Like Father, Like Son

Families have a powerful influence on you throughout your life. Parents, siblings, and extended family shape you, teach you, and help establish your values and worldview. A lot of people look like, sound like, and think like their parents, sometimes even the ways they laugh, sing, or walk. I read about some cities that have an annual father-son and mother-daughter look-alike contest, and the entries are fascinating. It takes just a few minutes on a computer to find some hilarious parent-child look-alikes.

Personal interests, skills, and education often come from parents. It’s pretty common for a child to grow up and go into the same line of work as mother or father. People tend to follow their parents’ preferences in politics and religion, too. It makes sense, because parents set the tone in the home their children grow up in, and what the kids experience there, usually becomes the norm.

There’s a short film about an interview with a Qantas Airline pilot whose son became a flier for the same airline. Steve Gist and his son, Taylor, eventually were assigned to fly together, with the dad as the lead pilot, and the son as the co-pilot. It’s a great story, demonstrating some of the ways kids learn skills, knowledge, interests, and even careers from their parents.

I know of preachers’ kids who become ministers, school teachers’ kids who go into education, athletes’ kids who play ball. The same happens with hobbies. In June 2011, two men (father and son) both scored their first-ever 300-point game at the same bowling alley during the same week.

When I was in high school, I played Lieutenant Joe Cable in the musical South Pacific. One of the songs was titled “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught.” According to lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II, we pick up hate and prejudice from our families.

We also learn how to behave in relationships from our families of origin, and that’s what brings us to this principle. You see, most of us don’t have very good role models when it comes to marriage. My wife and I both came from parents who had a pretty bad marriage, so when we got married, we didn’t know what to do. We loved each other, but didn’t know how to treat each other in positive ways, day after day.

When talking about letting one’s past influence the present, we often say the person is carrying some baggage. What we mean is, there’s been some pain, abuse, or failure in the past, and the person hasn’t finished dealing with it, letting go of it, healing from it, or forgiving the people involved. Whatever is in “the baggage” still has a negative impact on present-day relationships and attitudes.

Not all of the baggage we carry through life is painful or negative, though. In fact, sometimes it’s the good stuff in our past that gets in the way of building a good marriage. People who come from a good family often have just as much difficulty forming a new marriage, because of the influence of the parents.

The second Biblical Principle of Marriage is found in Genesis 2:24: This is why a man leaves his father and mother and bonds with his wife, and they become one flesh. I call this verse the Old Testament equivalent of Philippians 3:13-14, But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and reaching forward to what is ahead, I pursue as my goal the prize promised by God’s heavenly call in Christ Jesus. The point of these scriptures is that in order to fully live in the present, you have to let go of the past.

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Let Go of the Past

suitcase 1When we say a person is carrying a lot of baggage, what we mean is there has been some pain, abuse, or failure in the past, and the person hasn’t finished dealing with it. We often have trouble letting go of it, healing from it, or forgiving the people involved. Whatever is in “the baggage” still has a negative impact on present-day relationships and attitudes.

There’s a Biblical Principle of Marriage in Genesis 2:24: “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.” I call this verse the Old Testament equivalent of Philippians 3:13-14: “But one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

Spiritually, in order to fully live in the present we have to let go of the past. If we want to enjoy the Christian life and grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord, we have to allow God’s grace to set us free from our past, and move forward in a new direction, with different habits and attitudes, forming a different lifestyle that is shaped by the Word of God and the Holy Spirit. This might entail ending some relationships and forming new ones.

Relationally, if we want today’s marriage to succeed, we have to stop focusing on previous relationships, good or bad, and live the life we are currently called to live. We can’t afford to live in the past.

While Genesis states that it is the parents who must be left in order to form a new unity, there are others besides parents we must leave behind as well. These might include a boyfriend, girlfriend, or a previous lover or spouse. There may be a number of people and situations that have to be included in what we let go of: friends, abuse, wealth, lifestyle, job, fame, sports, or any number of things.

Future Past

One couple lost a son in a boating accident. The woman drove her husband to divorce because she was unable to let go of the pain and loss, unable to heal, and unable to stop blaming him. She couldn’t let go of yesterday, so it ruined today.

But it’s not only the negative that has to be left behind. Sometimes we have to let go of some positives: the good old days, a happy first marriage, the perfect job, a previous home and neighborhood, wealth, fame, or even a dream or ambition. An athlete whose playing days have come to an end is often headed for emotional and relationship disaster. A business person or a Soldier whose career comes to an end might find it hard to stop living that life and transition to retirement. Someone who loses a leg or an arm in an accident at work can have a tough time accepting the new reality, and letting go of the previous physical ability.

It is crucial that we understand the power of forgiveness. When we forgive, we release ourselves and others from the pain and injustice of the past. But forgiveness doesn’t happen quickly. It can’t happen quickly. It happens slowly, with a little understanding, and with some confusion. It has to sort out the anger, the pain, the betrayal, and the injustice. When forgiveness finishes its work, however, both the forgiver and the offender have been renewed, transformed, and liberated.

Forgiveness doesn’t mean there will be no scars. We typically carry the consequences of pain long after the hurting stops and forgiveness is complete. The Christian singing group Point of Grace sings a song called “Heal the Wound.” The words of the chorus deal with the scars that might remain for a lifetime.

Heal the wound but leave the scar

A reminder of how merciful You are

I am broken, torn apart

Take the pieces of this heart

And heal the wound but leave the scar

RiverOne middle-aged couple recognized that they still carried some of the baggage from their past, so they decided to do something about it. They had both been in a previous marriage, and still felt some attachment and affection for their exes. They also felt guilt and pain because of some of the decisions they had made early in life. They called their pastor for guidance. He suggested that they create a private ritual, during which they would identify the aspects of their past that they wanted to be free from. They also talked about how to forgive each other, and how to receive God’s forgiveness. They took a month to plan, and then went camping. The second day, they took a hike along the river, until they came to a suitable spot. They both wrote down the specifics of what they wanted to let go of. Then they read them to each other. They prayed and asked God to wash them, forgive them, and help them to let go of the past. They also asked each other for forgiveness. Then they threw their lists into the river. Watching them float downstream was therapeutic. The river represented a washing or cleansing, and they were able to start fresh, committed to each other, committed to living in the present.

To the degree that a couple is willing and able to leave the past, they have an opportunity to create a new unity as a couple. The opposite is also true. To the degree that they cannot or will not let go of the past, they will be unable to create the unity essential to growing a healthy, happy marriage.