(Adapted from Jimmy’s newest book, When Life Hurts)
To the people of Israel, God once promised to show love to “a thousand generations” of those who love Him and keep His commandments, but to punish children for the sin of their parents “to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me” (Deut. 5:9–10).
The word we translate as sin in this passage is a Hebrew word that means “to bend or twist.” I grew up in the Texas Panhandle, and our high winds often result in bent, twisted trees. The constant pressure of this environment makes it difficult for trees to grow straight.
That’s a good analogy of what God was saying about the sins of the parents. Mothers and fathers who live in sin are like a constant wind pummeling the family. That’s why their children grow up bent and twisted.
When we don’t deal with sins and dysfunctions, we put a heavy burden on our children. This pressure leads to spiritual, emotional, financial, social, and physical stress, and makes it impossible for kids to grow up healthy and strong.
Our negative tendencies and behavior damage more than our own lives and future. They affect our children…and our grandchildren…and generations to come. That’s the reality we face as parents: Our problems impact the future of our family in ways we will never imagine.
That’s why it is so critical for us to deal with our sins and “bent, twisted” ways before they have a chance to revisit our families in coming generations.
Of course, God doesn’t expect us to be perfect parents, and the last thing I want to do is place undue guilt on those who are struggling. But the truth is that what we do matters. It matters to God and to our children.
Uncontrolled anger is something children learn from parents. So is chauvinism or racism. So is abuse, whether physical or emotional. Dishonesty, materialism, immorality, perfectionism—all of these are negative patterns of behavior children learn from their parents. When modeled year after year, these patterns become imprinted on the next generation’s hearts and minds.
If you show any of these behaviors in your life, you probably learned them from your parents. But here’s the good news: You can unlearn them, too. At some point, you can stop and say, “Enough is enough!”
The first step is recognizing the problem, then confronting it before you pass that behavior to your children and the generations that follow.
We can’t change or control our bloodline and we can’t change what our parents did. But we can change our own negative behaviors. We can stop those patterns. We can control what our children experience. We can control how we relate to our spouses and our families.
We are all free to change, and with God’s help, we have the power to change, too. Remember: He makes all things new (Rev. 21:5).