his future success, Joseph thought he was going to rise up as a young man and immediately soar in life as a favored son, with his brothers serving him. His future looked glorious, pain-free and triumphant. He had the favor of his father. 

However, as the Book of Genesis describes, his life did not go according to his plan. Troubles in his home life with his family, while growing up, led to his enslavement and time in prison. The opposite of his dreams for his life became a harsh reality. 

Joseph grew up in a dysfunctional family. Jealousy, resentment, passivity, immorality, rejection, abuse and insecurity were continuous threads woven through Joseph’s family.  Can you identify with Joseph? What kind of family did you grow up in? What threads of dysfunction were woven through your family when you were growing up?  

“When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of them, they hated him and could not speak a kind word to him,” says Genesis 37:4. 

All of the family knew that Joseph was his father’s favorite. He walked in favor from the beginning. Consequently, envy gave birth to a sibling rivalry. When the father gave Joseph a coat of many colors, the resentment among the brothers only grew worse. 

But God did not abandon Joseph. God gave him dreams that symbolized God’s long-term vision for Joseph.  The Lord put a vision of a mountaintop in front of Joseph before he had to go through the valley to get there. But with a God-given dream comes opposition. 

Genesis 37:5-10 states: “Then Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him even more.  He said to them, “Please listen to this dream which I have [b]had; for behold, we were binding sheaves in the field, and behold, my sheaf stood up and also remained standing; and behold, your sheaves gathered around and bowed down to my sheaf.” Then his brothers said to him, “Are you actually going to reign over us? Or are you really going to rule over us?” So they hated him even more for his dreams and for his words. 

“Then he had yet another dream, and informed his brothers of it, and said, “Behold, I have had yet another dream; and behold, the sun and the moon, and eleven stars were bowing down to me.” He also told it to his father as well as to his brothers; and his father rebuked him and said to him, “What is this dream that you have had? Am I and your mother and your brothers actually going to come to bow down to the ground before you?”

Joseph could have felt sorry for himself and have a victim mentality. Joseph had every reason to believe that God had abandoned him, humiliated him or proven to be non-existent. This is where faith comes in. Was Joseph going to believe absolute Truth or the fluctuations of his emotions in a temporal situation?  

Where is God in the middle of a dysfunctional family?

The answer is in the Bible. The Book of Genesis explains that, in the midst of it all, God was faithful to Joseph. God’s grace was sufficient. God had a plan and a purpose for Joseph’s life. Before he even knew it – and this is good reason for you to celebrate – God had a way to lift Joseph out of the dysfunction, just as He has a way to lift you out of your dysfunction. It was Joseph’s choice to trust him. Ultimately, God used the difficult circumstances to position Joseph for long-term success. 

Likewise, because of the death and resurrection of Jesus, you walk in the favor of God. His grace is sufficient for you, no matter what your circumstances look like. God is working things out for you. He will deliver you from your trials and tribulations. Stand firm in your faith. Trust Him. He is worthy because He sees the end from the beginning and the beginning from the end. God’s blessings are in front of you. 

Timeless Wisdom Sourced from the Bible

The following are three lessons learned from Joseph’s experience in a dysfunctional family while choosing to trust God: 

[1] You are not the only one.

You aren’t alone.  We have all gone through “stuff” – challenges, unfair treatment, offenses, mean-spirited behavior, sickness, exhaustion and the list goes on and on. Don’t let the enemy of your soul convince you that you are the only one. The issue is how do you respond.

Deuteronomy 31:8 says: “Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord will personally go ahead of you. He will be with you; he will neither fail you nor abandon you.” 

[2] God is with you.

Although Joseph got thrown into a pit because of his vengeful brothers, God was right there with him. God was preparing a way. God was taking a course that made no sense in the natural. It’s the same for us. God is doing a work, even when we don’t see or feel Him. No matter what you are going through, God is with you. Truly, God has a plan for you, and He will work things for you, as you trust Him.  

Genesis 50:20 says: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”

[3] God has built a family of faith for you.

As believers, we are brothers and sisters in Christ. We need each other. The body of Christ becomes stronger together. Look past the pain, offense, disappointment and pain. Together as a spiritual family, we push the Kingdom of God forward when we are united. God will deliver you from whatever you are going through. Don’t carry your burdens alone. Connect with other followers of Christ. (They are all around you at Countryside Christian Church, whether in Small Groups, Wednesday night Men’s Ministry or Women’s Ministry, or Sunday mornings or online.)

Galatians 6:2 says: “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”

Indeed, you have the favor of your heavenly Father. As a follower of Christ, you walk in His kindness, graciousness, mercy and love. When you don’t get something you want, it is because He is protecting you or trying to do a work in you. When you get thrown into a tough circumstance, like Joseph, He has a bigger plan that you cannot see. God was shaping Joseph’s character through the tough times. How is God reshaping your character? 

Will you wait and trust God in your challenging circumstance, just like Joseph, staying faithful to Him and His ways while refusing to complain about God or your circumstance?  Difficulties come to reveal what is truly in your heart, but no matter how weak or frustrated you may feel or how dysfunctional your family is, God is with you, loving you and on your side.  Your past does not define who you are in Christ. Your family dysfunction does not define your future. 

Things to Think About 

  1. Why is it difficult to walk with God in a dysfunctional family?
  1. What has God provided to you to help you walk with Him through a dysfunctional family?
  1. Read Genesis 50:20. Why should we cling to this verse when walking with God?
  1. In what ways has God provided a spiritual family for you?