Family Matters: Living in our “Heir” Force
“Perfectionist. Driven. Methodical. Self-Confident. Insensitive. Critical. Aloof. Cerebral.”
According to a Myers-Briggs personality inventory that I recently completed, all these characteristics describe me— a classic INTJ (Introverted, Intuitive, Thinking, Judging) type. We tend to be cool under pressure, and we work best alone. We are driven to understand the world around us by tackling ideas, concepts, and theories. We’re often better with tasks than with people. That can be a bit challenging in relationships, work, and ministry, so I try to search for ways to refine my strengths and to enhance my weaknesses. Engaging in such acute self-analysis begs the question, “When it comes to personal makeup, what’s the relationship between nature and nurture? In other words, how much of our personality comes pre-wired at birth (nature), and how much is influenced by our environment (nurture) … particularly by our parents?”
To be sure, both play a role to some degree, but one biblical character (or one biblical “family” perhaps) has led me to think more about the influence of “nurture.”
For years, I have had a problem with Rebekah. On one hand, we can all relate to her because on any given day, she, like many of us, played a multitude of roles. She was a daughter to Bethuel, a sister to Laban, a beloved wife to Isaac, and a mother to the somewhat difficult twins, Jacob and Esau (Gen 22:23, 24:29, 24:67, 24:67). Rebekah (along with Sarah, Leah, and Rachel) stands as a formidable matriarch in the history of Israel.
On the other hand, Rebekah, like all of us, has a dark side. In a nutshell, my issue with Rebekah boils down to this: She colluded with her son Jacob so that he could deceive his blind father and obtain his brother’s birthright (Gen 27:5-17). Rebekah leads her son to lie. Granted, Jacob was a grown man; he was under no obligation to follow his mother into deceit, and he knew what he was doing. He put up no resistance (Gen 27:18-45).
We’re certainly all sinners in need of grace, but does the woman have to go out of her way to teach her son how to deceive? In my book, Rebekah never won any “Mother of the Year” awards for this.
Honestly, I never thought that I was being too harsh or judgmental with Rebekah. (Uhhh, did I mention that “insensitive” and “critical” were some of my personality traits? Maybe a good dose of humility and mercy are also in order … but that’s another blog!) Actually, I felt so confident about my estimation of Rebekah that I recently mentioned it to a few other women during a Bible study. They politely listened, but then two sisters chimed in with a somewhat humbling thought. Essentially, both women gave a gentle but honest reminder:
“Brit, if you look at all of our families, then you will notice that we are always teaching our children, both positively and negatively. Sometimes we teach directly (as Rebekah did), but we also teach indirectly as well. Kids will not abide by ‘Do as I say.’ They will follow what you do. Yes, Rebekah directly taught her son to sin, but how often did our parents indirectly teach us to sin? And Brit, how often do you, either directly or indirectly, point others into sin as well?”
Truth be told, this deception problem wasn’t just something within Rebekah. Her brother, Laban, famously deceived his son-in-law by giving Leah to Jacob as his wife rather than his beloved Rachel (Gen 29:21-30). The lying gene seemed to run in their family.
On one hand, we can look at the whole Leah-Jacob-Rachel deception debacle and think: “Okay, maybe this is fitting for Jacob. After all, he just cheated his brother out of his birthright! Now, he’s on the receiving end of deception. What goes around comes around! That’ll teach him how betrayal really feels.”
On another hand, it made me wonder about negative traits that are often passed on within families, especially from parents to children. Jacob, Rebekah’s son, had an ongoing pattern of deception (Gen 25: 24-26; 27:36). Later, Rachel, Laban’s daughter, would also demonstrate a willingness to cover her own theft through manipulation (Gen 31:19, 33-35). Both Rebekah and Laban clearly had deceit issues, and as a result, I’ve often wondered if they learned deceptive ways from their own parents. In the end, maybe Jacob was just flying the family plane and doing what came naturally to him.
Then I looked at my own life and the personality traits that I mentioned earlier. Again, I think that nature plays its role, but if nurture matters (and I believe that it does), then it makes one ask:
“Are there character traits that I learned from my parents, either directly or indirectly, that may hinder my life, my relationships, and my walk with the Lord?”
I thought of instances in which my perfectionistic tendencies could certainly be linked to my mom. From her, I always learned that every “i” should be dotted, and every “t” crossed. If things are done, then they are always to be done meticulously well. At the same time, I adopted the methodical, cerebral, and somewhat aloof characteristics from my dad. Both the perfectionism of my mom and the structure of my father served me tremendously in academia. I didn’t just take classes; I attacked them. However, when I imported that methodical perfectionism into other facets of my life, it led to the creation of an altogether different animal: a harsh, ruthless regard and expectation for self, which is neither biblical nor healthy.
Don’t get me wrong: there are a host of wonderful attributes that I learned from my parents. From mom, I gained a quick wit, a passion for the Lord, and a desire to place the needs of others before my own. From dad, I not only learned how to think critically, but I also adopted a healthy sense of humor. When it comes to my own negative tendencies, I cannot and do not blame my parents. At the end of the day, I’m a grown woman. Regardless of what I learned from them, my view of self and my interactions with others must be grounded in Scripture and led by the Holy Spirit.
At the same time, parents do shape our view of the world and self. They establish and pass down powerful patterns to us. And if we do not assess these patterns, both good and bad, we could pass them down by default.
I am single now, but I hope to be married and have children someday. Because of that, I want the Lord to work on any preset tendencies or dispositions now. As David wrote,
“Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and my anxious thoughts.
See if there be any hurtful way in me and lead me in the everlasting way”
Whatever I pour out or pass down should be a blessing rather than a burden. I never want to be overly critical of my kids or demand unreasonable things from them. But if they see me demanding unreasonable things and failing to give grace to myself, then I will be modeling a potent message. The way we view ourselves can be observed, absorbed, and repeated. The unspoken way we treat ourselves is powerful, and it is easily passed down. It has heir-force.
It can prove as beneficial or detrimental as anything that Rebekah overtly taught Jacob. After all, as believers, we always teach someone: children, students, friends, family, acquaintances, social media trollers … even strangers will watch what we do. Both our actions toward others and our words about ourselves affect those around us.
Interestingly, Jesus Himself was in Jacob’s familial line (Matt 1:2; Luke 3:34). Even in spite of all the lies and the deception that ran through His lineage, the Lord Jesus broke all ties to sin and canceled the charges of all that would condemn us (Col 2:13-14). For those who believe Christ, we are co-heirs with Him (Rom 8:16-17). We take on His Heir-Force. And through the Holy Spirit’s power, we have Christ’s “heir” force within us; the Spirit helps us to die to sin so that we can live for Christ (Rom 8:9-17).
If we truly want to be well, teach well, and model well, then we must depend upon the enabling power that comes from the Holy Spirit.
We are all more than the combined traits that we receive from our parents. Some of us may have even been struck by Rebekah’s deceptive gene pool. In Christ, though, we always have hope. While the Father of Lies still loiters in our legacies today, Jesus has won the victory (John 12:31; Rom 1:4; 1 Cor. 15:54-57). His perfect work canceled the enemy’s force upon our lives and lineage (Eph 2:1-10; Rom 8:15-17). We have a new nature in Him, and we can ask God to replace any evil traits or to redeem our weaker ones because the Holy Spirit intercedes for us (Romans 8:26-30). In the end, Jesus transforms my mother’s gift of perfectionism into a joyful excellence. My father’s gift of methodical intelligence becomes humble, Spirit-filled wisdom. Christ can both overrule and nuture traits that run in our families.
What about you?
- What positive characteristics or lessons have your parents passed on to you, either directly or indirectly?
- What spiritual inheritance do you want to nurture for your current or future family and ministry?
- What generational baggage needs to be blocked by Christ or reshaped by His Spirit? Ask Jesus to do this.
Brittany Burnette with Shabby Chic Ministries
Pray with us: “In all things, Lord, help us depend upon Your grace, be led by Your Spirit, and live and work from Christ in us. Forgive us from clinging to any goals, expectations, or sin that are not of You. Block the Liar’s legacy from having any place in me or my family. It is for freedom that You have set us free, so release us from the hold of any sin that may hinder our walk with You. Conform us into the image of Jesus so that we might live in His power source, not our own, in Christ’s name. Amen.”