But it is a curse, and thus ordained by God. Or is it part of a troubling family pattern, one you can change?
Dear Thoughtful Pastor: My great-grandmother, my grandmother and my mother all lost a child in childbirth. I lost my first daughter when my grandmother took her from me and put her up for adoption. I later learned that this daughter lost three children, with one of them dying. I am wondering if you think there is such a thing as a generational curse. If so, can it be broken?
The suggestion that there may be a generational curse of some sort comes from two Biblical passages. The first is Deuteronomy 5:8, either the first (Catholic) or second (Jewish and Protestant) of the Ten Commandments depending on which version you subscribe to:
You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.
Deuteronomy 23 then suggests longer separation times from those whose conception, genetics and physiology displease the Lord God:
No one whose testicles are crushed or whose penis is cut off shall be admitted to the assembly of the Lord. Those born of an illicit union shall not be admitted to the assembly of the Lord. Even to the tenth generation, none of their descendants shall be admitted to the assembly of the Lord.
No Ammonite or Moabite shall be admitted to the assembly of the Lord. Even to the tenth generation, none of their descendants shall be admitted to the assembly of the Lord . . .
You shall not abhor any of the Edomites, for they are your kin. You shall not abhor any of the Egyptians, because you were an alien residing in their land. The children of the third generation that are born to them may be admitted to the assembly of the Lord.
According to these Scriptures, it appears that some issues take generations to clear out. During those generations, the family members face exclusion from the full expression of the Presence of God.
Family history: Cursed by God?
Having said that, let’s look at your family history. It’s a tough one, no doubt about it. That’s a lot of loss.
However, much of the loss, particularly the child deaths going back several generations, were far more normal then than they are today. It wasn’t that far back in US history when many children died young. Because of the expected loss, families, especially those who earned their livelihood off the land, needed to produce as many children as possible.
Those many earth deaths not mean God was cursing them. It does mean that the women may have lacked adequate access to good medical care, well-equipped childbirth facilities, and supportive post-natal care.
But your particular situation changes this dynamic. It seems to take a turn from a more natural, albeit heartbreaking process, to something more troubling.
It sounds like you unwillingly lost your daughter. To say that you didn’t get supportive post-natal care would be the understatement of the century. And then this very daughter, unwillingly torn from your arms, loses a child of her own? That’s a compounding tragedy.
The parallel to chronic poverty
Let me digress a moment. A major issue facing US society right now is a growing pattern of chronic poverty. Many of us had parents and grandparents who spent years in financial deprivation. Great Depression anyone?
Many of us had parents and grandparents who spent years in financial deprivation. Great Depression anyone?
However, the improvement in economic conditions combined with extremely hard work and a bit of luck meant that a lot of people climbed out and passed onto their children a more stable financial life. (Note: I am aware that many minorities did not enjoy the same opportunities as whites did here).
However, after a family has lived a several generations mired in poverty, it becomes harder to make the break. The habits and outlook that reinforce the patterns of poverty now inform too many decisions. Options for getting out grow increasingly scarce because there is no way to access them.
These are not curses. These are patterns.
The patterns of poverty became the norm. They are difficult—but not impossible—to break. The insightful book, Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of Family and Culture in Crisis, speaks well to the situation.
An escape plan
I am guessing that somehow in your family history, it became “normal” to suffer the loss of children. These events do not make you bad people or under some curse. As a rule, we are all doing the best we can with the knowledge we have at any given moment. It does mean that it would be a move toward greater health if your family can develop a new norm.
First: leave behind forever the idea that this is some inescapable curse imposed upon you by God that leaves you helpless. That is not the nature of God. The types of curses spoken of in Deuteronomy have absolutely nothing to do with you and your family.
Second: Break up any lingering secrets about your past and your family history. Talk openly about what happened to your daughter and the series of tragedies. Secrets strangle the hope for change.
Third: Strategize together as a family. Analyze how things went so wrong. Agree on what will be necessary to put them back on track. Among other things, you may want to make sure the generations coming after you have access to birth control and top class sex education. Work on visualizing together how to change directions.
I’m not suggesting breaking the pattern is easy. It’s not. But it’s doable. And the generations following you will benefit greatly from the hard work you all do together now.
I wish you and your family the very best as you look to the future.