Breaking Generational Habits

When we enter recovery, in Step Two we “come to believe that a Higher Power can restore us to sanity.” While “Higher Power” can mean many things to many people, for those of us in the Christian faith, Jesus Christ is our highest power. In order for God to restore us to sanity, we must first accept the fact that we are insane. We don’t think right. We make poor decisions that hurt ourselves and the people around us. Our brains, and our spirits, are broken.

But how did we get so broken? Where did we learn these bad habits? For many of us, we learned our unhealthy ways of dealing with situations from our parents. Deuteronomy 5:9 says:

“For I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me…”

The word “iniquity” means “wickedness” or “immoral behavior”. So in this verse we see that God passes our wickedness on to our children and grandchildren for generations just as our ancestors passed it on to us. Our parents are often the most influential people in our lives as children. We observe how they interact with people and how they deal with situations. As children we often pick up unhealthy behaviors from the adults around us, and not having any other role models, we adopt these behaviors as our own.

Take the case of Abraham and Isaac. In Genesis 20 we read about Abraham who is traveling with his wife, Sarah. As they entered Gerar, Abraham feared the men of the city would kill him so they could take Sarah as their own. Acting out of fear, he lied and claimed Sarah was his sister, and he made her go along with it. He sold her out to save himself. King Abimelech took Sarah as his own and it was a disaster.

Now skip ahead to Genesis 26 where Abraham’s son, Isaac, finds himself in Gerar with his wife, Rebekah. The men in the area start asking about Rebekah and becoming interested in her. Isaac began to feel afraid that the men were going to kill him in order to take Rebekah. So, no doubt relying on the life skills he learned from his father, Isaac told the men that Rebekah was his sister. He lied and put his wife at risk to avoid trouble for himself. Like father like son!

In working recovery, it’s important to identify the iniquities passed down from our ancestors. Maybe we were taught that little lies are okay as long as it prevents someone’s feelings from getting hurt. Maybe we learned that getting defensive made us feel assured because we are telling ourselves it’s other people who need to change and not us. Maybe we learned that being proud made people think we were confident. Maybe we learned the best way to deal with negative feelings was to avoid them and not talk about them. Maybe we learned that asking for help was a sign of weakness. Or maybe we learned that drowning our troubles in alcohol was easier than dealing with them head on.

The good news is we don’t have to be slaves to the iniquities of our ancestors. We have the power, with God’s help, to break the chain and prevent them from being passed on to our descendants. But how do we do this? The answer is in God’s promise found in Deuteronomy 5:10:

“(I, the Lord your God, show) steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments”

Love God and reject sin. It’s simple, but it’s not easy. Our character defects are deeply ingrained in us. For so long, it was the only way we knew how to get by. While they helped us get out of many situations, it seemed like our problems never fully went away, and they always came back with a vengeance.

When we truly love God, we yearn to seek Him and grow close to Him. Growing closer to God begins with sanctifying ourselves. We have to recognize the sin in our life and reject it. We have to make the decision, and then God can purify us.

“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)

Do you get that? When we confess and reject our sinful nature, God purifies us. Early in recovery, it takes a lot of effort to reject our sinful nature, but with time, God changes our heart. He purifies it from unrighteousness, and then we no longer want to sin. As we begin to live in a new life, seeking God and His will for us, He blesses us with new understanding and new ways of dealing with people and problems. As we practice this new way of living, others take notice and see a better way being modeled. Then our recovery takes on a new meaning because we’re no longer just working recovery for ourselves. We work recovery for future generations as well.