One of the most famous opening lines for a novel is the first sentence in Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. Tolstoy wrote, “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”  I’m not sure that I would agree with this statement because there are always differences in each family, whether they are happy or not.  I believe that all families are infinitely variable in their dynamics (the way they interact), their rules, the way they handle disagreements, and the amount of love that they have for each other.   Those families that are unhappy are no more unique and variable than happy families.  Regardless of their variability, there is certainly an infinite variety of ways that families can stray into dysfunction.  I have known families over the years that harbor grudges, challenge each other viciously, argue at the drop of a hat, and are generally always in the ebb and flow of power struggles  whether over significant issues or mundane issues.  In such situations, the issue is not important, really.  The important thing among such families is to win and thereby gain an edge over the other family member.

It is sad to think that families would be like this.  You would expect the family to be the place where people are most kind, nurturing, forgiving, etc., doing all things in love.  But many families stray into legalism where the rules are not bound to a base of sound morality such as you’d find in the Bible and thus become constricting and unnatural.  And, since parents often set the tone of how the family will operate, overly controlling, abusive, or neglectful parents can have such a tremendous impact of causation for dysfunction.  Moreover, many families are set up like a medieval feudal system where the father is the king of the castle, at the top of the hierarchy of power.  Older siblings are allowed to assert power over the younger ones as they manifest the feudal hierarchy. Such a system usually produces power struggles between the husband and the wife, with frequent arguments, and the children follow suit, emulating the example set for them, thus struggling for power among themselves with arguments and fights.  Of course, it doesn’t necessarily have to be set up like a feudal system in order for the power struggles to dominate the family dynamics.  If God and love are not  the central focus and driving force of the family, these power struggles become inevitable.

James 4:1-4 explains where conflict originates: “Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures. Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.”

So, conflict starts with our pride, putting ourselves and our desires above everything and everyone else, which then allows these other sins such as lust and violence to dominate our thoughts and actions.  Pride opens the door, telling us that we deserve such things or that it won’t really matter if we give in to them – it won’t really hurt anything.  But the Bible explicitly warns that we will reap what we sow (Gal. 6:7).  Additionally, while we are in such a sinful state, we become friends with the world’s systems and sinful ways and thus are enemies of God, the only one who can point out and help us correct our errors, keeping our families on the right path.  It is all too easy to fall into these traps.  It is the most natural thing in the world to follow our sin nature that is in our flesh.  But those of us who are saved by Jesus have a chance for a better way.  With the Holy Spirit within us, we have a fighting chance to win out over sin.  But we must feed our spirit rather than our flesh (Gal. 6:8) in order for the good to prevail within each of us and ultimately within our families.  This means that the parents must be seeking God daily in prayer and meditation on His word, and when they set the example by putting God first and doing all things in love, and when they teach their children diligently about God’s ways (Deut. 6:5-7), always modeling the principles themselves, the family has a chance to become much more than just another unhappy family. 

What was your family life like growing up?  Was it a model of Christian principles and love?  If not, have you been able to make your own family dynamics operate differently? 



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    I'm a retired soldier, having spent 23 years of my life serving our country, actually 30 years when you count the reserve and National Guard time as well.  I believe in servant leaders, following the example of our Lord, and I believe in giving back to the troops once one has attained a certain status or level of success in life.  But I also believe in fighting back against corruption and incompetence wherever you find it if it hurts people.  Our national values were worth dying for.  They are also worth living for.  A man or woman can actually live a life by these principles of humility, service, love, duty, and honor, and have a significant impact on the world around them...if you have the dedication to see it through. 


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