As a pastor, the most valuable training I have ever received is in something called “family systems theory.”
I participated in this program, years ago, in Dallas, Texas. I took two semesters of the course. I am so very glad I did for my own personal growth.
I shared in this experience with a small group of fellow clergy. We represented a variety of different Christian denominations.
One of our assignments was to examine our roots, to look deeply and quite honestly into our family of origins.
When it came time for sharing this most personal information I was shocked by what I heard. Yes, there was the typical stuff involving how birth order may have shaped us, how our families operated day-to-day, overall expectations, customs, quirks, etcetera.
However, there were also stories of brokenness – of mental illness, abuse, alcoholism, or other forms of dysfunctionality somewhere within everyone’s extended family. In other words, there were skeletons in all of our closets.
This marked the beginnings of a challenging journey – to uncomfortable, most dark places, that we would rather ignore, dismiss, and not revisit. Based on what we shared, we were then asked if we wished to confront these demons. In doing so, we would need to call them out by name, and boldly examine how they affected us, our families, and ministries. It was difficult but necessary work.
One of the lessons I learned was how my past history so influenced my current relationships. This included how quick I could be to judge based on past fears. I have since learned what may have the “outward appearances of a whole pie, may, in fact, just be a thin slice.”
You have heard that Christians are to “love thy neighbor as thyself.”
I have learned that this is best expressed by first taking an honest look inward.
Walter is pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church and has served as parish pastor for more than 25 years.