The Truth About Dysfunctional Families & Belonging

cool shoes rail.jpg

As we walked through the store, I couldn’t take my eyes off of my oldest daughter and woman-child who is now taller than me. I said, “I love you,” a few times and lowered my voice as I told her about a family miles and miles away that decided it was too difficult to love each other up close.


She gasped. I ached.


My girl still holds my hand and has this need to be held, so I figure out how to show the stretched out, teenage version of her the same amount of love I did when she was easier to cradle. Just last week she was feeling bad so she sat in my lap. I couldn’t move or breathe, but I didn’t care. She got up and looked at me with a lopsided smile that asked, “Is this still okay? Can I still feel awkward in your arms and have that be okay?


“It’s not as comfortable as it used to be,” I said.


She smiled and nodded, but we both knew that even though it was uncomfortable, she still fit. We just had to work a little harder at it.


I keep looking at the ones I love, whispering inside, “You can change and shift, even shut me out at times, but you are welcome to hold awkward, holy space with me.”


You will always, always fit.


There is a change and shifting in families, you might think yours is the most dysfunctional family on the planet, but I’m pretty sure your wrong. I mean, you’ve watched reality TV, right? They only showcase the crazy ones, but we are all a different brand of crazy. Some hide it, some unleash it and end up on TLC.


Some of you will travel home for the holidays; maybe even hold your breath as you walk into a room filled with your family that feels more like strangers. What they need to know, and what you need to know, is that it can absolutely be uncomfortable, but still fit. You just have to work a little harder.


So, you’re different. They feel different, too, just in different ways.


You bring up your children differently.


You have different hobbies and things you love.


You live on opposite sides of the spectrum when it comes to neighborhoods and community.


Some love Jesus, some love Jack Daniels, they love and are loved…and desperately need Jesus just the same as you.



We can belong or blend. We can fake blending but belonging is deeper because it’s unconditional.


There can be unwanted tension in the air from holding onto things that should be in the past. You can feel the fractures if you want to or you can push through the awkward and say, “You belong with me and fit…even when we disagree.”


I want to love you like Jesus does and that looks sacrificing a few things, the biggest thing will always be our pride.


You don’t have to be like me for me to love you.


I don’t have to be like you for you to love me.


I know how difficult the reaching out and pulling back in relationships can be. I understand the ache of trying to figure out ways to fit as flesh and blood instead of strangers. I remember us trying to figure out where to place the other with the familiarity that lingered between us, through wordless months and visits that never happened. Daddy’s little girl grew up and I think that is when we grew apart.


Sometimes I loved him better and knew that he felt it, and at other times I warred trying to make it look like love. But, it just looked like indifference because loving others well is painfully hard and risky. I realized I couldn’t have a healthy relationship with an unhealthy person, but I don’t think I figured out how to make sure that my love was bigger and stronger than our differences.


I would give anything to go back and hold on longer during that last hug. Or, say, “I love you, you fit, you belong, and I need even the broken version of you.”


I would stay and visit longer.


I would make that extra trip.


I would say all of my best and loving words and swallow all the bad ones.



I would live with a see-through heart and never try to cover that up, even when vulnerability feels like shards.



I say thank you for the way he loved me even when it hurt, even when we loved wrong; and for always showing me that I fit. We never stopped belonging or loving each other, even when we were breaking.


I can’t tell you how to fix a broken relationship, but I can tell you to try. Try to let them know they fit and belong and that you are ready to love them in a way that makes sense to them.


I pray we will love as Jesus loves and that together, with his help, our families will begin to heal in the tender space of belonging.



So much love to you,





34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. 35 By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:34-35(NKJV)


7 responses to “The Truth About Dysfunctional Families & Belonging

  1. My heart goes out to you, Jennifer, and my heart understands very well what you are saying. We all have our family dysfunctions, like you say, and each couple, each family does it their own unique and dysfunctional way. You say you can’t have a healthy relationship with an unhealthy person, and that is the bottom line truth that my heart encourages hearts like yours and mine to hold on to.

    For anyone aching over not having tried harder, not having done more, not being able to fix that broken relationship, may I share? I tried for fifty years. I sought godly counsel. I read. I tried with everything in me to make us all fit, to make us all belong. I looked for the rosiest perspective I could find. I forgave–over and over. I prayed. Oh, how I prayed. None of my long-time counselors would ever say that I didn’t try hard enough. In fact, I was starting to get flack from “some” corners for not leaving sooner and for enabling him with all my trying, all my willingness to give more.

    In the end, he continued to make dysfunctional choices that were incompatible, not just with a healthy relationship but with my health and sanity–with any kind of belonging. I had to be the one to leave just so I could survive. Ultimately, I even had to go so far as to implement *no contact* with him. Our adrenal system cannot live in fight or flight forever and not completely break down. The only relationship anyone can have with an unhealthy person is an unhealthy one. No relationship is stronger than its weakest link. When resolutions are not implemented, it will only get worse over time, even when it may deceive us into thinking it’s getting better for awhile–perhaps only because we dug deeper and found another way to give more.

    The question of whether to try harder, give more, or get out is the most difficult one we can ever have to face. We won’t do it perfectly. That is not possible. But we can and must forgive ourselves once it’s over. We must not judge ourselves or each other. I learned so very clearly that the ones who judged me did not know the details; were not living in my skin. Even my children. Maybe especially my children. There is no way we can fully see each other’s pain. We can only support and encourage, and I see that as an important role for women to each other. I hope I can be supportive to you and others like us by affirming that we did all we could and encouraging us not to be hard on ourselves in our grief. We are mourning. And that’s OK. It hurts; it hurts bad, but it’s OK.

    For all of us who are now without that partner our soul longed for, especially at this season of Thanksgiving, hang in there. Jesus Christ is our primary relationship, and we have to take our heart’s pain to Him–every minute, sometimes. And we still have our children, perhaps even grandchildren, as I do. There are still relationships where we belong, even if awkwardly at times. The relationships with my long-grown children are improving. I have my precious grandchildren, and my extended family. The Lord has brought new and precious friendships into my life. I still have good relationships with in-laws that were part of my family for so long.That doesn’t just stop. Our Good Father provides us with sources of joy. Pining for what was lost or never was will only take us down. Gratitude for every bit of love and belonging, every source of joy, no matter how small or how awkward it can seem at times, is what moves us forward. That is our sunrise, our future!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s