When family fails you
In The Godfather series, Fredo Corleone (Michael Corloene’s older brother) was passed over by his father (Vito Corleone) to inherit and run the family “business.” Going through the series the audience learns that he has some issues (aka womanizing) which appears to hurt the family business. Michael (the protagonist) confronts Fredo telling him to never take sides against the family. After all, the underlying theme of the series is about family loyalty and sticking through tough times.
In part two of the series, Fredo is approached by an associate of Hyman Roth (a rival gang) who indicates that Michael has been difficult to negotiate with. Ignoring Michael’s earlier warning, Fredo agrees to help them in exchange for compensation. Michael later discovers that Fredo was partly behind the assassination attempt on him and ends up executing his older brother after their mother passes away.
We share that story not to validate the kind of business that occurred in the series, but to highlight the importance of family in culture. Despite its many variations and appearances, we still like to think of family as our support group that we can lean and depend on for help. At the heart of the Godfather is not just running a business, but running a family business. To succeed everyone must stick up for each other against external forces that attack from multiple sides. In Fredo’s case, betrayal cost him his life, because he took sides against the family. To Michael, family failed him, and that was not acceptable in that fictional environment.
So what do we do when family appears to fail us? We don’t suggest adopting Michael Corleone’s solution! Yet as fallen beings we do have a tendency to fail.
Genesis 16, 17
Remember the story of Abraham? God promised to make a multitude out of his descendants. Problem: Abraham had no descendants. And he was old. Like three digits in your age old. Sarah, his wife, believed that she could help God out, so she told Abraham to sleep with her maid (yes, back then wives apparently recommended this kind of behavior!). Abraham slept with Hagar, and gave birth to Ishmael. When Hagar found out she was pregnant she looked down on Sarah because Sarah could not conceive, which drove Sarah nuts. Later God had a chat with Abraham and assured him that he would establish a covenant with Abraham and Sarah’s children. When Abraham offered Ishmael, God said no, but promised that Ishmael would be richly blessed.
In Genesis 21 we learned that Sarah finally gave birth to Isaac. During a gathering of sorts, Sarah noticed that Ishmael (still a kid) was poking fun at Isaac. As a result, she ordered Abraham to get rid of Hagar and Ishmael because she didn’t want Isaac to have that kind of influence. The matter grieved Abraham, Ishmael was also his son. But in another chat God assured Abraham that Ishmael was also his son, and while God would not make his covenant with Ishmael, he certainly would not neglect him.
Abraham sent Hagar and Ishmael away from their home. They wandered the desert with a little food and water. Once the water ran out, she left Ishmael under a shrub and went away to cry. She did not want to see her son die.
At that moment we read that God heard her cry and visited her. He provides water for them and reiterates yet again that He will make a great nation out of Ishmael. Despite neglect from the only family they had known, God was going to take care of them. And sure enough, even to this day we see the descendants of Ishmael have become a great nation(s).
Hagar’s sandals must have been burdensome to be in at the time. After all, Hagar followed her boss’ instructions, gave birth to Abraham’s son, then is sent away by the same person who orchestrated the mess! It is safe to conclude that family indeed failed Hagar. What was once a cushy role in Abraham’s camp led to a wandering of the desert with a boy who would not grow up with his biological father (as far as we know). Yet God turned this situation (that was not in His will) into a blessing. He blessed Ishmael and kept His repeated promise. Hagar found comfort in the fact that God would not fail them as their family did.
In the family of God, surrounded and working with other humans, the occasional mishap or dire mistake will occur, and you may receive the short end of the stick. At times you may be following instructions faithfully only to find yourself on the wrong side. You may even do nothing wrong and still face antagonism from other members in God’s family.
How do you respond?
Many respond by walking out. After all, if God’s family cannot represent God’s character, then why am I sticking around? Others respond by retaliating, justifying their actions through karma. Still others do nothing but carry bitter resentment within the depths of their soul. We acknowledge that any reaction to failure from someone else in the family leads to some level of anger/jealousy/bitterness. However, these responses prove damaging to the individual, and all family members involved.
How to get through family fail
From the story of Hagar, we can find comfort in the fact that there is precedent for God never failing His family. He took care of Hagar, even though Ishmael was not part of God’s original covenant will. He not only provided for their basic needs but made them a prosperous people. While we may feel stranded in the desert, alone, and rejected by family, let us remember that God will find you there. In God’s family, other family members may fail to take care of you, but God will not.
It sounds cliche to say “God will never fail you.” And you are right. What does such a phrase mean? It sounds cute on paper or some Etsy decal, but how do I apply this to my life?
If you find yourself on the damaging side of gossip that pertains to you and ruins your reputation, God still sees you as His child. You still have the right to call God, “Father.” The people around you may look at you differently and cause you to doubt your self-worth, but in God’s eyes, you are family. And family is/was worth dying for.
If you find yourself losing support from who you thought were God-family members you could depend on, remember that God is looking out for you. In Ishmael’s case, God did not force harmony among the family or bring Ishmael back. Quite the adjustment occurred even though it was Sarah’s fault. But God blessed them through their circumstances and they emerged stronger. We cannot speak to how God will move in a specific situation. The only evidence we can rely on is the fact that God is moving in your situation, and He will bless you through the unique wrenches and curveballs that humans tend to keep throwing in His plans.
God’s family is not perfect, it is made up of imperfect people. But when each family member commits to being covered in the blood of Jesus on a daily bases failures are less likely to occur. When family does end up failing you, remember that God is in the business of blessing. We can take comfort in the fact that God is a God of justice, and He will make everything right one day. No, He may not restore everything in your current situation to its original state, but He will restore all things to His original plan very soon. Until then, let us remember that we are in the family of God, not of ourselves.