“Raise your hand if you have a dysfunctional family.” I threw my hand up as high as it could reach. I was watching some talk show—Ricki Lake, Oprah, Sally Jessy Raphael, I don’t really remember which one—but it was the first time I’d heard someone use the phrase “dysfunctional family.” I just knew they were talking about my crazy family tree and me. As a kid, I remember feeling like my family was so abnormal. Why couldn’t we be “normal,” like Leave It to Beaver families?
The scriptures are a place where I have always received comfort, and as I searched them with family on my mind, I started paying attention to all the families in them. Most of the families in the scriptures don’t look a thing like the families I see on television or the real-life families that seem so “perfect” to me. And the more I read, the more I saw that it wasn’t just the families in the scriptures that weren’t perfect. It was other relationships as well.
Between Cain, Abel, and Joseph’s technicolor dream coat, it would seem that we have enough scriptural drama to last us a lifetime. Basically, every type of relationship scenario is covered in the scriptures, but apparently we would rather learn it from The Bachelor. Some of you are thinking those relationships are so old and dusty they can’t possibly apply to us today. Wrong. It’s the same story, different people, and God has already shown us how to work it out. So what type of relationship you wanna know about?
Let’s start with Mary. Even our Savior’s family was not what society would consider typical. Those little girls on MTV’s Teen Mom think they have it hard. Try being engaged, pregnant, and having to tell people that God is the baby daddy. Mary then marries Joseph, and now Joseph is raising the Son of God. Is that a “normal” family? Um, I think not, but as a person who comes from a blended family, I think it’s comforting to know that the Savior did too. Relationships have been intricate since Adam and Eve. I can’t even blame it on their arranged marriage, because there wasn’t anyone else for them to be interested in, and breaking up wasn’t really an option. Can you even imagine Adam storming into the garden and yelling, “Eve, it’s over, and I want my rib back!” Today they’d be tied up in court with community property issues forever. Yes, even at their genesis (pun SO intended!), relationships proved that they would require work.
Remember Joseph of Egypt? His daddy had a favorite son—he gave Joseph that fly technicolor dream coat and didn’t get one for any of his other kids. Anyway, his brothers were so sick of the favorite son that they sold him into slavery. Now that is messed up. They took sibling rivalry to a whole ’nother level! But don’t worry. Joseph overcame that situation and went on to do things so great that Donny Osmond portrayed him in a play. Now you know God has delivered you when your life story ends up in the Bible and on Broadway.
And because one dysfunctional family is never enough, we can’t forget about Abraham’s family feud that began when his wife got jealous of her stepson. Talk about baby mama drama. Then there’s Lot with his salty wife. Doctors are always trying to tell people that too much salt can kill you, but (like some folks I know), Lot had a spouse that didn’t like to listen.
And don’t even get me started on marriage problems. King David was up on the housetop long before Santa Claus, except instead of delivering presents, he was up there creepin’, peepin’, and cheatin’. And as if that wasn’t wrong enough, when he got Bathsheba pregnant, David was all about the cover-up.
If you are dating, I bet you don’t have anything on Samson and Delilah’s off-the-chain love affair! If ever there was a reason to run from unhealthy relationships, that is it. Before Delilah was even in the picture, Samson was gaga for a different girl, but when his fiancée’s daddy forbade her to marry him, he was so distraught that he became an arsonist. The dude was running around burning stuff down to the ground! Then he ended up in a rebound relationship with Delilah, and let’s just say their story could be on an episode of Snapped.
Not to worry if you’re a single Saint. God’s got you, too. Remember Martha and Mary? Those two sisters got stuck in the friend zone big time. We feel their pain— plenty of “boy” friends but no “boyfriend.” When teenagers tell me that the scriptures are boring, but they’re busy watching Gossip Girl, I sure don’t understand. Daniel had to face a bully bigger than anybody they are watching on television. Even the Rock wouldn’t have been able to handle what Goliath was cooking. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were young men who were unwilling to shake their standards just to fit in, and unlike with our own teenage dilemmas, they faced a whole lot more than unpopularity. They were put in a fiery furnace for choosing not to keep up with the Kardashians.
Look, y’all, the more I prayed to God about my family, the more He pointed out the relationship dynamics going on in the scriptures. People were killing each other, going to jail, and selling folks out. Then I began to think. Why are these the families that are in the scriptures? Why are these the relationships that God wants us to know? He could have put picture-perfect people on these pages, but instead He kept it real. I needed to learn that families aren’t perfect, and despite what I thought I saw at the neighbor’s house, they never were. God wanted me to know that my family is not so different after all. You know what story isn’t in the scriptures? The one where Jesus is worried about what other people might think about His mama or where He was wishing He was an only child like his cousin John the Baptist. So maybe instead of asking God to fix my family, I needed to have a little more faith in family. No, a family story that begins with a miraculous conception is not the most ordinary. But just as God placed the Savior in the ideal family for Him, my family is where God put me, and it’s where He put me for a reason.
I don’t just read God’s word ’cause I’m looking for scripture soap operas. I search the scriptures because I know there is something the Lord wants me to know and the pages may hold the answer to a fervent prayer of mine. Today, the first place I look is in the scriptures when I feel like something dysfunctional is happening in my life. I go there and say, “Let me see if somebody has already gone through this. Let me see if I can learn something from a family in the scriptures that will help me with my plight.” And it’s all in there. And unlike in those made-for-television families, the relationship dilemmas in the scriptures are not solved in a thirty-to-sixty-minute time frame interrupted by paid advertising. Nope, they were solved with tools that we all have access to, such as prayer, faith, and trust in the Lord. So the next time you’re looking for relationship advice, call on Jesus before you call Dr. Phil.
For more stories like this, check out Diary of Two Mad Black Mormons: Finding the Lord's Lessons in Everyday Life by Zandra Vranes and Tamu Smith. Available now at Deseret Book or deseretbook.com.